Ekta revels in both — the constant needling and the praise — for the ‘achcha content’ of her TV shows and ‘itna saara sex’ in her films; and that’s because she’s a true Gemini, she says
Anshul Chaturvedi (BOMBAY TIMES; February 7, 2013)
Explain to me the dynamics of audience handling today. When we were at the age which is supposedly the target audience, around 20-25, hit movies were still doing three to four weekends. And the most serials lasted were about eight months, one year.
Yeah, that’s how it was.
Now, cinematically, one understands, you look at the first weekend as the make-or-break. Television, on the other hand, has gone the other way; you yourself have had single shows running for a decade. How does someone who is into both TV and movies handle such contradictory audience behaviours simultaneously?
See, TV is about audiences getting attached, you don’t bank on stars,you only bank on characters, and characters take time to build up. The two mediums are as different from each other as it can get. In television, you work on a story, you are not expecting to make the first episode a hit; in fact, you get scared if you get high ratings for the first episode — because then you have to maintain those ratings. You need to make the characters grow.The process of television is appointment viewing, we bring the audience back every day, but in films it’s not like that.
In cinema, the dynamics of the business is such that you need to exploit your film in the first two weeks. The basic of TV is that I’m coming to your home, you don’t have to pay money to see me. But in films, I need your 200 rupees, I need three hours of your time, and I need you to spend for your whole family.
In a movie, the talent of the maker is to make the film; the talent of the producer is to actually excite the viewer for the film. In TV, I’m the producer and the creator. I don’t care if aapko 10 minutes pasand nahi aae, aap ek aur baar check kar hi lenge, phir aapko pasand aaega, phir mein aapko story ka ek high point doongi, uss story se aap thoda phir attach ho jaoge, phir kuch hafte baad aapko aur kuch aisa milega.
You have obviously mastered the television viewer and his psyche, but to what degree does that hold true for cinema?
I’m a newbie in films, a new producer who came two years ago, struck it a bit lucky with some films that I made because I was a little daring. I had done so much of television that, to venture out, I was willing to do anything different. I wanted to explore the other side of my creativity, so I did that, and it did work. Also, there’s no pressure on me. I’m not looking at the Khans, I’m not yet a Yash Raj. So I don’t have that pressure, I just make my movies.
You’ve done some 20 years in the system and the one consistent thing, apart from shows that work, is the charge of being the primary regressor of the image of Indian women.
I look at these people who keep labelling me that and I want to laugh at them, because none of them watch television. I mean, people say something like that just to be different.
When I asked somebody what do you mean when you say that I am, you know, regressive, he said women wear makeup and sleep and then they wake up with it too. I said, do you call this regressive? That can be a suspension of reality, that can be a tad aspirational to some, it can’t be regressive. And the person was completely flummoxed. I said do you know that, baa, in the 15th episode of Kyunki… actually decided to pursue education again. When we made a 70-year-old woman decide that she wants to pursue education again, or do a course in fashion designing, is that regressive? We had marital rape dealt with in Kahaani…, but all you could see was that they were wearing makeup and saris or there was background music. You never saw that these were stories of women. Clearly, they wanted to have their sense of entertainment, so we gave them the entertainment, and laced it with some kind of learning, or some king of social message.You only saw the lining of entertainment; you never saw the underlying message, so clearly it’s your viewing that’s myopic.
I actually find television to be the most progressive medium in India. There are vamps, yes, and why not? There are the ‘good’ women and there are the vamps. What I do accept is that we do not have grey characters. But then, we do not have grey characters for either men or women in India on television. It’s not about gender, it’s about keeping it simplistic for the viewer.
When people tell me, oh, television is so regressive, I ask them, so how much TV do you watch? And more often than not, the answer is, oh, no, yaar, I don’t watch TV. My answer is, then, you have no right to call it regressive.
So, why do so many people still call it that, then?
I’ll tell you what — television is so popular, that just to be different, the so-called intellectuals decide to pan it. It’s got NOTHING to do with the medium; it’s got everything to do with the psyche. You see a woman in a sari, you see background music which is loud,you see swish pants and you don’t see the content. That’s entertainment for the viewer — maybe you’re not the viewer.
And when you come into cinema, all the moralising goes out the window, and it’s the other extreme?
