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AgTalk | We have always done differentiated television: Cinevistaas's Malhotra

Television prime-time as a ‘funda’ has undergone various alterations not in the shifting time-bands but also in the kind of content that is being played on prime-time. Gone are the days when ‘saas-bahu’ sagas ruled television evening prime-time from 8.00 pm to 11.00 pm. Move to genres like mythology, period dramas and comedy now on your television screens at dinner time. Adding another genre to this list is crime / thriller that is gradually moving from retaining male audiences to wooing female viewers with content being tailor-made for both.

They may be termed as the risk-takers in the always cluttering television space, but the team at Cinevistaas Production stands calm and confident of their latest product of labour – Ek Thi Hasina Thi. The show has been in the new for varied reasons, but is finally set to see the light of the day this month. The team is lead by producer – director Siddharth Malhotra who is an old hand in the television game.

Adgully caught up with Siddharth Malhotra, Producer, Director and Creative Head, Cinevistaas production to know about the changing television landscape, competition and more.

AgTalk (AG): Cinevista Ltd. today is a production house pioneer in the field of entertainment right from advertisements, shows to films. Please share with us the journey from its inception.

Siddharth Malhotra (SM): We have always done differentiated television and we stand proud of the kind of work we have done as that was what we always wanted to do as opposed to just going with the trend. Personally speaking, I have been here since the late 90’s on shows ranging from Sanskruti to Sanjivani, Dill Mill Gayye, Jaane Kya Baat Huyi to Ek Hazaaron Mein Meiri Behna Hai to now Ek Hasina Thi. We always launched new talent with our work, right from the time we had Vishal Singh, Urmila Matondkar , to Mihir Mishra, Karan Singh Grover, Kushal Tandon and Krystel D'souza. We have created landmarks in the given space with good positioning of shows, lead by content. As a television production company, we focus more on doing quality work and we are proud of putting our names on it!

AG: In about three decades, Cinevista has built a strong portfolio by working with big network channels across genres, making advertisements and producing films. What according to you is the success mantra which worked for the company across domains?

SM: I think success lies in being honest with whatever we do, may it be with the network, the actors, writers or anybody in the concerned periphery. If you are an honest product maker, you'll not cut short on product and the channel knows that producer will give life to the product/story. The television and media fraternity is all about making one-to-one bond. With Ek Hasina Thi, as a creator, I can say that this is the first time we are going to deliver a bank of 4 months and 42 episodes to a broadcaster; which clearly shows that network too has confidence in your product!

AG: In past, you've produced fictional properties mostly based on genres like romance, crime and thriller. Why has ‘reality’ as a format featured on your production menu?

SM: We’ve tried doing reality shows, where we did anchor based show with Sajid Khan but we were not successful in that effort. I think the reason is that channels look at us only as fiction based media company. Channels have about 3-4 players for non-fiction based properties who don’t get fiction property quite easily. It’s not that we don’t want to do a reality show, but it’s just that we don’t get the right kind of show and then that is also a reason that we stop pitching for them. Our fiction properties are doing best for us and we are happy with that...

AG: How according to you has ‘experimentation’ in television shows worked out for you and the television industry on the whole?

SM: I think a lot of experimentation has happened, back when there were shows like Tamas, Buniyaad and Katha Sagar to even today within the parameters of television working on different issues. The biggest experiment on India television I think is being done by us, with Ek Hasina Thi, where for the first time we got a girl in the show with an agenda in life! In this show, we have characters that are totally negative and grey, so hence I feel that distinctive character(s) is a good example to set as an experiment.

AG: After producing films like Garv, Ssshh.. Yeh Mohabbat Hai and directing We Are Family, you detoured towards television. Share with us your experience working for the big screen?

SM: I’ve directed We Are Family for Karan Johar and our production house has produced films in the past. But we have always been a television company. It was good and again I will direct films in future.

