When Ekta Kapoor changed the TV game in 2000: Her 3 early collaborators spill the beans

It all started in a garage with an idea about a sitcom about five girls and some borrowed money. The year was 1995 and a newly liberalised India was looking at an entertainment boom and Ekta Kapoor would be the queen of it. Hum Paanch would lead to Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, TV would lead to films and then OTT, but these were early days yet. Ruling the TV industry was perhaps a twinkle in her eye at this time, but as those who collaborated with Ekta back in those days, there was no doubting the resolve.

On Ekta Kapoor’s birthday today, we map her rise from a teenaged producer to the ‘czarina of television’ who changed the way India watched TV. She should also be credited to introduce us to K-dramas. No, we are not talking about the Korean shows but her dailies, which, for numerological reasons, started with the letter K. Starting from Kyunkii Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, the producer has iconic shows like Kasautii Zindagii Kay, Kahiin Toh Hoga, Kaahin Kissii Roz and more recently chartbusters like Kundali Bhagya, Naagin, Yeh Hai Mohabbatein to her credit. She not only gave the audience a plethora of content to consume but also became the epitome of success others would try to emulate.

The stars were aligned

A few years before Ekta struck gold on Star Plus with her repertoire of shows, the channel was in a joint venture with Zee to air a mix of Hindi and English shows. The hybrid programming was a non-starter and the channel could never pose a serious competition to the other major players, Zee TV or Sony TV. In 2009, as the partnership came to an end, and Sameer Nair took the lead of a new team. Ekta Kapoor had already produced Hum Paanch and did a soap in Tamil Nadu but she wasn’t getting a chance to make a soap as most boxed her as a successful ‘comedy’ producer in Hindi market.

“Towards the end of 1999, Ekta and Jeetendra came to meet me to discuss Kyunki, and honestly, I just fell in love with the idea the moment she narrated it to me. We decided to do a daily at prime time, which I think was the killer act,” remembered Sameer Nair, while talking to indianexpress.com. Interestingly, the team was also secretly working on a biggie — Kaun Banega Crorepati with Amitabh Bachchan. Both these 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, kbc Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi team on KBC set. (Photo: Express Archive)

The media professional revealed that the team was initially a bit startled when they saw Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. However, they decided to go with it without even any feedback. “It had a very different cinematic language and Star, which had quite a westernised approach, had not done something like this. It was a hardcore desi format and I told the team, let’s not meddle with it. We did not want to compare it with our earlier programming. Hence, the show went on air without any channel feedback and comment. And what a run it had,” he shared with a smile.

Sameer Nair said that dailies being on prime time rather than afternoon slot also did the trick. Given the success Kyunki brought to the channel, they worked rapidly with Ekta Kapoor, “In three months we launched Kahani and in another three months Kasautii Zindagii Kay was greenlighted.” The entire prime time was filled up and KBC was shouldered on both sides by these soaps, which together created magic, making the channel an undisputed leader. “Amitabh Bachchan opened the gate of the fortress and Ekta joined in. Together they both have been a significant contributor to Star’s journey,” added Nair, who is currently serving as CEO of Applause Entertainment Limited.

kyunki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi Ekta Kapoor on the set of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. (Photo: Express Archive)

He added that everyone tried to attempt the same format and even after 21 years, he sees the same trend. “2000 was the arrival of razzmatazz, big reality shows like KBC and daily soaps being on prime time. And right now, it’s the same thing. The year was a landmark and changed how TV operated in India, and it continues to be the same. I think everything just aligned for us to do what happened back then,” shared Sameer Nair.

Having worked with Ekta Kapoor as the Balaji group CEO, he concluded by saying that she continues to dominate the industry making some great shows. Also having tasted success in films and OTT space, for Sameer Nair, “she has only grown strength to strength as a creative and media professional.”

Ekta knows the pulse of the audience

One of her collaborators from the early years, actor Hiten Tejwani shared that Ekta Kapoor managed to create magic with her shows because she understood what the audience wanted. “She trusted her artists and they just delivered,” he said, adding that Ekta has a sixth sense when it comes to choosing the right talent to play the part.

Stating that he too believes they were destined to be a part of this revolution, Hiten Tejwani added that he feels they ‘were at the right place, at the right time’. He said, “Television was evolving, people were getting hooked to dailies, and that’s how we all made our own careers. Thanks to her, I got to play some lovely characters, which are still remembered by people. The whole idea of creating something is that more people see it, and she aced it with her knowledge and the talent to understand viewers so well.”

hiten tejwani Hiten Tejwani and Gauri Pradhan in a still from Kutumb. (Photo: Express Archive)

While Hiten was doing character roles in Ghar Ek Mandir, Kabhi Sautan Kabhi Saheli and Kaahiin Kissii Roz, he was asked to shoot the pilot for Kutumb. “The channel (Sony TV) immediately approved it and Ekta called me that we were ready to go on air. There was just no looking back for me then.” The actor added that he too trusted her vision and would go to shoot for her projects without many questions. “Even when Kutumb was set to end, she called me and said that I have to report on Kyunki set the next day to play Karan. She said I would get more details on the set. That’s the kind of equation we shared and I don’t think that time will ever come back.”

Post Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Hiten has been part of Balaji Telefilms’ shows like 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 talk about writers’ room, but Balaji had set up a writers’ apartment years back, and even paid for them to learn,” shared Sharad Chandrta Tripathi. The writer was picked in 2005 through a nationwide contest by the production house where 50 young people were chosen and then trained to become script writers. The ‘Lucky 50’ were grilled and polished to become the best in the business. The contest was run for four successive years, helping the industry find close to 100 creative minds, which includes people like Bandana Tiwari, Vinod Sharma and Sumit Arora among more.

Tripathi feels that Ekta always understood the importance of good content and writing. “Back then, we did not know of OTT or international shows, she got us introduced to the DVD culture. It was because of her we got to see some of the best international shows. She always pushed us to consume content from different countries as that could help us better ourselves. She has always been way ahead of her times,” shared the popular TV writer. He added that Balaji has always supported writers and given newbies a chance. “Ekta was not just a risk taker but also changed the recruitment process. She helped people find a career and passion in life.”

And not just people behind the camera, for the writer, the producer also did not shy away from giving new faces a chance. He mentioned that even today, channels and streaming platforms are obsessed with big names. “She had full faith in her content and made stars out of new faces. In her own undertaking, Zee TV was not keen to have Sushant Singh Rajput as the hero of Pavitra Rishta but she had conviction and fought for him. And look at how the show flew off. That’s what you call a vision,” shared Sharad Chandra Tripathi.

As Ekta Kapoor turns 46 today, we can’t wait to see what she has up her sleeve next.

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