She's no. 2 to Ektaa Kapoor. Having joined Balaji Telefilm s just as Kyunkii… was about to take off, Nivedita Basu’s “creative genius” got her where she is now. So, for all practical purposes, she’s the person who decides which character will die, never to return, and who will merely suffer complete amnesia.
It was Nivedita who (with Ektaa, of course), decided when Tulsi would become Mother India and when Prerna would remarry Mr Bajaj for the nth time.
Nivedita and Ektaa make a formidable team. Together, they are the biggest trendsetters on national television. “We never thought that we were going to set a trend,” says Nivedita. “Before Kyunkii…, Ektaa and Balaji had done several serials of different types, like the comedy Hum Paanch and the reality suspense show Mano Ya Na Mano. Kyunkii… was just another concept. But it worked, and big time! Even before we knew it, it had become a trend and suddenly there were saas-bahu sagas everywhere,” says Nivedita. <b1>
Why do you think the saas bahu sagas worked and are still working?
I think it’s because these stories are close to real life. They are stories of actual people. They have emotion, drama, struggle, animosity... everything that exists in real life and real relationships.
Really? Which household has so many women plotting and scheming all the time? Don’t you go overboard with that?
To begin with, even we felt that we were going overboard. But I don’t feel the same way today. In fact, I think things are far more bizarre in real life. A man and his paramour are beaten up in public by his wife and her family. A father rapes his daughter or his daughter-in-law. In laws beat up their bahus. A half naked woman marches down a street to protest the fact that she’s being tortured by her in-laws.
These are real stories, covered by the newspapers and news channels. We pick up instances from real families. We don’t deny that things like these happen. <b2>
But is that entertainment?
Things are not black and white. What we make are soaps. They could be saas-bahu shows or regular family dramas. And wherever there is a family, there is bound to be love, anger, lust, betrayal, scheming.
I agree that these emotions are exaggerated in the serials, but that’s the drama. That’s what makes it more interesting.
Interesting for whom? Who watches these soaps? And why?
Everybody! Tell me who doesn’ t watch them! The TRPs say it all. Whether it’s Kyunkii, Kahaani or Kasauti, every serial has been on air for over six years now. It’s quit e strange, but people identify with these characters.
And, let’s face it, all of us are interested in what is happening in someone else’s life. Maybe not all the time, but all of us would want to know why the neighbour’s spouse was sulking the other day, or why the two brothers in the flat next door separated.
You mean people actually want to be Tulsi or Parvati?
Yes, they do. Our target audience is women who stay at home. Whether it’s good or bad I cannot say, but people have started living their lives through these characters. Mothers and mothers-in-law want to see how Tulsi would react to a particular situation.
But all your women are so regressive and the men so wimpy. Why doesn’t any woman talk of a career? Why is getting married and getting into the kitchen the only dream?
(Laughs) We don’t make these serials for working women! Eighty per cent of our audience consists of women who stay at home and they have similar if not identical lives. Also, I think people relate better to women and their agonies. Another reason for this, perhaps, could be that when we begin a story, we tend to carry it on from the perspective of that particular character. So in Kyunkii, everything is gauged through Tulsi’s perspective.
What may sound regressive is part of life for the majority of Indian households. They call these things traditions and are happy to live by them. And it isn’t as if we haven’t done serials that featured professional people.
Ghar Ek Mandir was the story of a lawyer couple and even in Kasauti we had introduced a track in which Prerna concentrates on her career. It continued for about six months, but then we had go back to the family focus as that is what the public wanted to see. So, if we want people to relate to our serials and characters, we have to have them look and behave like their real life counterparts, right?
Did you say ‘look’? How many women do you know who wear the finest of sarees, jewellery and makeup even when they turn in for the night, or wake up in the morning?
Well, entertainment also has a bit of the fantasy element, right? We have to mix the two. To be honest, we ourselves often don’t agree with the way they look, but the director and even the actors themselves want it that way. <b3>
They don’t want their characters to look shabby. So their looks are a mix of convenience, effect and demand.
And why the constant plotting, bitching and conniving? Why present women in such a bad light?
In real life, all of us may not bitch all the time, but we do bitch often. But I disagree: we don’t present women in a bad light all the time. Only some of them. In every household we present on TV, there is one bitch. How far from reality are we? Don’t we all have a selfish aunt or a conniving neighbour? But the good women are always on top. Tulsi and Parvati are perfect examples.
Most soaps have taken time leaps into the future, yet the storylines remain repetitive and mundane. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to finish them off and start something fresh?
What do you do when a serial does well and channel refuses to let go of it? TRPs are high and people love the characters. It becomes very difficult to go off the air in that case. That’s why the generation leaps and the new faces.
But the twists and turns in the lives of these new characters are so similar to those of the older characters.
Yes, but the characters are new. So the twists look new. People want to see how the new guy tackles the problem. This happens even in the international soaps we’re familiar with, like Santa Barbara and The Bold and the Beautiful. <b4>
For instance, in B&B, Brooke married the father, then the son, then the other son. Now she’s as old as a grandmother, but people still want to know what happens in her life.
What makes these serials work?
Characters. If your characters click, your serial will work. While people relate to our characters, they have also given them iconic status. With Kyunki alone, we created 35 icons.
Finally, what is the feedback you really get from the public? I am not talking about TRPs here.
It’s a mixed bag. Earlier we had a bigger fan following, but now that there are so many new channels and new programmes featuring new faces, the popularity may have dipped. On the other hand, with so many options on TV now, people really do have a choice to exercise. So in the end, it’s all about what works and what doesn’t.