Who wants to be a TV producer?

Oct 17, 2010, 07:11 IST | Janaki Viswanathan

Nearly everyone on the idiot box, apparently. As daily soap writers and title montage directors turn full-time producers, and actors dream of floating their own shows, the latest trend to hit the telly is profile-swapping

Nearly everyone on the idiot box, apparently. As daily soap writers and title montage directors turn full-time producers, and actors dream of floating their own shows, the latest trend to hit the telly is profile-swapping

It's a hectic, thankless job that gifts you sleepless nights and demands a truckload of patience. But it's also one of the most sought-after jobs if you are remotely connected to television. The Great Indian Television Dream is, to some day, turn producer. And the recent rise in creative folk turning to production means the Dream isn't all that tough to achieve. 

Writer Zama Habib (in orange tee) discusses a scene with director Rakesh Kumar and actress Ragini Khanna on the sets of his co-production Sasuraal Genda Phool


What's the big deal?
So, what's the big deal about producing a saas-bahu, girl-meets-boy or rural cause show? Control, for one. Ask Rajan Shahi of Director's Kut. The producer who started 17 years ago as an errand boy on the sets, eventually climbing up to the rank of a director. In 2007, Star Plus took him on as producer of now hit soap Bidaai. The story of two cousins; one fair-skinned, the other dusky, Bidaai peaked TRPs for the channel, and continues to be among the top five shows. "The best part about being a producer is that I can take my creative ideas forward," says Shahi.

It's also a position of power. As JD Majethia of Hats Off Productions, the man behind popular slice-of-life shows Khichdi and Baa Bahoo Aur Baby, puts it, "The producer is at the top rung of the television ladder. He is even bigger than the actor." True. When Amar Upadhyay aka Mihir, the much-loved son from saas-bahu drama Kyunkii Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, quit the show, producer Ekta Kapoor plodded on. She found a replacement, a new plot twist, and the show ran for six more years in his absence � and later in the absence of heroine Smriti (Tulsi) Iraani too.

Breaking a wall
The position of power isn't that hard to get to. Shahi calls himself a frontrunner in the so-called movement of creative people turning producers. He is not entirely wrong. That an individual, and a creative person at that, as opposed to a corporate company, can become producer, is a recent development.

Zama Habib would know. The writer of Bidaai and Ajeeb Dastaan is now co-producer of Star Plus' Sasuraal Genda Phool. A light-hearted drama about a rich girl married into a middle-class household, Genda Phool is an adaptation of a Bengali show co-produced by Ravi Ojha. Habib says a producer who comes from a creative background unlike say a corporate house, will add more creative inputs to the project. "Our first intention is to make a mark and to do quality work," he says.

The biggest myth he busted when he turned producer? "It's possible to make a great show with a limited budget," he smiles.

Other creative folk who have headed the production way include former creative head Rajita Sharma who is now co-producing the inter-community couple story Ram Milaayi Jodi, and Raakesh Paswan, a writer, who is co-producing Imagine's Baba Aiso Var Dhoondo.

The recent influx of individual producers owes its thanks to channels as well, who are, as Habib says, the final power-wielding party. A source from the industry explains that encouraging creatives to take on the baton of production brings in more competition. This in turn leads to producers falling over each other to offer a good deal to channels: better work for lesser money. Ultimately, the channel stands to gain.

But Sukesh Motwani, head of fiction programming for Zee TV disagrees. While he is proud of how Zee has a long list of first-time producers (with creative backgrounds) to its credit, he insists that it's purely a qualitative decision. "It's interesting to have a writer as co-producer. Who better to produce a show than the person who has written so many. There isn't any logistical advantage."

Actors, et tu?
What makes the producer's job desirable for actors is that it's a job with a long shelf life.  Vikaas Goopta, who has been creative head for Balaji Telefilms' Kitani Mohabbat Hai plans to turn producer.

Goopta also dabbled briefly in acting -- he shot for Ekta Kapoor's upcoming college romance loosely modelled on Twilight, Pyaar Ki Ek Kahani (but rumours abound that he is no longer on board). Goopta maintains that a job behind the camera has a longer life than one in front of it. "I wouldn't want to act again, ever. Acting on television fuels insecurity, is monotonous and hardly fulfilling," he admits candidly.

A source reveals that the 23 year-old will soon co-produce a non-fiction show with a music label. All Goopta says is that boredom sets in quickly in the industry, and reinventing yourself is the only hope.

That's something actress Ratan Rajput heartily agrees with. Rajput became a household name with her role as Lali in Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo. Now she is training her sights on writing, and being creative head. "I'm not the kind of actor who says my lines and leaves after 'cut'. I love every aspect of television, and have some concepts in mind. Let's see," she says.

Know the TV hierarchy flowchart
Television experts insist that there isn't a hierarchy on the tube anymore, at least behind the camera. But the credits of any show speak otherwise. The producer enjoys top spot, followed by the Director, Writer, Cameraman, Music director, Editor, followed by production departments.

How you can get there
Unless you are a star kid or have suitable green back backup, you'll have to start from scratch. Start as a Production Assistant to learn the ropes. Hope to move to the position of Assistant Director, probably an Associate Director, Director or Creative Head of a show. If you get lucky or pick the right mentor to work under, three years may be the minimum time before you turn independent Producer.

Easy Definitions
A producer is responsible for everything that goes on in a show, right from the idea, story, screenplay, to the cast, costumes, lighting -- all departments are answerable to the producer. Of course, the money talk of any show is his concern too. A creative head is responsible for the characterisations, settings, and script of any show. But he is not right on top, the final call is the channel's.

Scene abroad
It must be fun being a writer in America, since they are often credited as producers. According to the Writer's Guild of America's rules, the entire staff of writers are given 'producer' credits while the show's actual money backer comes under the 'produced by' credit. A significant actor-producer on American television has been Kiefer Sutherland who plays Counter Terrorist Unit office Jack Baer in 24.

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