The Indian GEC space has been seeing some innovative concepts and engaging narratives. Be it the recreation of Mahabharata or the social issue-led Balika Vadhu or Diya Aur Baati Hum, the family drama Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai or the thriller Laut Aao Trisha, new age creative masterminds — smaller production houses — are changing the face of Hindi programming. BrandWagon’s Chandni Mathur profiles some of these showrunners
‘The challenge is to find good content and timing’
- Key people: Sunjoy Waddhwa, Comall Waddhwa
- First show: Phir Se, a telefilm for Sahara One
- Claim to Fame: Saat Phere: Saloni Ka Safar, Balika Vadhu, Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon?, Gangaa, Peshwa Bajirao, Chhoti Anandi
Sunjoy Waddhwa’s career began in 1997 with another production house he had set up with his cousin. It was in 2002 when he branched out and launched Sphereorigins. While working on Phir Se, a telefilm for Sahara One, Aruna Irani’s Des Main Nikla Hoga Chand landed in his lap. He simultaneously worked on it while developing the concept of Saat Phere. The show propelled Zee TV to a new high after which the production house did several shows for other channels. Amidst this, he also made shows in Bangla and had a set up in West Bengal for three years, but with the market dynamics being very different, he had to stop.
While the commercial success of Saat Phere gave the production house the required momentum, Balika Vadhu set the ball rolling. “It was a benchmark show for me, the production house and the industry,” notes Waddhwa.
The challenge is to find good content and good timing, he believes. For example, the concept of Balika Vadhu was floating around for six to seven years, but Waddhwa felt that it wasn’t the right time to put it on TV. “The thought process of the show did not revolve around commercial success,” he states, adding, “Shows on social issues were looked upon as documentaries and hence to bring in that entertainment factor was a challenge.”
Best known for
Social issue-based dramas
Watch out for
The company is working on yet another mega show around a social issue. The show is currently in discussion stage with a GEC. The production house is also developing two comedy shows, one each for SAB TV and Zee TV.
‘You won’t learn unless you take bigger risks’
- Key People: Siddharth Tewary, Rahul Tewary
- First show: Amber Dhara on Sony Entertainment Television
- Claim to Fame: Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya hi Kijo, Mahabharat, Suryaputra Karn, Shani
- Shows currently on air: Mahakali — Anth hi Aarambh hai (Colors), Shankar Jai Kishan 3 in 1 (SAB), Karmaphal Daata Shani (Colors)
Working with advertising agencies like JWT and Euro RSCG (now Havas Worldwide), Siddharth Tewary always nurtured the dream to be a director. He handled Sony Max at Euro RSCG and moved to the marketing team at Max, eventually joining the programming team at Sony Entertainment Television, where he came up with the concept of Amber Dhara. After meeting NP Singh (now CEO, Sony Pictures Networks), he got the advice to turn producer and pitch the show to the channel like everyone else. It took him a year to make the pilot, get funding for Swastik Productions and convince people, and the rest is history. “I just wanted to tell a story, as that was all I knew,” recollects Tewary.
“Mahabharat and the way we made the show,” mentions Tewary. The show was the pet project of Uday Shankar (now CEO, Star India) and Vivek Bahl (former creative director, Star India) and the channel asked Tewary to recreate the saga. He now enjoys making big budget shows in the historical and mythological space, as it imparts a lot of information.
Although it received a positive response, the journey to make Mahabharat was a tough one and took four long years to finally go on air. He adds, “We needed to understand Mahabharat before scripting it and hence it took time.”
Best known for
Historical and mythological shows
Watch out for
The Tewary brothers believe one won’t learn unless you take bigger risks. Swastik is now working on the story of Porus (king of the Pauravas) and will retain its IP. “We want to increase the shelf life of the show. We have a lot of responsibility attached to it, hence we want to distribute the show on different platforms in India and overseas,” he mentions. In fact, he has also launched One Life Studios for shows whose IP is with the production house. It has a VFX arm and is launching a distribution arm which will represent content from its own portfolio and other companies on a global platform.
Shashi Sumeet Productions
- Key People: Shashi Mittal, Sumeet Mittal
- First show: Sajan Ghar Jaana Hai on Star Plus
- Claim to fame: Diya Aur Baati Hum, Punar Vivah, Tu Mera Hero, Pehredaar Piya Ki
- Shows currently on air: Dil se Dil Tak (Colors), Tu Sooraj Main Saanjh Piyaji (Star Plus), TV, Biwi aur Main (SAB), Ye Un Dino Ki Baat Hai (SET)
The Mittals began their careers as writers for various TV shows, although Sumeet Mittal harboured the dream of being a film director. The duo even penned Rajshri’s film Ek Vivah Aisa Bhi where he was the chief assistant director. However, the 2008 economic slowdown changed things for them. Following the advice of Vivek Bahl, the production house got its first show.
