Ekta Kapoor, Joint MD and Creative Director of Balaji Telefilms, which going to formally launch the Alt Balaji app very soon, is looking at the digital medium for a different kind of storytelling. Asked at FICCI Frames about what changes for her as a storyteller with the digital medium, she said highlighted the differences between films, TV and digital as media to create content for: “These are three different mediums that cater to the same women in three different ways. We all have a family face, the outside world face and an individual ‘us‘ face. TV is about the family face. It’s the one medium that your family watches together. It’s a 5 people medium. Films used to be communal viewing, it’s content you view with 300 people, with 300 people in front of a screen.”

“Digital is about the content you consume alone. It directly talks to you. At a time of polarized views, while everyone has individualistic taste, this medium gives you a chance to watch what you want to watch. Clearly, for me it will be about addressing stories that I couldn’t say (on TV). You can’t bring too many radical views on television. You have to think of the economics of films. This caters to a larger sense of audience and each show can cater to a smaller audience, and yet manage to hold your interest. We probably want to cater to the polarized face now.”

A few things to think about here:

– Digital is a big bet for Balaji to go independent: As someone was telling me, Balaji Telefilms, for long, has wanted to do its own TV channel, but wasn’t able to. It’s worth noting that Balaji doesn’t own complete rights to the shows it has produced: they’re owned by the distribution/channel company, in STAR. This is an opportunity for Balaji to own both distribution and content – and more importantly, own its own content.

– The economics of digital are different: Her TV shows reach up to 60 million viewers, someone mentioned in a panel at FICCI Frames. This indicates that the economics of TV would be different because of a larger scale, as compared to digital. Advertising isn’t going to be much of an option to begin with, because of lack of scale, so we’ll either see a subscription model or sponsored content.

– Is there enough original content? Enough catalog content” Balaji is planning at least 5 shows with original content: DEV DD, Romil, and Jugal, Once Upon A Night, Boygiri and Maya Thirai (Tamil), apart from kids content on the app, but in a world where you have the likes of Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, both with large repositories of content, what will people pay for? How many apps will they download and pay for? How much will they pay per month? Will they pay per show? Amazon Prime Video is about Rs 499 per year, while Netflix India is Rs 500-800 per month.

TV is a feminist voice, won’t get marginalised by technology

TV is where Balaji Telefilms makes its money. “I’m not the most successful film producer, but for me, I make more money on TV, and because of TV I can make films”, Kapoor said. And, for good measure, she added during the discussion on the future of TV that “My content may not be on TV in five years, but TV is not going anywhere.”

When asked at the beginning of the session about how TV is changing, she talked about how her content is different on TV: “Before we talk about how it’s (TV is) changing we need to talk about how it was. Television is India’s biggest, most prominent and most aggressive feminist. It is a medium of and for women. While films celebrated men, women were celebrated by TV. Research actually said that women actually got a voice in households after TV and Satellite Television went big in 2000-2005. We have a country where we’re constantly blamed because we actually pick up kitchen politics, we pick up snakes that turn into humans, and of course that women characters on TV are created black or white, and not grey. We forget that we are actually a medium that has given a voice to women. But we forget that as there are (male) protagonist and antagonist in films there are female antagonist and protagonist in television.”

“Such a large medium and such a large voice voice, will it get marginalised with technology? I don’t think so. Its challenges actually give birth to fresher and more interesting content,” she added.

My TV shows addressed strong social fractures

Asked to respond to criticism that her (TV) content is giving a face to this country that is regressive and not modern, Kapoor said that: “I think a lot of the questions are raised by India (i.e. urban/upper class), and answered by Bharat (semi-non urban/middle class India). We have a country beyond of South Bombay, and we have to be aware of the problems at… If there wasn’t any identification to these stories they wouldn’t be told. Somewhere a daughter in law having an issue with her mother in law. We have a fractured social rule that we’ve imposed on women. You expect women leave their home and go and stay in another house because the woman of the house… if you remember in Kyunki, the keys being given from a mother in law to a daughter in law. You give your business to your son. That’s the way it works in most Indian homes. You give your house to another women, and she’s expected to adopt that house. Then you fight for the son of the house. So mother in laws tell their sons ‘You know what, she doesn’t do what I do for you’. They’re both fighting for the male attention putting the man on the pedestal. This is social fracture. We use this to convey a story. We made Tulsi go through a lot of issues with her mother in law. And then later on, we showed domestic rape there. There was a mother India moment where Tulsi shot her son. 2 crore people watched it. That was probably the only time that we brought up the issue of domestic rape. Television has addressed a lot of issues. A lot of issues that are relatable to Indian women. It might be kitchen politics for other people, but there are strong social fractures that we’ve addressed.”