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‘TV is no longer exciting because I have done all that I had to do’

Kapoor speaks about the switch to films and why she no longer relates to TV

With her K-serials,Ektaa Kapoor ruled prime-time TV. In this Idea Exchange moderated by Shubhra Gupta,Film Critic,The Indian Express,Kapoor speaks about the switch to films and why she no longer relates to TV

Shubhra Gupta: In television,your focus has been on kitchen politics while in films you have switched to the bedroom. How did that switch happen?

Ektaa Kapoor: We took to television because it had issues dealing with mass India and Indian women—it connected. When we started doing clutter-breaking films,it was a conscious decision. Eighteen months ago,when I was getting into films,nobody thought I could do films. They thought there was one format,one sensibility,one formula that I knew and that I won’t be able to reinvent or do anything that was slightly more selective in thinking. When I came up with films,I had no big stars wanting to work with me and I wanted to do films which were niche because TV doesn’t allow you to do things which are for certain sections of the audience.

Irena Akbar: Do you enjoy working with television more than films?

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Ektaa Kapoor: Till about a year ago,it was TV,now it’s films. But I like wearing two different hats. I believe that no one can undermine the power of TV. So you enjoy the power it brings but at the same time,you have to dilute your thoughts because you have to cater to the whole world.

Coomi Kapoor: It is said you have popularised retrogressive traditions and superstitions instead of progressive ideas. Do you feel that the message is not important and that you give the audiences what they want?

Ektaa Kapoor: I think ‘message’ is a very varied word. It makes any kind of entertainment sound heavy or preachy. I believe there is no bigger message than connection. If TV has to be entertaining,there has to be a connection or what we call identification and identification falls back on the belief in the viewers that this could happen to them. We have many shows that give out messages but none of them would reach out to the person if the person doesn’t identify with the character giving the message. So the idea was to make the female characters as close as possible to the women at home: they are plump,they wear sarees,they have to wear lots of jewellery and look good so that there is an aspirational quality attached to them. So I live out my fantasy.

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Shailaja Bajpai: Your success story began in 2000 when you came up with iconic characters like Tulsi,Parvati,Prerna and Kusum. A decade later,you don’t have an iconic TV character. So what is different now?

Ektaa Kapoor: In 2000,we brought out Indian family values. I enjoyed it a lot—it was great fun. I lived out those characters. I was just 23. I enjoyed the process of television making. If I look back and try to put a finger on how I got those characters,I just can’t think how. I was constantly motivated by people watching them,liking the way they were. I can’t give you a formula answer. I purely enjoyed television,much more than today. I am still doing TV but perhaps I have outlived it as a phase for now. I have created a Pavitra Rishta (Zee) which is the number one show but I don’t identify with the characters. Maybe there was a little bit of me in every show and there is none of me in any of the TV shows I make today. I used to watch my own TV shows; I don’t watch them any longer. I grew out of it,maybe I did it for too long.

Coomi Kapoor: Are you saying that TV shows are for 23 year olds?

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Ektaa Kapoor: At 23,I was making shows that people thought I wouldn’t understand because I was making shows about joint families. Maybe it was aspirational for me—I enjoyed seeing how joint families lived. It is no longer aspirational to me,no longer exciting to me because I have done all that I had to do on TV. I need to find an idea I want to really make. After years,I have come up with an idea which again I feel has a bit of me. It is based in Mumbai and it is about a grown-up marriage between two people who have outgrown the age of falling in love—they’re 33 and 38 years old. For me,it’s my coming-of-age TV.

Somya Lakhani: Your film sensibilities are very different from television sensibilities. Why this difference?

Ektaa Kapoor: I don’t know myself. When nobody thought I could do family shows,I did family shows at 23. When I was in my 30s,nobody thought I could make a young LSD (Love,Sex aur Dhokha) and I did. Somewhere,I like to get out of my comfort zone and I like the challenge,somewhere it peaks in my mind and it creates a new me.

Somya Lakhani: These are not conscious decisions that you’ve made?

Ektaa Kapoor: Not at all. I have only done things that I want to do. If today I am told that I should return to TV with as much passion as I had 10 years ago and I will make a lot more money,it’s not possible. How do you create something that’s not in you anymore? Research is on the Net,formulas are there for people to analyse but clearly if that was so easy,people would have done it all the time. It has to come from within for any creative person and it has to be channelised by the executors and management team in order to make it profitable. If I can’t sit on the creative side,then I will sit on the other side and help develop that creativity in others.

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Shefalee Vasudev: In your kitchen politics,why did the characters never have physical relationships?

Ektaa Kapoor: I think we deal with a lot of homes and sex is not an issue that everyone is comfortable with. When I deal with family shows,self-censorship is expected of me and I don’t want to undermine it.

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Shailaja Bajpai: It is said that a lot of your heroines were chosen because they resembled you. Is there any truth to that?

Ektaa Kapoor: That’s slightly flattering because most of them were good-looking. The main thing I chose was someone who could evoke different emotions in you—vulnerability being one very big aspect of casting. I was very clear that people must feel that my heroines are one of them. In films,you need glamour dolls because it’s a male medium. On TV,men are the glamour dolls,you want a husband like Ram Kapoor or Ronit Roy; the women have to be one of us and you aspire to be like them. When we had Tulsi,the first time Smriti Irani came to us,she couldn’t act. She did a scene and she fumbled and she nearly cried and we said ‘oh,so bad!’ but I said,she is my heroine. People asked why and I said if tomorrow she gets hurt in a public place,people will feel protective of her. Acting? That we will teach her.