While the first show helped Mittal shape the company through various challenges and learnings, it was his second show — Diya Aur Baati Hum that changed his fortune. “The idea was always to create what we write. I realised that if you are into production and running a company, you need to have work,” he mentions.
“The challenge is to meet your own expectations because there is always a gap between what we want to make and what we get from the channel to make. My mantra always was — we will make what we like,” states Mittal. While he got the approval for his second show Diya Aur Baati Hum in 2009, the show came on air in 2011 since getting it right took time. Interestingly, the budget approved by the channel for the show was much lesser as it was for a non-primetime slot but Mittal was adamant and took his full crew for the outdoor shoot. It was a gamble that paid off well and the channel shifted the show to primetime.
The production house was embroiled in a major controversy recently around Pehredaar Piya Ki, which showed a young boy married to an 18-19 year-old girl. The show faced severe backlash over the subject and in a first, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting ordered the show to be pulled off air. “People assumed that it was not on progressive lines and the base of misconceptions was so huge that the right approach of the show could not come out well,” he justifies.
Best known for
Shows on women empowerment or struggle for women rights
Watch out for
Mittal highlights that Indian television is a women-driven territory and you can’t escape that.
“But we try to make content that is justified for a family audience.” While it is developing a new show for SET, the production house is also creating content in other genres and for digital platforms through its new verticals — Show Runners Entertainment and Lush Green Productions, which will help different creative people produce their own show by giving them backend support.
‘We want to set foot in the daily fiction space’
- Key People: Bhairavi Raichura, Nandita Mehra, Purnendu Shekhar
- First show: Chhal — Sheh Aur Maat on Colors
- Claim to Fame: Satrangi Sasural,
Raichura and Mehra worked on a show together in different capacities and always had a conversation about branching out and doing something on their own. However, given the erratic working schedules, doing something full-time was very difficult. Eventually in 2012, the two got together to launch 24 Frames and Shekhar joined in as a co-producer. The trio developed a horror show for Colors and made nine episodes, but the show got shelved even before release as the channel management changed. The new programming head gave them their first show, Chhal — Sheh Aur Maat.
Although the production house has presented differentiated content to Indian television viewers through its shows, Raichura believes the turning point for the production house is yet to come. “Frankly, not many of our shows have done well in terms of numbers although people have appreciated the way the shows have been made,” she mentions.
Creating content is difficult and that is the challenge for Raichura and 24 Frames. Five years ago, the Indian television industry was not inundated with so many production houses. Now, with several shows being made, every show needs to be distinct. “Laut Aao Trisha was an adaptation and since it was a bold subject, the challenge was to adapt it correctly to the Indian format and audience sensibilities. It was a risk that we took,” she explains.
Best known for
Adaptations and thrillers
Watch out for
Since it is a comparatively newer production house, the trio now wants to step into the daily fiction space but in different formats like thrillers, dramas, etc. Currently, pitching concepts to channels, Raichura mentions that they have understood that one needs to strike a balance between making marquee shows and the massy ‘masala’ shows.
‘My shows should not look similar’
Director’s Kut Productions:
- Key Person: Rajan Shahi
- First show: Sapna Babul Ka…Bidaai on Star Plus
- Claim to Fame: Sapna Babul Ka…Bidaai, Amrit Manthan, Kuch Toh Log Kahenge, Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai
- Shows currently on air: Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai on Star Plus
Starting his journey as a production boy in 1993, Shahi slowly worked his way up as a director and worked on several popular shows like Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin which gave him an insight into the partnership between creative and business. When he got a call from Star for his first show, his dream to diversify into production got wings. “It was a time when Star was working with big production houses and contrary to the glamourous shows on air, my show was simple with new faces,” Shahi reminisces.
Tasting success twice with Yeh Rishta…and Sapna Baabul ka…, Shahi earned credibility as a producer and things turned around for Director’s Kut Productions. “My attempt is that all my shows should not look similar and I have always tried to give a platform to creative thinkers,” he says.
He feels the biggest challenge is to serve audience sensibilities. While he wants to deliver good, innovative content, most of the times viewers like content that is massy yet borders on being regressive. “TV is a strong platform and the question is, are we taking it forward?” he questions.
Best known for
Family dramas with an ensemble cast
Watch out for
The production house aims to diversify into doing specials like the Star Screen Christmas Special it did last year. It also recently launched a vertical, First Kut Productions, which is creating content for the digital space and has already launched two shows, while gearing up for two more. Director’s Kut Productions is also developing concepts for a family drama, a love story and a crime-based TV show.