It all started in a garage with an idea about a sitcom about five girls and some borrowed money. It was 1995 and the newly liberalized India was waiting for an entertainment boom and Ekta Kapoor would be its queen. Hum Paanch would lead to Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, TV would lead to movies and then OTT, but these were early days. Ruling the TV industry may have been a twinkle in her eye at the moment, but as those who worked with Ekta during that time, there was no doubting the determination.
On Ekta Kapoor’s birthday today, we chart her rise from a teenage producer to the ‘Tsarina of Television’ who changed the way India watched TV. She should also be credited with introducing us to K-dramas. No, we are not talking about the Korean shows but about her daily papers, which started with the letter K for numerological reasons. From Kyunkii Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, the producer has featured iconic shows such as Kasautii Zindagii Kay, Kahiin Toh Hoga, Kaahin Kissii Roz and more recently chartbusters such as Kundali Bhagya, Naagin, Yeh Hai Mohabbatein to her credit. She not only gave audiences a plethora of content to consume, but also became the epitome of success that others would try to emulate.
The stars were aligned
A few years before Ekta won gold on Star Plus with her repertoire of shows, the station had formed a joint venture with Zee to broadcast a mix of Hindi and English shows. The hybrid programming was a non-starter and the channel could never seriously compete with the other major players, Zee TV or Sony TV. In 2009, when the partnership ended, Sameer Nair took charge of a new team. Ekta Kapoor had already produced Hum Paanch and made a soap opera in Tamil Nadu, but she didn’t get a chance to make a soap as most labeled her as a successful ‘comedy’ producer in the Hindi market.
“At the end of 1999, Ekta and Jeetendra came to meet me to talk about Kyunki, and frankly, I fell in love with the idea the moment she told me. We decided to do a prime time daily, which I think was the killer act,” Sameer Nair recalled talking to indianexpress.com. Interestingly enough, the team was also secretly working on a biggie – Kaun Banega Crorepati with Amitabh Bachchan. Both iconic shows launched on the same day, July 3, 2000, and changed the game for Star Plus and television as a whole.
Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi team on KBC set. (Photo: Express Archive)
The media professional revealed that the team was a little shocked at first when they saw Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. However, they decided to go ahead with it without even any feedback. “It had a very different cinematic language and Star, who had quite a westernized approach, wouldn’t have done anything like that. It was a hardcore desi format and I said to the team, let’s not get involved. We didn’t want to compare it with our previous programming. That’s why the show went on air with no feedback and commentary from the channel. And what a run it had,” he shared with a smile.
Sameer Nair said that daily newspapers are on prime time instead of in the afternoon also did the trick. Given the success Kyunki brought to the channel, they quickly teamed up with Ekta Kapoor: “In three months, we launched Kahani, and in another three months, Kasautii Zindagii Kay was given the green light.” The entire prime time was packed and KBC was supported on both sides by these soaps, who together created magic and made the channel an undisputed leader. “Amitabh Bachchan opened the gate to the fort and Ekta joined in. Together they have made a significant contribution to Star’s journey,” added Nair, who currently serves as CEO of Applause Entertainment Limited.
Ekta Kapoor on the set of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. (Photo: Express Archive)
He added that everyone tried to try the same format and even after 21 years he sees the same trend. “2000 saw the arrival of razzmatazz, big reality shows like KBC and daily prime-time soap operas. And right now it’s the same. The year was a milestone and changed the way TV worked in India, and it remains the same. I think everything lined up just right for us to do what happened then,” Sameer told Nair.
After working with Ekta Kapoor as CEO of the Balaji group, he concluded by saying that she continues to dominate the industry by putting on some great shows. Also, having tasted success in movies and OTT space, for Sameer Nair, “she has only grown stronger as a creative and media professional.”
Ekta knows the pulse of the audience
One of her early collaborators, actor Hiten Tejwani, said that Ekta Kapoor managed to create magic with her shows because she understood what the audience wanted. “She trusted her performers and they just delivered on it,” he said, adding that Ekta has a sixth sense when it comes to choosing the right talent to play the part.
Hiten Tejwani stated that he too believes they were destined to be part of this revolution, adding that he believes they were “in the right place, at the right time.” He said: “Television evolved, people became addicted to newspapers, and so we all made our own careers. Thanks to her, I got to play some beautiful characters, who are still remembered by people. The whole idea of creating something is for more people to see it, and she did it with her knowledge and talent to understand viewers so well.”
Hiten Tejwani and Gauri Pradhan in a still from Kutumb. (Photo: Express Archive)
While Hiten played character roles in Ghar Ek Mandir, Kabhi Sautan Kabhi Saheli and Kaahiin Kissii Roz, he was asked to film the pilot for Kutumb. “The station (Sony TV) immediately approved it and Ekta called me that we were ready to be broadcast. Then there was just nothing to look after me.” The actor added that he too trusted her vision and would start shooting for her projects without many questions. “Even when Kutumb was due to finish, she called me and said I should report on the Kyunki set to play Karan the next day. She said I’d get more details on the set. That’s the kind of comparison we shared and I don’t think that time will ever come back.”
After Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Hiten was part of Balaji Telefilms’ shows such as Pavitra Rishta, Kasautii Zindagii Kay, KKoi Dil Mein Hai, Kkavyanjali, Karam Apnaa Apnaa and Meri Aashiqui Tum Se Hi.
Way ahead of her time
“Today we are talking about a writer’s room, but Balaji had set up a writer’s apartment years ago and even paid for them to learn,” Sharad Chandrta told Tripathi. The writer was chosen in 2005 through a national competition of the production house where 50 young people were chosen and then trained as screenwriters. The ‘Lucky 50’ were grilled and polished to become the best in the business. Held for four consecutive years, the competition helped the industry find nearly 100 creative minds, including the likes of Bandana Tiwari, Vinod Sharma and Sumit Arora.
Tripathi believes that Ekta has always understood the importance of good content and writing. “Back then we didn’t know about OTT or international shows, she introduced us to the DVD culture. It was thanks to her that we got to see some of the best international shows. She always forced us to consume content from different countries because that could help us improve ourselves. She has always been ahead of her time,” said the popular TV writer. He added that Balaji has always supported writers and given newcomers a chance. “Ekta was not only a risk taker, but also changed the hiring process. She helped people find a career and passion in life.”
And not only people behind the camera, in front of the writer, the producer was also not afraid to give new faces a chance. He said that even today, channels and streaming platforms are obsessed with big names. “She was completely confident in her content and made stars out of new faces. In her own venture, Zee TV didn’t want to have Sushant Singh Rajput as the hero of Pavitra Rishta, but she had conviction and fought for him. And watch the show fly away. That’s what you call a vision,” Sharad Chandra told Tripathi.
Since Ekta Kapoor turns 46 today, we can’t wait to see what she has in store next.