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Reality wave hits Indian television

April 08, 2005 10:41 IST

Is the era of soaps and family dramas on television coming to an end? Do people prefer a reality show to a prolonged television drama?

Yes! The times are a-changing and the buzzword today is reality shows. These shows are all about formats and television programme producers see a huge opportunity in India for them.

So what are formats and how do they work wonders for broadcasters? With the unprecedented success of programmes like Kaun Banega Crorepati on Star Plus and Indian Idol on Sony, it has been proven that formats are a huge success in India.

KBC and Indian Idol have made history in terms of people's participation and have been great revenue generators as well.

Fabulous formats

The excitement of putting up a show like Indian idol reflects in the elucidation of Sanjiv Sharma (of Optymystix Productions) on what constitutes formats. "Formats can either be dramas or non-dramas. A drama could be something like the Jassi Jaise Koi Nahin and the best illustration of a non-drama programme is Indian Idol. But the fact is there is a lot of drama in non-drama formats, which leads to the programme's success," Sharma said at the session on 'Building successful formats' at the annual entertainment event Frames 2005 organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Mumbai.

"The best thing about a reality show is that it is real, it is interactive: the viewers could decide who would be the Indian Idol," he adds.

"Reality shows see the dreams of millions of Indians come true. They relate to the characters who appear on the shows, and this makes the shows more meaningful than any tearjerker. The money-spinners can be in the form of quiz shows, panel shows, celebrity guest shows which give the audience the power to decide the next move and also be a part of the great show," explains Sharma.

The concept of a format show has evolved over the years; it varies from in different places. And yes, formats work wonders.

"There have been shows like Khulja Sim Sim, a remake of the American show, Let's Make A Deal. Here the viewer could play and participate in the show. Same with the case of Kismey Kitnaa Hain Dum, a remake of famous British hit, Night Fever. It featured a karaoke contest where viewers could sing along.

"The best part about these shows is that the viewers went through the trials and tribulations of the participants. Indian Idol was a complete reality show: a reality show and a talent show as well! It was a result of a cleverly constructed screenplay, which empowered the audience to select their personal favourites so it clicked," Sharma says.

Idol worship

When Freemantle India came to India with the idea of launching Indian Idol, the company never imagined that it would take the country by storm.

A remake of the famous hit, Pop Idol, which has set record in all countries, registered historical ratings in India as well.

The ingredients of an ideal reality show is simple, "It must appeal to all. It is a craft, it is a drama that unfolds in front of you," says Gavin Wood, director of production, India Freemantle Media.

"The idea should be original and entertaining. The best part of a reality show is that it guarantees success and there are valuable lessons to be learnt about viewer's tastes and preferences. The reality shows makes sure that the dreams come true and the risk of shattering the dreams of many others," says Wood, who has tried and tested the format in other Asian countries as well.

Humility was the key to the success of Indian Idol, says Nikhil Alva, Chairman, Miditech, one of India's leading production houses.

"It was difficult to change the 'reality sucks in India mindset.' It was a 24x7 nightmare to produce a programme like Indian Idol," says Alva. Indian Idol has changed the mindset of the broadcasters who are more open to reality formats, which are certain to click.

Wood says that the only thing to keep in mind is, "The format should be tested and proven, the content has to be localised, the format should not be altered as small changes can bring far reaching effects."

"India was an interesting market for us. It was challenging because it wasn't just a singing competition; the size of the production was huge. Dealing with the crowd, collecting the votes was difficult as we received 35 million votes for the last episode," Wood reveals.

Chances of copying exist but the chances of failures are 90 per cent as people favour only the original show.

After the huge success of Indian Idol, Freemantle Media plans to host in India one of their most popular shows later this year. "We are planning to introduce The Apprentice, later this year. The show will be telecast on the Star network," says Wood.

Agrees Anupama Mandloi, program director, Sony TV, "Reality show is a huge market in India. The search for memorable characters was difficult. We knew that anything to do with music and Bollywood would be addictive. Our success proved that 'reality is stranger than fiction'."

Indian formats

"Made-in-India formats have their own charm. It is all about people's participation, journey to fame and a lot of passion and emotion," says Tarun Mehra, vice president (marketing) Zee Network. Highlighting the reality shows on Zee Network, Tarun Mehra said that formats as simple as Antakshari have proved that India has the potential to develop and sustain such formats.

"Antakshari was born on September 3, 1993 and is the oldest running format show in the country with about 600 episodes. More than a million people across the world have auditioned for it. Another success has been Sa Re Ga Ma, which also brought talented singers like Shreya Ghosal to the forefront at a very early age. The recent Cinestar Ki Khoj introduces young talent to the glamorous world of Bollywood.

Announcing Zee's next mega plan, Mehra said, "Our next reality show will be Business Baazigar, which the catch-line -- Idea lao, Paise le jao -- a game which will test the intellectual and entrepreneurial capability of people of different age groups. The whole idea is to bring forth the power of an idea and provide them the finance to take off," says Mehra.

Agrees Wood, "India has a great potential to produce its own formats. We may discover some formats that existed earlier and got sidelined or forgotten. We can work on them as well. Indian formats have the potential to go global as the passion and creativity in India grows in the years to come. This will drive the growth of the television industry in India."

Manu A B in Mumbai