AG: Looking at the present scenario, share with us your understanding of mainstream Hindi cinema and television industry.

SM: I don’t think that there is any gap in television and ‘Bollywood’, as its fondly called. Big stars like Amitabh Bacchan, Jaya Bacchan, Anil Kapoor and others are now doing fictional television shows. Television stars like Sushant Singh Rajput and others have become mainstream film actors / stars. Today, TV actors may be bigger than the film actors as they reach out to remote places where they are very well known. The medium has become respectful and powerful with time.

AG: Brief us about your upcoming show with Star Plus - Ek Hasina Thi, which was rumoured to titled ‘Daag’ earlier. Why the name change?

SM: The channel Star Plus researched about the term Daag and understood that it symbolises a negative emotion and since they did not want a title which has negative emotion, we went for a change. While we all liked the title Daag and felt that and it went with the show cinematically, we called it that for last 3 years; however, they wanted a generic title. Even the current title Ek Hasina Thi compliments the show as it talks about a girl’s journey. The show is a 1 year series and has been written till the end. So, it’s been mounted like a film on TV, where we worked on the show for 3 years and now it’s a 1 year show.

AG: You mentioned about three years of work going into the new show. Share with us certain efforts that went into the making of the show. Also, what according to you will make Ek Hasina Thi a show with a difference?

SM: The way we’ve worked on the show it is like watching a ‘masala blockbuster film’ on TV. The way characters are dressed, scenes are written and shot are all unique to television. In television, in a lot of occasions, we plan story of 5-6 episodes and then we don’t know what to do; but here everything is been planned and written in advance. I think today, television lacks good writing because lack of time and that I think will differentiate. We have interesting and appealing actors like Vatsal Seth making his debut on TV after Just Mohabbat (as a child), Sanjida Sheikh, Ayub and Simon. Each episode has been colour corrected on smoke and been shot on a specific camera. Usually, we shoot any show in one or one and half day for one episode but this show has been shot as 6 different episodes. The channel was patience and cooperative about it as aimed to raise the bar higher! The show has been shot in Kolkata and we assure that it’s not similar to anything seen before. We’ve shown the richer side of Kolkata and have done it successfully. The show is vision of actors, director, writer who have worked for the show with sincerity from past two years. At 8.29pm to 8.30pm for that 1 minute  from 8 April 2014 we’ve started running character promo on Star Plus.

AG: Ek Hasina Thi is a thriller show, so being an old hand in the game, do you feel crime, thrill and horror are most watched genres on Indian television today?

SM: I think yes! But romance and emotions are what drives the shows on the country. People love to watch ‘thali’ amalgamation of all the genres!

AG: The show is been scheduled in 8 pm slot which is quite a competitive time band. Share your thoughts on the same.

SM: Yes you’re right; it’s an extremely competitive slot. It’s going to be a task for us as a team and especially for me, as my entire family watches Jodha Akbar running on the same time band!  The competition is very heavy, but we can just bash the competition by constantly providing good content and doing better work!

AG: Lastly, share with us your plans for 2014 and beyond.

SM: We’ll continue to do lots of television shows at Cinevista, where we have three more television shows in the pipeline. I personally, will be working on a film soon, off which I can’t tell you much right now!

Siddharth P Malhotra, is the son of yesteryears’ actor – producer Prem Kishen and is the creative head of Cinevistaas. Coming with creative lineage, he has given over a decade and a half in the television space. Siddharth has ‘hit’ shows like 'Sanjivani', 'Ssshhhh...Koi Hai...', 'Ayushmaan', 'Krishna-Arjun', Ek Hazaroon Mei Mere Behna hai, Dil Milenge etc to his credit. His directorial debut for Hindi films was the much spoken about Dharma Production’s ‘We Are Family’ starring Kajol, Kareen Kapoor and Arjun Rampal. Malhotra has studied in Bombay Scottish School Mumbai, India then to Greenlawns High School and then to New York University.

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