Book: KINGDOM OF THE SOAP QUEEN: The Story of Balaji Films
Author: Kovid Gupta
Price: Rs 299
By Naomi Datta
The story of Balaji Films, told with hushed reverence and little insight
In 2001, I was a young cub reporter with CNBC TV 18 reporting on media and entertainment. I was told that M&E was the next big sunrise sector after IT, and it would be prudent to get a headstart there. Balaji Telefilms was identified as a stock to watch out for — and I ended up closely tracking the fortunes of the company.
It was with great interest then that I picked up Kovid Gupta’s Kingdom of the Soap Queen: The Story of Balaji Films. As a journalist, I have interviewed head honcho Ekta Kapoor twice — and while she made for great copy each time, you yearned for an in-depth interaction that would take you closer to understanding the folklore around her. Gupta is not a journalist — he is a screenwriter who has worked with Balaji, and, therefore, you do expect him to have insider access and insight into the workings of the company. Sadly, that is not meant to be.
Kingdom of the Soap Queen is an efficient, easy read but that is all it is. Gupta chronicles the growth of the company from its early office in a garage to the empire it is today. He is diligent and earnest in his documentation from the heady days of 2002 where Balaji soaps ruled the roost to 2008 when the company took Star India to court for axing its cult soap Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi to its hard-fought revival a couple of years later. But Gupta brings no flavour or even a sense of drama in his narration of information that a Google search would throw up easily.
The tone is also a minor problem — Gupta writes like a fan boy and even admits that he carries a photo of Ekta in his wallet for inspiration. Much of the book, therefore, is written in tones of hushed reverence — and reverence never makes for gripping reading. Some of Gupta’s anecdotes are engaging though — like Ekta’s nanny Amma being the inspiration for KSBKBT and how the last episode of the soap was given an open ending in the hope that it could be revived on rival channel 9X. The stories of the frenzy over Mihir’s death in KSBKBT and the Mahabharata debacle are the stuff of television legend, but it is to Gupta’s credit that he recounts them evocatively.
All in all, if you are looking for an easy read — and a quick recounting of the history of one of India’s most powerful production houses, pick up Kingdom of the Soap Queen. If you are looking for a complex and nuanced narrative, this is not the writer you want to be reading. It could have also done with slightly more vigilant copy editing — the letter ‘K’ is just that, a letter. Gupta often calls it the alphabet ‘K’ and then goes back to calling it a letter. That is a problem. Shoddy.
Naomi Datta is the author of The 6PM Slot