In 2000, when megastar Amitabh Bachchan stepped down to TV with Kaun Banega Crorepati, little did many know of its domino effect. He marked an epochal change in the Indian TV industry, which is now witnessing a barrage of Hindi movie actors and directors stepping into not just reality shows but fiction shows too.
"Time was when you weren't happening on Page 3 you weren't happening in city. Today you aren't on reality show, you aren't happening in showbiz" - a pertinent thought by noted film critic Bhawana Somaaya indeed. Her words, shared on a social networking platform, resonate with the current scene on Indian TV.
Amitabh continues to mesmerise as the host of Kaun Banega Crorepati, currently in its seventh edition, while Salman Khan will soon be back on the tube as the host of Bigg Boss 7.
There's also Vinay Pathak, who will host reality show, Har Ghar Kuch Kehta Hai, Naseeruddin Shah, who will be a narrator on Nazar Ya, and, yes, Mallika Sherawat, who brings to India its own version of The Bachelor.
The Bollywood quotient on the fiction space on TV was lying low for a few years, but with the desi adaptation of popular American series, 24, which features the likes of Anil Kapoor, Anupam Kher, Tisca Chopra and Shabana Azmi, and another show featuring Amitabh, the filmy fever on TV seems to be getting hotter and hotter.
For the channels and makers, getting film stars on board is a well-thought out decision of a show's requirement. Bollywood director Abhinay Deo, who is helming the desi, 24, for Colors, says the scale of the show deserves cinestars and it was vital to give it the right cast.
"Film actors help a show get good TRPs (television rating points) and it also helps a progressive programme like 24 to get more eyeballs. The casting (for the show) has been done very carefully and all actors fit the characters they are playing," Deo told IANS.
Ajit Thakur, general manager of Life OK, which will telecast Mallika Sherawat's search for a soulmate through Bachelorette India - Mere Khayalon Ki Mallika, says this "crossover" is healthy for the business of the film and TV industries.
"Big Bollywood stars are understanding the reach of TV and, for TV, big stars also help in getting higher viewership. But just getting a film star doesn't guarantee success. There has to be the right match; otherwise it is better not to have a star," Thakur said on the sidelines of the launch of the show in Udaipur's Fatehgarh Fort.
In the 1990s, actors like Om Puri and Naseeruddin played the lead roles in successful serials Kakaji Kahin and Mirza Ghalib for Doordarshan, while Bollywood's Dreamgirl Hema Malini featured in the successful dance-based show, Nupur.
Hema tried to revive the trend with Kamini Damini in 2004 and Karisma Kapoor gave TV fiction a shot with, Karishma - The Miracles of Destiny, in 2003, but in vain. However, the non-fiction content has seen several stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Sharmila Tagore, Shilpa Shetty, Akshay Kumar, Sanjay Dutt and Neha Dhupia on board.
Now, the TV industry awaits to see how fiction works for film stars. 24 will go on air in October, and the Amitabh-starrer is due to be aired on Sony Entertainment Channel in January.
Short-term commitment being a high priority for TV actors, they avoid signing a permanent stay on daily shows. Also, a balance between TV and film projects is essential for them. Actress Tisca Chopra, who has worked in films like Taare Zameen Par and Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji, says she agreed to 24 as it has a limited number of episodes.
" 24 is a short-term commitment. I'll be back to films after this. If you notice, there are so many film actors in 24 and hardly any TV actors. This is because it is a short-term commitment. Had this been a daily soap, I would not have been interested," Tisca said.
Vinay Pathak, who's had a brush with TV in the past, says he doesn't mind juggling his time between the small and big screens as long as the project is interesting. "I started with TV and now I am coming back to it after six years. I didn't find anything interesting in between. It's all about juggling your time," he said, adding that he is also open to a fiction show.