For serial maker Ekta Kapoor, dramatic scenes are all in a day's work. No wonder she's unfazed by criticism and unafraid of telling it like it is, says Abha Srivastava
SHE is the high priestess of high drama. The show woman who has spawned a new genre of soap operas. A television star maker (and breaker) who has millions of saas-bahus across the country weeping copiously into their pallus every evening. This soap queen also resurrects screen characters and show TRPs, gets bouquets and brickbats in equal measure and is perhaps one of the most discussed and scrutinised television producers ever. Love her or loathe her, there's just no ignoring Ekta Kapoor.
From being called regressive to being termed downright dim-witted, Ekta and her serials have withstood an avalanche of criticism from the general populace. "My TRPs have shot through the roof. The introduction of the euthanasia track in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi has garnered major public interest. It has been accepted by the Indian audience, and appreciated as well. So you tell me why my shows are termed regressive?" she raises her eyebrows, and continues, "Look, just because my women wear saris, it doesn't mean that they are dumb."
According to her, the viewers are not ready to accept completely Western concepts and programmes. What then about the daughters-in-law who cross over to the dark side daily or the mothers who create month-long mayhem? Are they accepted by the audience as readily as she thinks? "The daily machinations depicted in my serials do take place in our joint families. I agree that my presentation is dramatic, at times, overly so. But I am sure that viewers are intelligent enough to see through that and understand that, essentially, our storylines are progressive and have a common theme, which is that every woman wants to and has the right to lead her life the way she wants to. Whether it is Parvati, who'll tie the knot again, or Tulsi, who'll soon adopt an abandoned baby girl, Krishnatulsi, or Nandini who had the strength to raise her voice against marital rape… all my women are strong. Plus, I have tackled issues like marital rape, euthanasia, remarriage, etc, in my shows. Why am I not praised for that?"
The tirade over, for the time being, she takes a few deep breaths, fiddles with the countless rings on her fingers, and absent-mindedly smudges the red tikka on her forehead. "At the end of the day," says Ekta softly, "I am no saint. I'd like my shows to be platforms for relevant social messages. But ultimately, it is a commercial arena, where TRPs matter the most." They sure do. The magic of moolah is hard to disregard. Is that why the woman who propagates till-death-do-us-apart kind of family values made what can only be called a sex comedy, Kya Cool Hai Hum, recently? "Why was everyone surprised with that? I made Krishna Cottage earlier, which was a thriller, my serial Hum Paanch was a comic caper… And I never said that I'd only make a certain kind of shows or movies. I wanted to make a sex comedy, so I did," she reasons.
Anonymity is not in her destiny, much as she'd like it to be. "I am paranoid about keeping my personal life personal," says the 30-year-old self-confessed workaholic, who runs her television empire – Balaji Telefilms – from suburban Mumbai.
"My image, or what people think I am, is already so exposed. And I don't want to rectify that perception. I'd rather be misunderstood than have the whole world understand me! There's no way I am going to allow strangers to discuss my life over a cup of chai," she states categorically. With her chin jutting out firmly and a nononsense air about her, Ekta personifies the head of a production company who has a reputation of giving vent to her displeasure in a very vocal manner. Her temper is legendary and altercations with cast members are fodder for gossip.
"Oh, I have sobered down a lot now. Though at times I wish I hadn't. I have realised that screaming just leads to bad blood. But I try to keep the fear factor alive. Basically, I think I just got bored of screaming," she grimaces, while glancing at some papers in her office, where a huge statue of Lord Ganesha dominates the proceedings. As he casts his benign eye on the massive glass tabletop, smaller versions of the elephant god are clustered around strategically. The atmosphere of divinity is allpervasive. And it is from within this ambience that Ekta churns out the trials and tribulations of Tulsi, Parvati, Pallavi, Bani, Kashish, Anjali, Mandira, Nitya et al. Some of the aforementioned are sickeningly sweet, while the others are devilishly diabolical. Two extremes. Much like the reactions Ekta evinces from the general populace: There are those who put her on a pedestal so that they can venerate her, while there are others who would love to see her fall flat on her face, but as long as she's perched at that height, wouldn't quite mind taking a few swipes at her.
But Ekta merely swats away the criticism. Sure of herself and with a nose for what will be lapped up by the audience, she just c h a r ge s ahead where angels fear to tread. A far cry from the 18-year-old couch potato who loved gorging on chips and harboured the ambition of making just Rs 20,000 a month, so that she could go shopping! "Ultimately, my father got sick of me! He never saw me attending college either, as I was a big jugadoo, who always managed to get people to fudge my attendance record," she laughs, adding that one of her first 'jobs' was one where she wasn't paid till she proved her mettle. "Aarti Surendranath gave me my first job and a special designation was created for me – associate model co-ordinator! That was the lowest designation and I was a regular flunky…not being acknowledged by people at work who'd fraternise with me socially," she smiles, with a worldlywise look about her.
At a relatively young age, Ekta seems to have seen the various hues (plenty of dark ones as well) of life. She insists that this impression is created because of her shows. Perhaps. She does think of storylines and dialogues that gel well with people who are twice her age… And all the carping be damned. "I really don't care," she says, resolutely, adding, "We all tell stories. It just depends on who is narrating them and how."
Her creativity doesn't seem to be going through a wringer in spite of new shows, like Kandy Floss, being churned out by her production house. Women, their independence, love and the joint family tradition form the fabric of her serials, and Ekta Kapoor is very proud of it. "I've always tried to show that love doesn't have to be linked to marriage. Like in Kasauti, where Prerna and Anurag have a past together, still feel for each other, but are married to different people. And no, they aren't indulging in an extra-marital affair either! It's just that at times, social parameters far outweigh the bonds of love…" she trails off, as once again, she starts fiddling with her various rings. Why all the rings? Is it to hide a basic insecurity? "Partly. And then there's the faith I have in them. Some extra help never hurt anyone! Actually, I have never analysed why I wear so many stones… I just might hate the answer!" she reveals.
Ekta Kapoor. The queen bee of soap operas. The erstwhile aimless young girl who has displayed an astonishing head for business.
Ekta Kapoor. Jeetendra's daughter who has never harboured ambitions about facing the camera and instead, has given soap addicts innumerable characters' life sagas to ponder over.
Ekta Kapoor. Who can't think of slowing down as all she knows is to "eat and make serials".
And the rest of the world can eat their words, as far as she's concerned.
I am sorry if it is posted earlier.