Sandeep Goyal
Sep 18, 2017

Blog: How some of India's best TV shows were born

How brand Baba Ramdev stacks up in middle India and how some of India's best known TV shows were born

Kamlesh Pandey
Kamlesh Pandey
Lots of Campaign readers wrote in all of last week asking me to share my research on Baba Ramdev in more detail. Since the study of Celebrities as Human Brands is the subject of my PhD, and I am almost 99% done with my thesis, I am somewhat hesitant to publicly share the data at this stage. However, looking at the keen interest in the Baba as a brand, here are some snapshots of what the god-man looks like to Middle India on some select attributes. I actually do have a fuller picture of the Baba’s brand map, since I capture data across 64 parameters, but in the interest of my PhD submission, we shall ride for now with an abbreviated version of the research on the Baba.
As explained last week too, the Baba’s brand map shows highs on Innovative, Authentic, Unique, Progressive and Good Value. He is also seen to be very Successful. Which though almost matches his scores on Arrogance! The Baba also is seen to be Macho, Sexy, Fun and Helpful. Stylish is a downer. So is Pedigree.  Baba Ramdev also has a long way to go in his journey as Best Brand. 
Also, a long way to go on Friendly and Caring. And Ramdev is still way short on Loved by All. 
The Baba’s brand is still work-in-progress (WIP). It is evolving. The contours are interesting. But the Baba, despite his almost ubiquitous presence on TV these days, still needs a lot to happen to the brand he stands for. The Baba is a case study for brand marketers to keenly follow and track in the days to come. 
Mean while, since all my interest in the Baba had been triggered by Star Bharat’s ‘Om Shanti Om’ bhajan-singing reality show, I decided to do a back track on the genre itself. I invited the legendary Kamlesh Pandey to write for Campaign readers, capturing the early days of satellite television in India, and how some of India’s most famous TV shows were born. Kamlesh was the creator of some of India’s best known advertising campaigns, from ‘Whenever you see colour, think of us’ (Jenson & Nicholson Paints) to ‘Hum Red & White peene walon ki baat hi kuchh aur hai’ (Red & White cigarettes) at Rediffusion Advertising. He then went on to pen some famous Bollywood movies before joining Zee TV as its first head of programming.  Kamlesh has been kind enough to recount some of the early days of Indian television for us at Campaign. 
Back in 1992 when I was roped in by Mr.Subhash Chandra and my friend Ashok Kurien as Vice President, Programming Zee TV,I did not even know what the word ‘programming’ meant in the context of entertainment. 
My film ‘Khalnayak’ was about to be released and as Creative Head of Rediffusion Advertising, I was literally(and happily) having the best of both worlds. So when I agreed to the offer from Zee, my friend from films, Shekhar Kapur for whom I was writing a script to launch Bobby Deol, and my friend from Advertising, legendary Alyque who I had idolized, both, obviously out of their serious concern for my future, advised me that I was making a big mistake.‘Satellite television in India?Who is going to watch it? Who can even afford a dish to watch it when a ‘Free-To-Air’ channel like good old Doordarshan is available?’, both argued. In fact they prophesied that Zee won’t last even three months. But for me, satellite television was the hot new girl next door whom I must romance.I had done advertising, I had done films, both rather successfully, but television was challenging because it was repetitive and addictive, it was like water and air in our homes which could be turned on and off with a switch, unlike a film for which one had to take the trouble to go to a theatre for the complete experience. How television could affect change was best demonstrated by three boys from America’s first television generation —Spielberg,Coppola and Lucas. In 1970’s Hollywood was more or less dead, but Spielberg, Coppola and Lucas started making films for the big screen what they had grown up with on the small screen and Hollywood was back with a bang. Television in a way had saved Hollywood.
So back to the word ‘programming’.What I got to understand from what Subhash Chandra and Ashok Kurien tried their best to explain to me was that my job was like that of a magazine editor who decides the content going into the magazine. But Zee was a television channel and I wanted it to be as different from Doordarshan as I could make it. Right from the programming to its packaging, it had to look, sound and be perceived daringly different.
