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KKnow your soap queen

Ekta’s success is not only about being blessed. It is about sweat and blood and learning the ropes as “daddy’s girl”. It is about men and the low comfort zone she has with them, writes Kumkum Chadha.

india Updated: Jun 29, 2008 23:15 IST
Kumkum Chadha

Ekta Jeetendra Kapoor is not a terror as her critics claim. She may not smile too easily but once she does, the child in her comes across.

Like her serials, her office in Mumbai, has a downmarket air with a heavy dose of religion surrounding it. Beginning with a temple in the precincts of Balaji Telefilms, there is clearly an overdose by the time one reaches her workstation. In there, window sills are overcrowded with gods and goddesses; the tables with rosaries and feng shui symbols and the rest of the room with good luck bamboos. All her serials begin with the letter “K” because she believes it to be her lucky letter. She also checks the horoscope of every actor she hires.

Ekta’s success is not only about being blessed. It is about sweat and blood and learning the ropes as “daddy’s girl”. It is about men and the low comfort zone she has with them. Nervous about meeting people, she has a problem when men want to “chat up” before getting down to business. Her solution: Take Dad along to make small talk before coming to brass tacks. Ekta’s handicap: “It was more tough being young than being a woman”.

A spoilt brat in school, Ekta was very happy bunking classes: “I was a below average student, naughty as hell and always thrown out of class. But I took no one more seriously than I did myself.”

Therefore when someone remarked that she is naïve as a four-year-old and wise as a 104 (years) she lapped it up. She put both to good use churning out what later came to be known as “K” soaps.

Starting modestly with what was christened Dolphin Telefilms, Ekta was ready to close shop after she had used up “dad’s money” to create content which failed to sell. But Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi turned things around and by the time she was 21, Ekta, like the serial’s protagonist Tulsi, became a household name.

It is difficult to say what influenced Ekta: whether it was the return of the family melodrama in films like Maine Pyar Kiya and Hum Aapke Hain Kaun or “amma”, who lived with her. “Maybe it was the unnatural progression in a mother-in-law-daughter-in-law relationship,” says Ekta, sounding a 104, as it were.

Amma’s family neglected her after she willed everything to her son and daughter-in-law. “The relationship is such that the conflict is inherent. A man passes his legacy to his son and it is expected that the mother-in-law will hand over the symbolic keys to her daughter-in-law who is a complete stranger…” The thought nagged Ekta...

For someone who never identified with the modern woman (the Prithvi café types to quote her), Ekta felt that Indian television needed women-dominated soaps. Apart from this countering the male domination in cinema, Ekta saw television as essentially a women’s medium. She decided that the women in her serials would be the unglamorous, family subservient types, swearing by their mangalsutra and toeing the till-death-do-us-part line. Ask Ekta and she describes them as “homemakers”.

She drew flak on the personal and professional front but moved on from one success to another. Anything she touched turned gold. Determined to deliver, she cracked the whip. She connected with the viewer, disconnecting with all else. It was no longer about calling the shots but changing the rules of the game. “Daddy’s girl” had grown up to come out on her own, following what to her was and is a simple formula: Remain a solo player and trust no one.