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Ekta Kapoor Talk Asia Interview

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Mumbai, India (CNN) -- A: Ekta, welcome to Talk Asia. Now, you are a multi-multi-millionairess, you employ a thousand people or more, your shows are absolutely loved by millions of people, and you are in a position of immense power. What's that like?

E: Eventually it's sometimes all about going there and doing your job. I know it sounds extremely...so called, modest. But it's not that, it's just that I really can't look at myself with the kind of labels that people have put on me. I'm just a simple television producer who started off from her garage and whose only idea was to tell a story...and I'm doing that even now. So, you see that other bonuses are actually just that: the bonuses. The real gig and the real fun is making a show and telling a story. So, I think that is the real fun. The other things about being a so-called millionairess and a so-called woman of power, I think at best I would be somebody who's always watched and who has a lot of responsibility.

A: Exactly, and that was what my next point was going to be. They say that "with great power comes great responsibility." So how do you stay true to that?

E: Ah, you know, I really wish I were a superhero (laughs). I do think responsibility does come with a lot of power and more than that, it comes with the fact that you can actually change the thinking of those not only of your country but in the countries where your films are watched. So many of your protagonists, what they say and do, are going to be reflecting on the people and the psyches of the many people who watch it. For me, it's quite scary to go ahead to make my characters say things because, at times, you might actually be influencing a mind, and not one, but many of thousands of minds. So, yes, it is a responsibility that scares me a lot.

A: You have produced more than forty telefilms or soap operas now. I understand something like fourteen of them running, right now, concurrently. But, you are so young. Doesn't it make your head spin sometimes to think about it all?

E: (laughs) Um, you know there has to be time to think about it. And I don't have that much time to think about it! Ok, let me think about it...Oh God, at this moment, my head is spinning. But actually honestly, it has been quite a fast journey. Each growth has spurned into another new venture and that new venture has taken me to another one. There hasn't been much time to ponder what's happened and what's happening with a so-called scenario. I wake up in the morning and think about what I am actually going to put in my shows and go ahead and do that. I'm battling actor problems; I'm battling on-set problems. And, by the end of the day, it ends. Honestly, a lot of people say that I have cocooned my life in Balaji telefilms and a lot of my friends say that I don't see the world. I've actually done it, but I'm happy doing that, you know.

A: Apparently, you run your ship according to your whims and fancies. And, because you're not a morning person, everybody here has to work right through the night. In fact we're doing this interview right now nearly half past eleven at night. Are you a tyrant?

E: Uh, yeah (laughs).

A: And proud of it?

E: I'm proud that I don't really care about myself looking nice. But, I care about my company looking nice. I had to choose one day, and one day I have to think: am I here to win a popularity poll? Or am I here to do my job? Eventually, I have to take the decision very, very strongly if they're working with Balaji and they're under performing...I think that it's a slight to the company and to them. We constantly tell people that we don't want to create millions only, we want to create millionaires. We always tell people around here that this is an opportunity to grow from where you are. And if you're not growing, then you are taking the space that somebody else would get if you moved forward. And, as far as the night goes, the industry works at night. You won't believe it. If you look out here, there are about 20 shoots happening. They all happen at night. They have nothing to do with me, they all work at night. You automatically get into the schedule of doing from 2 to 10 the managerial work of the company and 10 to 2 the creative, because when you do the creative and if you are doing it during the day, it will be when you will be handling things, and you really can't sit. So you need time when people are not around and you've got to sit with your creative team and really ponder and do some creative brainstorming.

Set walk about

E: Today, what's shooting here is a show called Kasauti. And as usual a wedding scene.

A: So what is it about soap operas? Did you never want to do something that was a bit more straightforward?

E: You see -- it's this twisted storytelling format that gets the maximum eyeballs. And if you know this is your forte, which is also the popular, most commercial form of entertainment for the television viewer -- why not go for it?

A: You've obviously worked incredibly hard for all of this and to turn all of this into a reality. How do you deal with -- no offence -- fragile celebrity egos, do you have a lot of divas around?

