How Sony & Fremantle pulled off a 12-hour Indian Idol mega finale amid the pandemic

Sony Entertainment Television gave a grand send-off to ‘Indian Idol Season 12’ with a never-before-seen format, where over 40 artists performed over the course of 12 hours at the one-of-a-kind gala event. Planned as a clutter breaking and wholesome celebration of music, viewers witnessed some of the popular musical maestros from the Indian music industry.

‘Indian Idol Season 12’ had the most episodes of any singing reality programme at 75 episodes. For approximately 25 weeks out of 36 weeks, ‘Indian Idol 12’ remained at the top. They were rated 3+ for 11 episodes, and one episode had 100 songs, a first for any reality show. For the first time, Hema Malini, AR Rehman and Karisma Kapoor appeared in a reality programme.

Despite the pandemic, Fremantle Media accomplished a tremendous feat by creating such a programme. In conversation with Adgully, Aradhana Bhola, Managing Director, Fremantle, speaks about the 12-hour mega finale of ‘Indian Idol 12’, how they managed the safety of the team during the shoot, how reality shows and television shows have fared during these challenging times and are still maintaining a great audience engagement and much more.

How has your experience been, being  part of broadcast media (Star Plus) and now being part of the production industry?

Enriching. The common exciting denominator being bringing stories to life.

Could you share with us how you planned a 12-hour special finale episode and a 75-episode season?

To be honest, this is something that evolved over time. We started the season amidst the pandemic, which obviously brought its challenges – be it sourcing the talent, physically producing the show or keeping the creative excellence going despite various restrictions. Having said that, the team worked tirelessly, turning almost every challenge into an opportunity. For instance, while physical on-ground auditions were not an option given that safety was paramount, we devised online auditions that actually resulted in reaching pockets that were untapped earlier. Similarly, creating a bio-bubble in Daman to ensure that the show went on while keeping the cast and crew safe. And of course, I have to add that the biggest encouragement through all this was the love we received from the viewers. So many messages about how the whole family saw the show together, how ‘Indian Idol’ was their little happy escape from all that was happening around us, how much they loved the talented contestants, etc.

How did you manage the production of 75 episodes despite the curvew/ lockdown?

As I mentioned earlier, we looked for opportunity in the challenge, constantly innovating and finding solutions. If the office wasn’t an option, we set up home offices, if physical auditions weren’t an option, we set up online auditions, if studio audiences weren’t an option, family members became the cheerleaders, if shooting in Mumbai wasn’t an option, we set up a base in Daman, etc. At all times, safety of cast and crew was the No. 1 priority. Being a global organisation, we had the advantage of having access to safety protocols across the globe. We included relevant inputs while formulating our SOPs such as creating bubbles within the set, making as many team members work remotely as possible, etc.

What was the thought behind creating a 12-hour mega episode?

Simply put – a creative spark. Philosophically put, a befitting way of wrapping an extraordinary season. Our very own thank you to all the amazing talent that went into it, behind it and in front of it. It was a daunting task, no doubt, to turn the vision into a reality, but my aside with the team is, we started with meeting challenges head on and we ended on the same note.

With digital and short format content garnering interest, how have reality shows and television shows fared and still maintaining a great audience engagement?

‘Indian Idol’ has built and enjoyed a certain brand loyalty amongst the audiences. Even contestants who haven’t won the show have gone on to make a name for themselves in the music industry. I think that speaks volumes for the brand per se. As for digital, we have embraced that into the fold. We are also lucky that our long standing partner, Sony Entertainment Television, gets the power of this new age extension. So, in that sense, it is one big happy family.

How has Fremantle made optimum utilisation of time and resource while producing and while not producing shows?

This is a constant business endeavour. What I’d like to emphasise is the fact that people are at the heart of what we do. That stays as part of our core focus. The rest keeps evolving depending on the need of the hour and business overall.

How has Fremantle ensured that the staff, contestants, judges have been safe during the shoots?

As mentioned earlier, this was our No. 1 priority. We followed all the safety protocols as spelt out by the government, included know-how from our global productions and just kept at it. From regular sanitization, testing, encouraging vaccination, as much remote working as possible to shooting in a bio-bubble, we put this at the heart of our production plan.

What are the things that being part of a creative team one should keep in mind while creating and producing a show?

If you are asking specific to ‘Indian Idol’, it is a format that has been produced in 56 territories worldwide, not to forget, most of these territories continue to enjoy multiple seasons of the show. As a result, there is a pretty solid creative DNA that has stood the test of time that comes in-built into the show format. Having said that, there is no denying that local adaptation of any format is equally important for it to truly engage the specific territory audience. For instance, the journey of an unknown, unpolished diamond to a polished diamond who becomes the nation’s heartthrob is inherently built into Idols. However, it is the localisation – the talented small town boy, hailing from a simple family in Uttarakhand, who sings and plays various instruments – that is the secret sauce which transforms Pawandeep Rajan into India’s much loved Pawan!


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