Queen of soap
tycoon before she turned 30, winner of the prestigious Ernst and
Young Award at 27, this youth icon has her pulse on the viewers’
imagination and an eye on TRPs. From soaps that make her
audience laugh, agonise and cry, to movies and now a serial on
Pakistan television, she is constantly striving for more. Shiv
Kumar profiles Ekta Kapoor, the Creative Head of Balaji
could easily hav e been one of the leading ladies of Bollywood.
But Ekta Kapoor chose to make her mark behind the scenes. From
the glamour pages, Ekta usually graces the pink pages of most
newspapers as well, as the promoter of one of the most
successful media companies today.
story: A still from Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki
More than 13
years after Ekta began her career as a television producer,
Balaji Telefilms, the company she owns along with father
Jeetendra and mother Shobha looks a trifle jaded. Only about
half the top 50 shows now belong to this company while nearly
two-thirds of the top pile belonged to Ekta in the early years
of this decade. But considering the quantum leap in viewership,
Ekta is still the reining queen of sudsville.
Ekta is now
dreaming big. The 30-something is all set to share the marquee
with Rupert Murdoch, no less. Along with Murdoch’s Star TV,
Ekta’s Balaji is all set to launch a slew of television
channels for southern India. Sun TV outshone Murdoch’s Star in
its attempts to enter this market with Vijay TV, so Ekta has
been called upon to provide some added glitz. "Under the
joint venture, the two companies will combine their resources to
infuse Vijay with Balaji content. The joint venture also targets
at launching a Telugu channel by the last quarter of the year.
Channels in Kannada, Malayalam and other key regional languages
will be launched within the next two to three years," a
statement put out by Balaji said. In other words outrageously
weepy mother-in-law and daughter-in-law sagas will sprout across
the linguistic smorgasbord taking the concept of the northern Bharatiya
Naari to the south of the Vindhyas.
unsuccessful attempts at TV serials, Ekta, then just in her late
teens, hit the big time in 1995 with Hum Paanch. The
serial ran for five consecutive years on Zee thereby providing
Balaji with money and muscle to keep the factory going. Ekta
scored big with her Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi which
made Smriti Irani a national figure.
The past decade
has seen Ekta turn Balaji in to a money-making machine. The
marketing executives Ekta brought in have monetised everything.
Aspiring script writers had to shell out a bomb for an
application form and those finally selected at the end of the
exercise were put up in crummy hotels where they had to work day
and night churning out scripts. Known for her capricious nature,
Ekta would often reshoot entire episodes of her serials only
because the feedback she received from her audience demanded so.
Actresses collapsed on her sets, script-writers worked out of
hospital beds, technicians suffered nervous breakdowns, but Ekta,
with sights fixed on the TRP metre, demanded her due.
as a prima donna of the entertainment industry, Ekta has begun
to use her muscle to promote her brother Tushar Kapoor in the
film industry. With neither looks nor talent to write home
about, Kapoor has been reduced to playing walk-on roles in home
productions financed by his sister. The latest such misadventure
being Shootout at Lokhandwala where Vivek Oberoi simply
steals the scene.
Having been the
showcase for dad Jeetendra’s Jumpin’ Jack antics during the
fag end of his career, the company almost went into cold storage
till Ekta resurrected it for the television medium. But now the
big screen bug seems to have bitten her as well. After flopping
miserably with Kyunki Main Jhooth Nahi Bolta with Govinda
and Sushmita Sen in the lead, more misadventures at attempts to
launch brother Tusshar followed.
some few crores of shareholder wealth, Ekta has decided to tweak
the model a bit. A new company Balaji Motion Pictures Ltd has
been spun off to handle film production. Also Ekta has decided
to collaborate with others rather than plonk her money and
management time in the ventures. Hence the tie-up with Sanjay
Gupta for Shootout at Lokhandwala. Other collaborations
include one with Sunil Shetty’s Popcorn Entertainment directed
by Apoorva Lakhia.
emergence as one of the most powerful in the media business in
Asia was not apparent in her younger days. Reports say, she was
an average student who managed to scrape through school and
college before she began to dabble with production. Even her
first attempts at this failed, with the teenager burning up more
than Rs 50 lakh in the first pilots she produced before striking
gold with Hum Paanch.
success came from the Tamil Kudumbam before she
discovered the power of K. The K series of programmes which
Balaji launched for Star put the company among the biggest
earners in the entertainment index of the Bombay Stock Exchange.
Ekta is known
to be a hands-on tycoon dabbling in everything from
script-writing to direction to the final output of her serials.
All of her directors are known to take orders from Ekta and
those who refuse to toe her line are often unceremoniously
Ekta seems to have hit upon the
idea that women make the best target audience for her serials.