The golden age of Indian television had come and gone on Doordrashan in 1980’s, and by 1992, there was nothing on Doordarshan worth hunting. So Radio became my first hunting ground. What if we took some ideas from radio and made it visually exciting, I told my meager team of one young boy and three young girls. ‘Antakshari’ was the first. We made it into a game show with not two but three groups participating. We extended the concept to include family groups, teams from schools, odd couples, singers, sport persons, etc.We couldn’t afford celebrities(they all wanted money to participate in a game show on a satellite channel which they thought might not survive for three months!). For hosting the show, I knew Anu Kapur is also a good singer besides being a brilliant actor because he used to regale us after pack up while shooting for a couple of my films. Besides, he was very intelligent and could think on his feet without the help of a script. ‘Sa Re Ga Ma’ was another we took for radio. Sonu Nigam was trying to get a break as a playback singer and we wanted an anchor who could sing well. So he was in. ‘Campus’ was created as a response to Babri Masjid demolition out of a concern what kind of young India we were looking forward to? ‘Tara’ was a bold new voice of young Indian women and ‘Shakti’ of women empowerment.For ‘Philips Top Ten’ inserting humour and comedy in between film songs gave the show the differentiator.
We mined magazines too and the best idea coming from women’s magazines was ‘Khana Khazana’, the food show. But getting a host became a major problem. We auditioned several chefs from 5-star hotels but most of them were a disappointment. They couldn’t look at the camera while cooking and couldn’t cook while looking at the camera. Sanjeev Kapoor was the only one who, though still awkward, did show some coordination between looking at the camera and cooking. He was properly and thoroughly rehearsed before he could shoot.‘Mere Ghar Aana Zindagi’ was another show we mined from women’s magazines. It still remains perhaps the only television show on baby and childcare. But my favourite remains ‘Zee Horror Show’ for which I got a lot of brickbats. Horror even in films was considered so ‘C-Grade’, no decent family would be seen to be watching.But horror on TV for families? I took the brickbats as bouquets and continued fighting for the show when I found my own two kids hiding under the bed but watching the episodes of the ‘Zee Horror Show’. I also took strength in the fact the Gabbar Singh from ‘Sholay’, the most memorable villain of Hindi cinema, was so popular with kids that he was made brand ambassador of biscuits! We scheduled ‘Zee Horror Show’ for Fridays and often it would be Friday the 13th when the episodes were telecast. The show became so popular with kids that if the family was going out on a holiday and if it happened to be a Friday, the kids made sure the hotel had a TV with satellite link! The other show for which I got substantial brickbats and even threats was an episode on safe sex on the talk show ‘Chakravyuh’ in which I had allowed to show the use of a condom on a banana by a glamorous woman panelist! Our research had shown that in small towns and villages, many men did not even know how to use a condom!
But the show which made Zee into a brand and a popular household name was ‘Dak Ghar’ in which a couple answered questions from viewers.To make it visually interesting and interactive, I and my staff would write all kinds of funny and even weird letters using all kinds of unusual material like matchsticks, grains, buttons, and in sizes ranging from 3feet to even 6 feet. The viewers started playing it back by sending us even more weird and outrageous letters. The climax was when a viewer sent a letter written in her blood the way fans used to write to a film star. By this time, Zee was getting fan mail in trucks every week from the Worli post office. I had to post regular warning on the channel not to send letters written in blood but to donate blood if a viewer had excess of it! I do not take it as a compliment but this was perhaps the only case in the history of television that a channel became a person to whom a fan could write a letter in her blood.
I am infinitely obliged to Kamlesh Pandey for finding time to pen this rather nostalgic piece for us. Kamlesh Pandey is one of India’s early pioneers. I am grateful to him. 
Back to Baba Ramdev. Early ratings on his ‘Om Shanti Om’ show good numbers. Star Bharat, in fact, in BARC’s Week 36 ratings (September 2 – 8) stood at No. 2 with 378 million impressions in its inaugural week, which surely is a big achievement. Watch this space for more. 
(Sandeep Goyal is finishing his PhD from the Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), University of Delhi, on Celebrities as Human Brands.)










Campaign India