E: Many, oh my God. We have more makeup vans than actors because mostly most of them come with their egos and insecurity in tow -- and that's leaving out their clan of people. But mostly people know...television -- we've taken some very drastic steps. They are imperative because if we give into demands with some actors it becomes the norm.

A: Who's getting married ? What's the storyline?

E: He is getting married to her -- that's her sister.

A: Who's the witch in the scene?

E: The witch in the scene is not here yet -- she's not shooting today.

A: And is this sort of storyline a big ratings hit?

E: Yeah this storyline is and in fact this show -- the one I'm talking about -- was dipping and this wedding scenario and getting this couple married has shown weddings work brilliantly on Indian television.

A: Is somebody going to be unfaithful?

E: No he's going to have a disfigured face.

Actor: Watch it Monday 10:30.

A: I can't speak Hindi

Actor: It's spoken in English

A: Oh great. I'll be there then.

E: He's going to have this disfigured face and she's going to be showing this great love and covering up his insecurities, which will go on to him constantly testing his wife.

A: Sounds like it's news to her.

E: The beast... and the beauty.

Actor: I won't have to do much.

A: So how long are you going to be disfigured for? Are you going to have to come in and spend six hours in makeup?

Actor: We're just going to shoot once and they'll use that stock for two like months.

E: You see actors -- I told you it's a different story.

A: Easy life.

Actor: What's the time now?

A: It's pretty late.

Actor: And we're still shooting? Easy life.

E: What time did you come onto the set?

Actor: Four.

E: See? Easy life.

Block B

A: As far as subject matter that goes into your scripts, you do sound like you're between a rock and a hard place, because on one hand, you have been heavily criticized for having the same old, same old plots, and then you try to broach something else, like you did with a rape scene. You were just slated for portraying women in a, "disgraceful" quote "manner". Where do you draw the line? I mean do you think that India is ready for such controversial subject material when it's such a traditional place?

E: You know what? The country as per large, the audience, is ready. It's a so-called intellectual audience, who actually look at rape when it's given by a commercial producer like me in a way that... "Oh, why are they showing rape?" You see, you can't please everyone; I've come to that conclusion. When we did shows which were called regressive, they were so-called regressive because they were dealing with women who were wearing saris. Now, we are traditional in our dressing, but there were very interesting and modern thought processes that were going on the show, but people didn't really see that. The creative team really doesn't care what people think as long as our conscience is clear. We're out there to speak about women who live in society with a certain amount of pressures. Unless you're shown the pressures, how you are showing them, fighting them, so rape, any kind of marital problems, divorces, widowhood are issues in this country. On one hand, you're told not to bring up those issues. On the other hand, you're told why are you dealing with regressive subjects. If you want to tell someone a story, or a moral, or a lesson, speak their language. I mean if you're going to be coming here and speaking like you're superior to them and telling them a story. They're going to tell you, "You don't know us." You bring them a character that is like them and make them fight the problems that they are fighting. And do it the way you want them to eventually think. And it'll work.

A: Your creative team is made up entirely of women. And they're young women, at that! What's that about? I mean was it a conscious decision or might that be an attempt at pushing back on a male dominated society?

E: Not really. You see, television is exactly the opposite of films. Films being completely male dominated, very few female directors, very few female writers, or creative technicians. Television, not only Balaji, of course Balaji started it all, but all production houses, channels today have only women staff. It's shocking if you see a man. This TV is for women, by women and about women. It's as clear as that. Soaps, whoever makes soaps, you need to have a female point of view. I mean men don't even understand why two women will have a problem over weight loss, or a dress, over male attention. And these are the things that only women can understand, so you really need a female staff to understand the psyche of a woman. So automatically, the whole industry becomes of woman. You won't believe it; we started this trend, a so-called trend, of having women working in very, very top positions in different fields of television-making and later you realize that the whole industry was following that norm.

A: What do they think of being under the female thumb?

