Joined: 26 April 2006
Journey so far
JD floated his company - Hats Off Productions over five years ago but his first production Khichdi was in collaboration with UTV. "It was conceptualised as a daily and I did not have the finance required for that kind of a show. Eventually, however, it turned out to be a weekly but by then I had formed a good association with UTV and continued with them," recounts the producer. After an year of partnership JD decided to go his own way "because I had my own visions and goals." In the five-year span, Hats Off has produced over ten shows that include Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai, Batliwala House No 43 and Main Office Tere Aangan Ki amongst others. "It's been a wonderful journey so far. We may not have produced 30 shows but our ratio of success has been high. Most of the actors in our shows have won awards. My company's strengths are writer-director Aatish Kapadia and Deven Bhojani. I have also been fortunate to be associated with the best of people in the channels like Peter Mukerjea, Sameer Nair, Shailaja Kejriwal and Tarun Mehra," says the busiest producer on television.
After the whacky comedy Khichdi about middle-class Gujaratis, writer Aatish Kapadia came up with a script that delved into the psyche of Gujaratis residing in a posh Mumbai suburb. "The look of the show was very important because it was an upper-class family in contrast with the Khichdi clan and I had to get everything from the cast to the set right. A huge set with two flats was erected for the show and I wanted Deven Bhojani to direct it," informs JD. Deven was reluctant to helm the show because he thought he wouldn't be able to do justice to actors like Satish Shah and Ratna Pathak-Shah. JD and Aatish persisted and the rest, as they say, is history. The subtle and sophisticated humour in the show raised the bar of comedy in India. The show had a run of 90 episodes and even in repeat telecasts garners considerabale viewership on Star One.
Baa Bahoo... Breakthrough
"Nowhere in the world are soaps aired on weekends," declares a proud JD whose Baa Bahoo Aur Baby was one of the first tri-weekly dramas to lure and sustain viewers who were used to watching reality shows and films on weekends. "It was a tough slot at that time because nobody watched serials on weekends. Baa... changed the viewing pattern and today is the leader in that slot," says JD. Not that, it is sans hiccups. "In between the show had become serious and we had to act fast to bring it back on track. At times there are weak episodes but even today Deven (director), Aatish (writer) and myself discuss at length how to keep it fresh by introducing new characters and storylines," says the producer.
The biggest setback for Hats Off came in the form of Resham Dankh which failed to bring in viewers though it was based on a popular novel by the same name. "Our folly was to deviate from the original storyline, which was its USP. The minute we changed the story, viewership dipped," sighs JD. One of their earlier shows Main Office Tere Aangan Ki that was aired on Sahara One went unnoticed. JD blames the lack of publicity for its poor show. Another show that failed to catch on was Batliwalas at House No. 43 and Kudkudiyas. A celebrity chat show-cum -sitcom, Batliwalas was based on the popular BBC show Kumars At 42. "I think the show was ahead of its time. Bakthiyar Irani was not a known face then but he was really good. Yet, it got a TRP of 2 which was good for a weekend show," defends JD who feels the channel (Sony) should have sustained it for some more time. "With humour and celebrities driving the content these days, the show has a lot of appeal and I wish some channel envisages an interest in it," he says wistfully.
A recurring charge against JD is that he economises on his payments to the actors. He was also accused of taking only a few actors of the Baa... team to Singapore which upset the rest of the cast. Recently, Mouli Ganguly made a nasty remark about her experience working in Resham Dankh . Vaishali Thakkar who played Praveena, one of the most popular characters of Baa... quit mid-way and is currently seen in another serial Teen Bahuraniyan. "I don't want to comment on Mouli's remarks. All I'll say is that she was also part of the show and responsible for its fate. As for Vaishali, she quit for personal reasons," is all JD's willing to say.
As for his poor payment to actors, JD points out
that he pays at par with what other producers are paying. "The
difference is that if they get an X amount for six days, they get the
same here for ten days, the reason being I don't compromise on the
quality of my show. The same shot which is canned in two takes by other
producers is okayed in six takes here. This extends the number of days
actors put in the show," explains JD. "If remuneration was a problem do
you think actors like Satish Shah and Ratna Pathak-Shah would work with
me?" he questions. He had also shot a one-and-a-half minute song
sequence with Deepshikha, "who is an expensive actor".
What about the Singapore schedule of Baa... that left a lot of actors miffed. "That's because the schedule was decided by the channel in association with Singapore Tourism. If you look at other serials that have been shot abroad you'll see only three main actors in it whereas I took around ten people. It was not possible to accommodate everyone, also not everyone was needed in the story that was shot there," he offers.
Report card of new shows
Chalti Da Naam Gaddi, JD's first show on Zee and the first to depict a Punjabi family in a caravan was launched with great fanfare but has failed to move up on the charts. "I agree we went through a rough patch and we were aware of it because the story was moving in that direction. But we have changed the track in the last couple of episodes and there is a sizeable improvement," informs JD. Remote Control, a weekly comedy on 9X is going the same way. "Whoever has seen it goes ga-ga over it, but its not getting the numbers as it is competing with popular shows like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii which recently did a crossover. Smriti entering Teen Bahuraniyan was highly publicised which overshadowed Remote Control," explains the producer. It is too early to comment on Jasuben Jayantilaal Joshi Ki Joint Family aired on NDTV Imagine but having caught the episodes, one gets a sense of deja vu. After seen Baa... the emotions, highpoints and humour of this show are predictable. "I agree it is predictable but that's because we need audience participation. There's no point in introducing surprise elements or shock value just for the heck of it," he comments.
Ek Packet Umeed
JD promises a completely different concept in this show. It's about women from different backgrounds who have gone through traumatic situations and are staying under one roof. "Not a single character driven story, Ek... is about upliftment of women in a realistic way. There's no sermonising, even men will enjoy it. Full of emotions and humour it will give you a positive energy," assures JD who has culled stage actors like Suhas Joshi, Neena Kulkarni, Sulabha Despande and Lubna Salim for the show.
JD is currently working on the script of Khichdi that is based on his serial by the same name. He wants to concentrate on filmmaking this year. Event management is another concern he plans to get actively involved. A reality show is in the pipeline and soon his company will be going public. "Most importantly I want to give a lot of time to my family and take care of my health," says the hot-shot producer.
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