All her serials are women-centric. The protagonists as well as
their tormentors are women. "The characters, particularly
women, look alike. Stiff, dolled up in finery at all times of
the day and night, they sport plastic smiles. The themes are
often regressive. A commentator once wrote: "Do you ever
find such women in real life?"
to big screen
is making waves on celluloid as well. She roped in her uncle
Ramesh Sippy, the maker of Sholay, to head Balaji Motion
Pictures, a subsidiary of Balaji Telefilms.
Last year, the
company made two films Kya Kool Hai Hum and Koi Aap Sa
but suffered losses after the second venture flopped. Both the
films were made for the ‘multiplex audience’. Wiser, Ekta
has decided to de-risk the business by tying up with other
producers. Thanks to Sippy, Balaji Motion Pictures entered into
partnership with Sanjay Gupta and Sanjay Dutt’s banner White
Feather Films to co-produce Shootout at Lokhandwala.
Again the movie holds little interest beyond the Mumbai market,
but the grapevine has it that the movie will break-even if not
make a small profit. Balaji itself will benefit the most from
the venture since it is distributing the movie in the prime
Ekta’s is also entering film
distribution. She has purchased the distribution and satellite
rights of two T-Series’ films, Bhool Bhulaiya and Darling.
She entered a back-to-back deal with Star Television for the two
films. Future plans include operations in New York, Los Angeles
and Canada. The company plans to invest Rs 35 crore in the films
business in partnership with several other producers. Partners
of Balaji include Sunil Shetty’s Popcorn Entertainment Pvt.
Ltd for three movies and two more films with White Feather
first Indian serial on PTV
Subhash K. Jha
Pakistanis are keen to meet Ekta
has produced one of the most successful films of the year, but
Ekta Kapoor is more excited about her TV series Khwahish,
the first Indian serial that is being legally shown in Pakistan.
"To me the big Sony event at the moment is Khwahish,
a soap that we produced in Dubai for the Middle Eastern market.
We shot it on neutral and since we didn’t want any legal or
political repercussions. It’s already been aired in
Pakistan," Ekta told IANS. So far our shows were being
shown illegally in Pakistan. Our Kasautii Zindagii Kay is
huge in Pakistan. Now we’ve given them the first official
Balaji soap and they love it," she added. The Pakistanis
are really keen to meet Ekta and she’s planning a trip to
Karachi and Lahore very soon. "My creative director
Nivedita Basu had gone to Pakistan. And she got a very warm
welcome. We held a talent hunt for Khwahish there. The
principal male lead is from Pakistan. And now Khwahish will
be aired on Sony in a fortnight."
She is also going
to produce a reality show for Sony Entertainment. For that, she
has teamed up with Sanjay Gupta with whom she had produced the
successful thriller Shootout At Lokhandwala. "We’ve
just got a confirmation letter. It’s going to be the biggest
reality show ever in the country. I can’t give out more
details right now," said Ekta.
like nothing that has been done so far. I’ve waited so long to
do a reality show. Sanjay and I wanted to get it right before
getting it on the road," she added.
reality show starts in January 2008. One of Ekta’s old serials
Kya Haadsa Kya Haqueeqat is also resuming on Sony. Ekta’s
latest alliance with Star for the daily soap Kasturi is a
big success. "It’s mom’s favourite and therefore my
favourite," said Ekta.
sure it’s got some worthwhile talent. We got the Punjabi stage
and film actress Sheeba Chadha to play one of the leads. She
didn’t want to do television. But we made it worth her while.
See how classy she is!
hero and heroine played supporting roles in other Balaji
roles. I was discouraged from taking them on. But I’m willing
to take on new talent even if I see potential in a peon at
Balaji... In that sense I’m very much like Ram Gopal Varma."
Ekta rubbishes all rumours that
her large-screen gangster satire C Company is a take-off
on Varma. "The film has nothing to do with Ramu. I love his
cinema. C Company has no spoof on Ramu’s cinema. In
fact, it will do a take-off on our company Balaji Telefilms."
results of financial year 2007 clearly showed why the punters on
the Bombay Stock Exchange can’t get enough of the 30-something
With mother Shobha, the moving force behind Balaji, and brother Tusshar, who she is promoting fervently
Telefilms profit in the fourth quarter of 2006-07 alone rose
from Rs 15.5 crore to Rs 21.28 crore, a rise of 37.25 per cent
from the same period of the previous year. Earning per share for
the whole of 2006-07 was up 33.66 per cent from Rs. 9.15 a share
to Rs. 12.23 per share.
From around Rs
113 a share in March last, it rose to Rs 263 before falling
lower. Punters are eagerly awaiting the results of Khwahish
launched in the Middle East in June last and the results of Kayamath
launched last quarter. Deepak Shenoy, an investor who runs the
Indian Investor’s blog, notes that Balaji languished for years
despite clocking 20 to 30 per cent annual growth.
Shenoy warns that the markets
are fickle. A sudden sharp correction could mean that small cap
stocks like Balaji could be dumped like hot potatoes. — S.