E: (laughs) I think that they've given in. They quite like it now. Actually the fun part is, films, we have this so-called thing were women are taken as the sex symbols and men are the icons, the identifiable characters, the heroes. In television, exactly the opposite: women are the identifiable characters, the icons, the heroines, the so-called, and the actors. The men have to be the sex symbols!

A: Welcome back to this edition of Talk Asia, we're with the Indian TV media mogul, Ekta Kapoor. Ekta, you had a difficult childhood. Not because you wanted love or food or money or anything material, in fact, you were overweight and you were directionless by your own admission. Take us back to those days.

E: Ok. I was, you know, a lot of my friends called me Garfield.

A: (laughs) You liked lasagna?

E: Yeah, I liked lasagna, I was lazy...I had fun, and I thought the best part of life was chilling. I thought lazy was cool and I didn't know anything more. I actually thought that people who worked were really foolish because, why do I have to work? My Dad has got enough money; I don't want much in life. I need to have a good meal, twice a day, and I want to spend my whole life watching television. I was a couch potato. Actually, I loved watching television. I didn't do very well in studies... Then my father got an offer with a friend to make television, and I took that on. And suddenly I realized that I was putting in somebody's money...because my Dad had put a lot of trust in me, that I would do something, he really thought I had it in me, because no one thought that, including me. And suddenly, I realized that I was putting in somebody's money, and it was going down the drain, and I decided to take my work seriously.

A: You mentioned your father a few times there and he is the famous Hindi movie star, Jeetendra. How much of an influence do you think he had on getting you to where you are today?

E: I can't forget the day, I remember; that I had lost the principle amount that my Dad had planned to invest in television. And I was sitting with him and I said, and I had a very small amount left, and I said, "What if even this goes down the drain?" And he just looked at me and said, "Then I'll put some more." And I looked at him, and I said, "Why? You're spoiling me." He said, "No, if you weren't working, hard, like I'm seeing you do..." Because by then, I had started taking things seriously, but they weren't working out for me. He says, "I would have never said that. But until you work, I'll do anything in the world and see to it, to be there to support you, until I can...because I know you can do it." I swear at that moment, for me, I felt like, if God is up there and he listens to me just this once, I don't want to ever to take a rupee from her again, you know.

A: You're juggling all these balls at once, does the idea of marriage, or at the very least, settling down ever cross your mind?

E: It does. But what I have realized about marriage after all the soaps I've done (laughs), is that it's a very good concept. But it needs very, very, very clever execution and I think I would need a lot of time to prepare myself for that. Seriously, you need to prioritize your life and at this present moment, my career being my priority; I don't want to go into the next step that is marriage, because I have made a conscious decision that when I do get married, I would give my career...I wouldn't say a break, but I would give it second priority.

A: You do have an absolutely insane work schedule, I have to say. But, do you ever do anything that's not TV related. Like when's the last time you went away on holiday?

E: Um, I went to Bali on New Year's.

A: Very good.

E: Yea (laughs), I'm learning. I went with a couple of friends and we had a wonderful time. We partied, no one knew us. Had a ball and came back. And um, that's all I'm telling you about Bali.

A: (laughs) When do you picture yourself personally and professionally, in say, twenty years from now, what do you see?

E: Well, you know, it's the most tough (sic) question for me. I don't see myself 20 years later, first of all. But if you ask me professionally, I would want to grow in media in a way from films to distribution to exhibitions, that is theater-owning, to television channels, regional programming, regional channels, I would want to be in every department that media has to offer.

A: (laughs) So, you're definitely at the top of your game in India. Any plans for world domination?

E: These are things that have to be planned, not spoken (laughs).

A: (laughs) Ekta, thank you very much indeed for your time today, it was a great pleasure to meet you.

E: My pleasure, absolutely mine, my pleasure too.

A: And that's going to do it for this edition of Talk Asia. Our guest today has been Ekta Kapoor the queen of India's television soap opera world. I'm Anjali Rao, I'll see you next time. Thank you.


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