“Sorry, I was in a temple,” she says, calling back promptly two minutes after the appointed time for the telephonic interview. I was given five minutes and told to call at 3.25 p.m sharp. The PR also requested if I could avoid any personal questions. After all the “She’s like the Devil in Devil Wears Prada” stories, you hear about her, the last thing you expect to hear is “Yes, Sir.”
In fact, she finishes every sentence with Sir. I am clearly enjoying this and have no heart to tell her I may be younger than she thinks. She’s respectful, polite and prompt and that’s this is the woman who runs an Empire built over millions of drawing rooms around the country. We can be pretty sure that there’s no chance any woman watching TV in this country has never heard her name before.
Ekta Kapoor is full of surprises. Currently, she’s on a roll with back to back releases and much acclaim with Shor In The City two weeks ago and Ragini MMS opening reasonably well. She speaks to us about her tryst with the motion picture business and her relationship with TV and the letter K.
Q:What kind of cinema is Balaji planning to be associated with? Any ingredients that will be common?
A: What I want to do with cinema is keep it as universal as possible. And if it has to do with different niches, give them what you promised. There’s no certain type of cinema but there’s a certain type of promise every film comes with. The agenda is to keep an eye on quality and live up to that promise.
Q: Why is your fare on the big screen and TV so different?
A: TV is more mass-oriented. It’s all about going into various homes… you got to go into a conservative home and a modern home with the same drawing room entertainment because people sit together and watch TV from different areas and different cultures. TV allows and explores unity in diversity. You need to get one interesting idea that connects with a much larger number of people than films can.
Q: How much control or regulation do you personally exercise over themes shown on your TV fare?
A: I have no interest in working against the sensibilities of all the mothers and family members who sit together. They know that if they watch a Balaji show, they will get a certain kind of entertainment. I do NOT want to break that connection ever.
Q: What’s your take on reality shows and society?
A: Anything we watch is a taste being catered to. You cannot ignore the fact that there is a taste. Somewhere we have to remember we are a voyeuristic society, we like shock value. But reality shows don’t get the numbers that fiction get. The staple diet of TV is family entertainment.
Q: First LSD and now Ragini MMS, which from trailers, seems to be quite bold for Indian audiences.
A: We are catering to an existing audience. We are not creating the audience. Youngsters talk like that. They do talk about going away for a dirty weekend. The film does not to try and shock you, it’s just accepting it. It shows a young couple who are comfortable with each other physically as they are mentally. Their conversations are real. They are not selling crass sexuality under the garb of being coy. Which is what happens in most Bollywood… wet duppattas, fluttering eye lashes, biting on the lips and yet we say it is non-sexual when it is actually overtly and covertly sexual.
Q: It was quite surprising to see a film like Shor In The City from your banner.
A: Shor In The City may not have a high level of sexuality but it may have a high level of humour that working professionals will enjoy. I think any kind of film that any audience would enjoy should be made by Balaji. Taryanche Bait, our Marathi film, that came out about a month ago was among the top five grossers. It’s about a middle-class man and his relationship with his son. We knew that the Maharashtrian audience will accept it. So we made it for them.
Q: So are you enjoying all the critical acclaim and going to festivals?
A: I am not going to become a critical-acclaim-junkie at all. I will not start falling for the bait of wanting to please people ever. I will do it the way I always do, with my gut. I cater to a viewer because that viewer’s taste matters more than anyone else’s and I will keep him first in mind and then, if it also appeals to the critics, so be it. On the other hand, it’s a great feeling to be accepted by audiences that have never accepted you.
Q: You have this larger than life image of a head-strong, highly opinionated and even arrogant businesswoman. Is that the right perception?
A: I think I am a bit too individualistic. I try to lead. I do not follow. Even if I don’t lead, I would follow my own path. If that works for people, great. If it doesn’t, great. I rather make my own mistakes and pay for them rather than pay for mistakes that are formulistic. So I just go by my gut.
Q: You seem to have come a long way from being associated only with the K-brand of TV shows.
A: I have just diversified. I don’t think I have come a long way from it. I would always go back to it when I feel the need to creatively do more shows. We underestimate the power of entertaining the country. By just doing niche films, I don’t think I have done some great work. Catering to India was far more challenging. I diversify just to explore my creativity. I believe that TV is a much bigger medium than films and I will always respect TV more.
Q: Do you watch American and British TV?
A: I am a huge American TV addict. I cannot do without my daily dose of American shows. Right now I am watching Shameless, 90210, Gossip Girl, True Blood, Dexter, Californication, Brothers and Sisters, Desperate Housewives. I am the first one to get the DVD here.
Q: Finally, what’s with the K-serial brand? Are you done with it? Do you believe in the superstition?
A: I love the letter K. I am a K-addict. (laughs) But I have taken a small sabbatical. It was an astro-thing. It suited my Mangal. When it didn’t suit me, I didn’t use it. We have currently broken up but we may get back together one day (laughs).