We're on a journey less travelled: Shailja Kejriwal on the return of Zindagi TV
Zindagi TV channel has launched on DTH platforms with the landmark series ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’. Zindagi, brainchild of Shailja Kejriwal, Chief Creative Officer - Special Projects, ZEE, was launched on TV in 2014 with the Pakistani soap opera ‘Aunn Zara’, which ended within 20 episodes. The channel came in like a breath of fresh air, but it had to bid adieu in 2017. Eventually wrapping up on TV, it became a digital-only channel. Starting out on the Ozee app, and later as Zindagi Digital, the channel finally launched on ZEE5 in 2020.
“Anything that is an alternative to dominant discourse is resistance. Zindagi is one of the verticals that we are engaged in, which provides an alternative point of view without aggression. So, that’s what we intend to keep doing. With our recent stint of Zindagi’s DTH offering via Dish TV, D2H, and Tata Play, our vision is simply to ensure that the stories reach every nook and corner of the country,” says Shailja Kejriwal, on the channel’s DTH announcement. Excerpts from her interview with AdGully:
As Zindagi Channel has lined up 65 shows and 12 movies with stories from both sides of the India-Pakistan border, what is the vision and mission behind bringing it back to TV?
The vision and mission behind Zindagi has always been representing the “other” as not very different from our own selves, and also providing an alternative discourse to that provided by news channels on either side. Stories are soft power that if deployed correctly, can defuse tensions and help build trust. My belief has been that storytelling needs to go beyond entertainment and that artists have a social responsibility to represent and include diverse point of views. Hence, at Zindagi, we keep expanding our audience base to reach out to as many people as we can through various platforms. With our recent stint of Zindagi’s DTH offering via Dish TV, D2H, and Tata Play, our vision is simply to ensure that the stories reach every nook and corner of the country.
Zindagi took its journey ahead with OTT fueling digital consumption. What will be the strategy behind balancing the TV and OTT worlds?
As content executives, we are so fortunate to be living in a country as vast and diverse as India. Our only job or motive should be to allow different voices to express themselves authentically, and they will find their own audience and platform. Over-strategising is killing authentic storytelling. The reason why we are so happy that Zindagi is on so many platforms is that it allows us the absolute freedom to create and curate! Between OTT, DTH, and TV, no matter what you create, it will find its audience. Zindagi is the first brand of its kind to be unshackled and to be available on so many platforms, so we can actually be creating such diverse content like ‘Churails’ on the one hand, and a ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’ on the other. We just have to get out of the way of diverse, original, and authentic creators.
With shows like ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’, a 2012 romantic comedy that made Saeed and Khan household sensations in India, what are the other shows that Zindagi will be screening for its audience in 2022?
Zindagi’s launch is accompanied by a novel content strategy of airing two episodes back to back, aimed at satisfying the needs of today’s binge-watching audience. We started our journey with the iconic ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’, a show that enthralled an entire generation in our country alongside shows like ‘Kitni Girhain Baaki Hain’, with Kirron Kher as the narrator.
The line-up under Zindagi for this month contains shows like ‘Sadqay Tumhare’, ‘Aunn Zara’, ‘Ishq Gumshuda’, and ‘Baaghi’. With popular demand, we also scheduled a re-run of ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’. Apart from fiction shows, we released ‘Silvat’, a social drama short-film, starring Kartik Aaryan and Meher Mistry, and directed by noted filmmaker Tanuja Chandra.
Besides, the audience will also get to enjoy movies like ‘Guddu Engineer’, directed by Nikhil Advani; ‘Baarish Aur Chowmein’, directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia, starring Taapsee Pannu and Amit Sadh; ‘Toba Tek Singh’, based on a short story by Saadat Hasan Manto, starring veteran actor Pankaj Kapoor and Vinay Pathak, and directed by Ketan Mehta; Aparna Sen’s ‘Saari Raat’, starring Konkona Sen Sharma, and many more.
In a statement, you had said: “Art is our resistance”. What are your expansion plans for the DTH offerings/ channel and future projections with this comeback of Zindagi?
Anything that is an alternative to dominant discourse is resistance. Zindagi is one of the verticals that we are engaged in, which provides an alternative point of view without aggression. So, that’s what we intend to keep doing. The fact that the brand and its content have received so much love across diverse platforms and audiences is testimony to the fact that as a people, we are more than what some sections of the media would have us believe.
What started as a small idea between a few people has grown across platforms and audiences. Now, the challenge is greater in trying to keep both the OTT and the linear channel audiences happy. Our content slate will expand to cater to this diversity, and on the one hand, we will have classics like ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’ and ‘Humsafar’, and on the other hand, we will also have shows like ‘Churails’ and ‘Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam’. Over and above these, we are trying very hard this year to see if a collaboration is possible between artists from both sides. That, frankly is, the ultimate goal – to create content with artists and technicians collaborating not only on screen, but also behind the scenes. That would be fulfilling, and I believe, would give rise to a new kind of content that would be diverse, inclusive, and tolerant of multiple points of view.
Following the 2016 Uri attack, Zindagi was forced to discontinue all Pakistani programming, finally wrapping up on television. What were the challenges in bringing cross-border channel Zindagi back to its origin?
When we started Zindagi, we knew of the challenges that it might face as a brand. The one thing that was a part of our vision and mission was that we might have to pause from time to time, but we would always come back with renewed vigour. Hence, we named it Zindagi. Even after 2016, we kept working on it, on our belief, on the content, and the next time we came back, it was not only with curated content, but with originally created content for OTT, which was a step ahead of what we had paused with. Three years on, we are expanding further with some more believers; our DTH partners who saw the success on OTT were happy to take it to an entirely different audience across the country.
So yes, we are aware that we are on a journey less travelled, but we are also really glad that our tribe of collaborators, creators, and audience is increasing year-on-year.