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Shailaja Bajpai: Your kind of special effects have taken over serials. A story takes up about 5 minutes and about 18 minutes are devoted to close-ups of characters,sound effects,etc. Where is the realism?

Ektaa Kapoor: Realism definitely doesn’t have that much place on the shows that we did. But there was a very clear strategy: when our shows are on,viewers are eating at home and 90 per cent of the housewives are busy in the kitchen. We can’t control the ambience in which people watch the shows so the sound effects,etc.,prompt viewers.

Debesh Banerjee: After LSD,you now have Ragini MMS coming up. They are about MMS and cameras. When you make these films,are you targeting a particular younger audience or do you think it will have a mass appeal?

Ektaa Kapoor: When I made LSD,I didn’t know what appeal it would have. I just knew it was different. There it was a grab footage feel with one camera. In Ragini MMS,every scene is shot by 24 cameras,it’s a horror show. So if you go by mediums,it is closer to Bigg Boss than LSD. One thing is similar: you are catering to a viewer who wants to go in for a different clutter-breaking form of entertainment,slightly shocking,interesting with a different story. We are catering to a similar viewer,but not with a similar movie.

Shubhra Gupta: Given that your father and your brother are actors,did you ever want to act?

Ektaa Kapoor: Never. When the camera comes on,I am very,very shy. I am very embarrassed. I never put on make-up and I have fought weight issues for very long. I am not comfortable in front of the camera so why would I do something just because it’s a legacy? I always fall back on comfort and instinct and gut and they all went behind the camera.

Irena Akbar: Why don’t you use the letter ‘K’ anymore in your

titles?

Ektaa Kapoor: It was brand and astrologically,it worked for me. Also,your logo gets cut off in smaller towns but people seeing ‘K’ knew it was an Ektaa Kapoor serial. So it was an easy format to go ahead with. Later,it didn’t work for me astrologically and there were so many caricatures that it hurt my original brand,so I said,let’s get over it—time to reinvent.

Coomi Kapoor: What is the reason for your remarkable success at such a young age? Is it that you see yourself as the average viewer?

Ektaa Kapoor: I used to watch a lot of TV,I was a couch potato. At the age of 14,I only watched TV. You can only become a great creative producer if you are a great viewer. It has to be something from inside,it can’t be formulated. When I started making films,I was actually interested in watching films. In the last two years,I have seen every film that comes,on a Sunday at the theatre. I see the anger in people when they feel their Rs 200 is being wasted and how important entertainment is to them. I mean you can inspire them but if you don’t entertain them,you have wasted that Rs 200 and that is a huge responsibility when you make films.

Coomi Kapoor: Do you credit your parents with allowing you to run the whole show at such a young age?

Ektaa Kapoor: They were looking to find something for me to do because they really didn’t know what I would do. The whole day,I would just be watching TV,so they said make some television. They told me that I should do something with my life since I was clearly not enjoying my studies.

Deepu Sebastian Edmond: So how do you zero in on the kind of representations you have on TV?

Ektaa Kapoor: Pure gut,and then I try to use the experience of friends and colleagues. I ask them what they think of my ideas and work on them. Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi was an idea that came to me in a room while eating chanas. Four of us friends were sitting together in a room,and I was thinking how in India,a daughter-in-law is expected to accept another woman as her mother. Clearly,it is tough for a woman to give her house keys to a woman she just met because of an arranged marriage. It’s easy for the man to give his legacy to his own son,that’s natural progression. But this is an unnatural progression in the garb of what we call family values. It’s tough for both the women. Definitely when the mantle passes on to the other woman,you realise the problems that exist on the other side. These thoughts led to Kyunki. There was no research that proved people wanted to see a mother-in-law/daughter-in-law show. I love the Steve Jobs line,‘We don’t follow research,we create it’. It was so pompous,but it was so smart. I don’t think Apple ever follows research.

Amrita Dutta: Will your daughters-in-law work,will they have a life outside the home?

Ektaa Kapoor: In the two new shows I am planning,both portray working women.

Somya Lakhani: Many of the heroines of your shows no longer have a thriving career. Smriti Irani was Tulsi,she never became anything else. It is said you are a terror to work with. Do you really make or break careers?

Ektaa Kapoor: No,I don’t make or break careers. I just fall in love with the character I have created. I loved Tulsi,and for me it was important that I love her,because if I didn’t love her,no one would love her. When ‘Baa’ would be on screen,I would have to feel an emotional connect with her. In my initial years,I would sometimes think that I made careers. Later on,I realised it was in their destinies that they came into the shows. And whatever happens to them is also in their destiny. Smriti has gone into politics and I think she is doing very well for herself.

Sukalp: A lot of your shows stretched on and on in a very unplanned manner. It seemed to be that if one formula was not working,you took a ten-year or 20-year leap.

Ektaa Kapoor: My shows do not stretch any more. A ten-year leap for me is not a formula,it is actually Act-II of television. Abroad,they do seasons. Here we can’t take seasons because Indian demographics and Indian channels’ commerce do not allow it. But for me,it is very important to see what would have happened to my character 10 years later. And I never say they are story-based shows,they are character-based shows.

Sukalp: Just for the record,what was Baa’s age when Kyunki actually ended?

Ektaa Kapoor: Hundred and fifty years old. Calculation wise,it was 104 years. We did the calculation. We used to take the leap and then ask around if anyone had a family member who had lived beyond 100. Apparently actor Aftab Shivdasani had a grandmother who lived to 104. So I said,okay then there is a logical explanation,if she can live that long, Baa can be 104 years old.

Transcribed by Pritha Chatterjee and Somya Lakhani

First published on: 01-05-2011 at 01:56 IST
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