Every day is a learning process, and every journey is a diploma.
That’s how I see my life.
When I was asked to write a personalized column on my debut as a Television producer with Zee TV’s finite series Bin Kuch Kahe, I realized that it’s been a year since I have been associated with this project.
I have seen my colleague and former editor of Stardust Sonali Jaffar from close proximity how she worked round the clock to become a reckoning name in the TV industry. For newcomers, Sonali Kotnis Jaffar is one of the most celebrated writers and producers in television industry. She has been a guiding force for me since my journalism days. “Ram journalism mein paise nahin hai, future ka sooch,” she would casually tell me. I knew what she was saying, and she was not wrong. But in my wildest dream I never imagined myself to be a TV producer. I am not looking down upon the job; it’s just that I never had any interest in this field. I am a hardcore movie buff, and I always wanted to make feature films.
When filmmaker and friend Rajshree Ojha decided to take me and Sharad Raj to meet media magnet Dr Subhash Chandra in Zee TV, I accompanied her as a friend. Bin Kuch Kahe was a concept developed by Rajshree and she knew exactly what she wanted in the show. When we pitched the show to Mr Chandra and his battalion, everyone thought that we stand no chance. While Rajshree passionately narrated the entire graph of the show, I was busy scanning the unknown faces at the boardroom.
Our show was first of its kind on television. We wanted to do a finite series. We wanted to shoot the series like a feature film. We wanted to work with a bank of 22 episodes a month and we wanted no creative interference from the channel. Credit goes to Rajshree and her conviction that she managed to get a deal unheard of, for any budding producer in the biz.
The show was green lit by Zee. We did our little jig, and celebrated our foray into small screen. But we didn’t even know that the journey was yet to begin. Neither me nor Rajshree had any idea of TV production. She produced her film Chaurahein and I worked as Vice President with Pritish Nandy Communication for eight movies. We thought that producing a TV show can’t be different from a movie. So we plunged into the world of television.
Be humble and firm at the same time. It’s very important to know your real team and floating team. A trustworthy spot boy is far more valuable than a manipulative CEO
Soon we realized that TV is not only different from films, but extremely demanding and time consuming industry. We faced teething issues with our new team, creative and production. We had our shares of fight with actors and technicians. Both Rajshree and me, took it in our stride. We had each other to shoulder our worries. There are several incidents which trained me a lot as a producer. So for whoever wants to walk the fire path I would like to give them learners tips.
- You must trust people, but never trust them blindly. Mostly people tend to earn your faith first, so that they can back stab you.
- Be cordial with your employees, but don’t be over familiar with them. They will always try to manipulate you with their “chiknichupri” talks.
- Stay away from make-up and hair dressers. They are extremely notorious. They can give Manthara from Ramayan a run for money, when it comes to gossip.
- Maintain dignity of yourself and at the same time do respect people who are working for you. They are the one who are making your show. It could be your show, but it’s they who are making it possible.
- It’s given that Creative Head on any show is the most disliked person. He or she gets the maximum flaks for anything and everything that happens on the sets. People will come and tell you a lot of stories about CH, just to create an unfriendly atmosphere, but you need to take it with sack of salt.
- Planning is the most important job of a producer. You must have total control over your writers, because they tend to control the show. Needless to say that in TV, the most important role and the most paid job is of a writer. In our show the writers have made more money than anyone, including yours truly.
- Negotiation skills are the most important factor to sustain you as a TV producer. Everyone keeps a “cut” in all the deals, that’s something which no one can control. But you need to know what the limit is. You cannot be bleeding for someone else’s stupidity.
- Budgeting is the fulcrum of your show. You need to make money if you are planning to produce a show. I remember Subhash Ghai telling me, “Ram, if an actor can’t act then he shouldn’t act. If a director can’t direct, then he shouldn’t direct. And if a producer can’t make profit, then he should not produce.” This stayed with me forever.
- You also need to be extremely careful with actors. They are the most vulnerable creatures. They are never satisfied with anything, and I guess that’s a good quality for them as an actor, because that makes them work harder, but it’s a nightmare for a producer to constantly meet up to their whims and fancies.
- You cannot satisfy everyone. That’s the basic rule of life. We had a crew member of 80 people, and they all had 80 different issues, for 8 months. I have learnt that “man management” is a skill which is the MOST essential part of becoming a producer. Unless you have that team spirit, you cannot lead your members.
- Never succumb to channel pressure. If you tend to give in to channel tactics, then you will never be able to express your ideas. Relationship between a channel and a producer should be just like a husband and wife. Unless there is proper balance, the relationship might not last longer.
- Payments should be made on time, so that there is no compulsion, obligation, legal hassles and moral duties. It’s best to keep it professional with the entire cast and crew.
- Never work with people who tries to spread rumors, indulges cheap politics and gossips about others. They are the most untrustworthy clans.
- Never get into any relationship with Director, actor or cinematographer. That’s the beginning of your failure as a producer. Once you are in a relationship, you tend to be biased. That will kill your perspective and you will not be able to flourish professionally.
- Be humble and firm at the same time. It’s very important to know your real team and floating team. A trustworthy spot boy is far more valuable than a manipulative CEO.
These are the basic lessons which I fathomed from my first venture. I am sure there will be more. The list of learning is endless. We all learn from our experience. Now we have just wrapped the Jaipur schedule, and gearing for our abroad shoot for a month. That would be yet another experience dealing with foreign crew members. Till then, shabbakhair…
(Cover pic credit: Suman Nandi)