See, I can’t do grey characters in television — which is my single biggest regret — but I can do grey in films. So, I take on more and more grey characters. That’s one need of mine that’s been unfulfilled. I don’t want to make gods or goddesses or demons or devils.I want make sinister characters. I want to make meek characters. I want to make strong characters. I want to make characters with weaknesses. That playground I get in films. We made a film on Haji Mastan and explored the mentor-protege relationship in OUATIM. We made an LSD and explored the mental and sexual fabric of the Indian youth. We made The Dirty Picture that was about a woman who was accepting her sexuality and didn’t shy away from the fact that there were three men in her life. I had people come to me and ask me ‘aap ne itna sex kyun dikhaya?’ And I asked them, ‘aapko sex se kya problem hai?’ (laughs) What’s the big deal?
Television can never be niche — it has too many people to hit at. Films CAN be niche. I don’t have to cater to everybody with one film. It doesn’t have to run for eight years. So, I can look at a smaller audience base, and yet do what I want to do.
I am a believer in the simple fact that a story should always be told if it is causing upheavals inside you. The Dirty Picture had to be made by me.I couldn’t sleep at night.I had to tell that story. People later thought I chose that story because it was potentially a financially successful project. But when I started, it was a straight 10-crore loss film. At best, I hoped it would break even; I had no idea that it would become a success.
Explain the ‘empowerment’ message of such a film.
It opens your mind. You know, we had a lot of ladies-only shows. To me, it’s about accepting women with their flaws, without condemning them. It’s about the famous line that you should be judged for your manners, not your morals. In India, we do it the other way round.
It’s a problem with our mindset. We think that if a girl wears a short skirt and wants to dance, she’s a certain type of girl. Who are we to decide that? That was niggling me for years. I had to tell the story of a woman who was willing to dress the way she wants, dance the way she wants, get success on her terms, have the number of men she wants in her life — and yet be accepted! She’s neither a victim nor a martyr, nor a crusader — she’s a survivor! And she was my hero! And there was that line — ‘jo log isse aaj bagawat kehte hain, kal isse azaadi kahenge’. Today, after 20 years, we look back and say, she was condemned for it then, today we perhaps look up to her.
So, you click the story of the non-defensive, secure-in-her-own-choices woman through two different lenses — one for TV, one for cinema?
Yeah. Tulsi’s story for me is as important as Silk’s story. They are two different women, two different lives, two different fights.
You’ve done 20 years here. Is there some burden of expectation of giving back something, inspiring people and all that, the way an Aamir makes a difference with a TZP or a 3 Idiots?
No,I’m no hero.I’m not. I just tell stories which I want to tell. I think it’s to do with each person’s personal journey.You can’t tell a story you don’t feel strongly for. Maybe he’s a parent, he feels a lot for kids and he does a TZP. I feel a lot for women — I’ve faced a lot as a woman, so I feel for this. It’s always about personal journeys and personal fights. I don’t want everyone to like my films. I just want them to start debates. Was she right, was she wrong? It must raise questions. It’s the sort of person I am, maybe. I want people to say, ‘I didn’t think of it that way’.
And you must get rather contradictory criticism for these very different portrayals?
(Laughs) I can’t tell you how funny it is. I go to this upmarket party and women come to me and say, ‘How COULD you make a Kyunki… or a Kahaani…, you made The Dirty Picture, you make really good films, but we just can’t stand the television stuff you make. And I meet a housewife or if I hear the feedback our research brings — ‘Ektaji itna achcha television content banaati hain aur pictures mein itna sex, itna violence, aisi auratein kyun dikhati hain?’ So,people who condemn me for one type of content, praise me for the other, and it’s exactly the opposite for another sort of audience. I enjoy both.
So this split — both in telling stories and in receiving feedback — is sort of built-in now?
I’m a Gemini! (laughs)
Essentially, you get shot by someone or the other, on an ongoing basis, irrespective of what you’re doing. Right?
Well, yes, I guess I am sort of used to it by now. It’s one life; you can’t keep everyone happy, can you?
On the contrary, from what I understand from the interaction so far, you positively relish needling and provoking, and if nobody had a problem with what you were doing for a fortnight, you would positively miss the flak and the drama.
Ouch! You got me there… It’s bizarre — but yes, it’s true.