Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Just Imagine!

Sandhya Iyer speaks to Imagine’s VP (marketing and communications), Nikhil Madhok on why the channel considers its provocative shows like Swayamvar and Raaz Pichhle Janam Ka a recipe for success, among other things

Television, as it stands

Not all of us are thrilled with the current television scene in the country. Just when one thought the saas-bahu menace was starting to recede, channels caught on to stories based in rural India. Many of these shows — under the garb of presenting women’s subjugation — are proving to be even more regressive. Then there’s of course reality television that continues to stump us with its provocative programming with each passing day. First, Splitsvilla, then Swayamvar and now Emotional Atyachar, channels are pushing the envelope in a bid to get more eyeballs. By the look of it, most channels in the general entertainment (GE) category believe that anything that catches the viewers’ attention is good enough. The idea is to give the public what it wants. Imagine’s VP, Nikhil Madhok talks about various aspects regarding the channel, giving a clear perspective of what goes into programming decisions and the attitude GE channels are adopting now.

Shaky start, good pick-up

Imagine — as NDTV Imagine — had a tepid start, when it was launched a couple of years ago. Its much-hyped show, Ramayan flopped, as did their celebrity dance shows, Dhoom and Saroj Khan’s Nachle Ve. The channel appeared to be struggling untill it hit upon the idea of getting television drama queen, Rakhi Sawant married through a reality show. Rakhi Ka Swayamvar was an instant hit. Its second season with Rahul Mahajan also did well, and now the channel is already preparing for a third season. “Yes, our initial shows did not cut ice. We realised we needed to do what the biggies are not doing. The Swayamvar series really helped us. Before that, we had Farhan Akhtar’s Oye, it’s Friday which didn’t do too well, but it brought some freshness. We followed it up with fiction shows like Bandini and Kitni Mohabbat Hai, which improved our trajectory,” says Madhok.

On the Swayamvar success

The theory circulating was that Imagine wanted to do a show on marriage because wedding sequences tend to be the high points in soaps and the TRPs invariably shoot up. “That’s true,” Madhok admits, with candour, adding, “We thought, why not take it from a fictional space and put it in a real one.” The same logic applies to Imagine’s new reality show, Desi Girls, where eight television hotties will be staying in a small village up North, doing all the work that village belles do. Obviously, one of the reasons for green-lighting the concept is because rural shows are the flavour of the season. Again, the channel does not deny this connection. “Why not? We will take what is working around us and give it a twist.”
But Swayamvar almost threatened to get derailed when Rakhi Sawant broke off her engagement with her fiance. The channel admits this. “Yes, it could have easily derailed. We were very keen that it should end in marriage. Maybe we weren’t all that forceful. It ended up with Rakhi getting a lot of flak and we too were upset that she didn’t get married. Which is why with Rahul (Mahajan), we hammered this point right from the beginning,” says Madhok.
For now, Imagine has shortlisted one cricketer and two Bollywood stars for Swayamvar 3.

Tackling criticism

The channel has certainly managed to come out of its doldrums with a couple of hit shows, but it has been at the cost of some credibility. Their shows are now viewed as controversial and voyeuristic, “That’s true, but in today’s times, it’s better to have some image than have no image. When we did Ramayan, we were considered a channel for old people. We needed to do something dramatic. Yes, our shows are controversial, but that keeps us in the news.” The channel is happy that including Swayamvar and Raaz Pichhle Janam Ka, they’ve seen more success with reality shows than any other channel. “The others have had one hit show, followed by a couple of failures. Star Plus’ Sach Ka Saamna worked, but many other stuff they did failed. Colors got a success with Fear Factor, but Bingo flopped very badly. We at Imagine are happy to give people what they want, even if it is at the cost of the content appearing titillating. Look at Emotional Atyachaar — it’s a big hit for UTV Bindaas!”
So would Imagine also get into that zone soon? “I think a show like that is right for a youth channel. It may not be suitable for a GE segment like ours. It’s certainly not because we consider such a show bad,” says Madhok.

Towards the future

The perennial question is, why can’t our channels get more experimental with their content? Reality shows are fine, but why not offer more quality fiction? “You have to understand that there are two Indias before us —India 1 and India 2. The ones to comment on our shows are from India 2. When I look at a lot of the content on TV, I can’t believe anyone would want to watch it. But for 70-80 per cent of the viewers, it is their reality. Recently, Yash Raj launched television shows that were of absolute international quality. None of them worked! The viewership for such shows is minuscule. In 2001, we had 20 million viewers in India. In 2010, there are 140 million. The viewership has changed drastically, and we obviously want to cater to the largest segment,” Madhok says.
He adds that their channel does not want to be a Louis Vuitton, catering to a niche segment. So they’d rather be Lux underwear? “Ya, why not! When we tried to be Calven Klein, no one watched us. One has to have clarity while running a channel,” he says.


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