She manages about 36 shows for her digital platform ALTBalaji at a given time, along with a couple of films, and not to mention the complete domination of prime time television in India. There is also talent that she scouts from the long lines at her Balaji Television office in Andheri. All of this is managed with an iron fist. “Yes, I am a taskmaster,” she agrees, unabashedly, as we meet with her at Delhi’s Le Meridien hotel. Early this year, Ekta Kapoor also became a mother to Ravie Kapoor through surrogacy. Kapoor discusses her proud project Kehne Ko Humsafar Hain, her instincts as a producer, being a mother and why society needs to be more supportive. Excerpts:
Your show, Kehne Ko Humsafar Hain (KKHH), in its second season, has Rohit (Ronit Roy) leaving his wife of 23 years, and marrying an assertive, strong, independent woman.
I am very proud of the two lead women characters, Poonam (Gurdeep Kohli) and Ananya (Mona Singh). Men think that they love strong women, but the moment it gets too real, then problems start. Their egos get hurt. And sometimes not even that. Here in KKHH, Rohit took his wife Poonam for granted. He now wants the same things from Ananya, whom he liked because she was so independent, and he connected mentally with her. But it was only for two hours. The minute those two hours become 24, the mental connect goes. He wants the best of both worlds — she gets you khaana, and the other one gives you the mental stimulation. And when he has to make the proverbial choice between the two worlds, he struggles.
You see this happening around you?
Yes. I have so many friends who say that they slept with a boyfriend and woke up with the same person, while the man sleeps with a girlfriend and ends up with a wife. Men see women in different roles the minute the relationship starts.
KKHH streams on Alt Balaji, which has 13.1 million subscribers, for Rs 100 for three months.
There’s this belief that people won’t pay for digital streaming apps. I always figured that in India people will pay, but only a certain amount. That’s why we have kept it at Rs 33 a month. The international players, with a high subscription fee, are only getting a sliver of the Indian audience, which is close to 60 million screens. The programming on Alt Balaji is quite different and risqué from the Ekta Kapoor fare on prime time TV. We have a Dev D, Romil and Jugal and Gandii Baat for starters. People watch all sorts of content in private. A father won’t tell his children that he watches slightly risqué content. That is the beauty of the app. Leave risque, parents don’t want their children to know if they even watch something with harsh language.
What makes you pick up a project?
I always choose script over talent. Then there’s instinct that’s been honed, and experiments, experiences and audience feedback. Success and failure comes later. With Veere Di Wedding, I was in a tough space financially, but I went ahead with it, and it worked.
Speaking of risks, what’s been your most risky project till date.
The Dirty Picture. It was a Rs 12 crore loss on paper.
Your reputation as a smart businesswoman precedes you.
Every rupee counts. For the first six years of the company, I travelled in economy. Initially, I would shoot an episode for Rs 40,000 and if I could save Rs 4,000, then why not?
Early this year you became a mother through surrogacy. Do you think we as a society are ready for it at large?
I don’t know about society, we as a family are. Society, I think is a redundant institution, if it doesn’t support liberation. Society should give birth to individuality and not curb it. It should support all and one, and not condemn anyone. I have always been guided by the ability to do what I want, not just what’s expected from me.
What’s next from Balaji Telefilms?
Make a show like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, that’s where I want to reach. A show with that kinda empathy, it’s so touching. She is surrounded by tough conditions, but she still is a happy person. There’s Mental Hai Kya releasing soon, along with Mentalhood, a show about motherhood.