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     Volume 4 Issue 20 | November 5 , 2004 |

   Cover Story
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   Book Review
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Slice of Life


Richa Jha

The day I met Ekta Kapoor, I knew she had vision. She may be brash, she may be vicious, and a sadist, you may accuse her of weaving a spell of pseudo-feministic, postlude post-modernistic regressive trends among the way women perceive themselves; she may be all that the media makes her to be, and more; but she has vision. Who else, but she, could have dreamt of plucking the modern woman out of her external world and placing her right back where she belongs: in the kitchen, in the bedroom, in the gossip or scheming chambers. Unthinkable in today's day and age, but she did it. And she did it ever so smoothly that even women lauded her for her revolutionary emancipationist portrayals. Vision, that's what she has.

Look at her office room, for instance. Even before you've entered her room, you know you've entered the den of a lioness madly in love with herself. Mind you, she has only angelic faces of hers smiling down from all the walls and ceilings, and up from the floor, but there's no masking the tigress with a vision behind those deceiving smiles. The place smacks of her now loaded famous line "life banaa doongi" (I'll make your life), and every twitch in her body reinforces that challenge accepted.

So there I was meeting her for the first time in her Mumbai office. Looking up from her mirror, she asked me that unsurprisingly-expected question (and perhaps the only one) that distinguishes the prospective employer from a prospective mother-in-law, "So, why do you want to join us?" That was just a slip, for she quickly corrected herself, "Join me?" Just as well, for everyone knows the one-woman empire she runs. Prospective employers and in-laws can be of several types: autocrats, megalomaniacs, martinets, whip-crackers, and several others that I can't readily recall. There may be an odd exception there, but that doesn't say much. Ekta Kapoor's natural style of working would put her into the first two categories. I would adequately warn my son from ever marrying into her family.

But it is different with employers. You cannot be that choosy. Given my desultory interest in the idiot box in general, and the saas-bahu sagas in particular, I really had no business sitting with her. So, why was I there?

Not that I have the answer to that till date, but like most interviewees who sail through this question, I mumbled words like challenge, passion, and so on, and she appeared taken in.

"Hmmm. Okay. So what do you know about me?" Please link this question with her style of functioning above.

"That you are King, Kempress, Kountess and Kughal of the television world," and on a scrap of paper scribbled these sobriquets with her trademark double K's and slipped it down to her.

"Ha ha ha! I like your sense of non sense. You are in!" Vanity needs little else to feed upon.

We shook hands, and she asked, "So, you say you haven't written television scripts earlier? You think you'll be able to handle it?"

I answered confidently, "I have been writing for magazines for several years. How different can writing for daily soaps get?"

"You'll see…" the far-from-reassuring tone didn't portend well just as I was about to step into a new organisation. As I got up to leave the room, she said, "Are you used to working with creative bosses?"

Boss, what boss? What a dumb question to ask, I thought to myself, didn't I tell you I've been a free lancer all my life; but politely shook my head before her.

"Just remember. I am there for concepts, storyline, ideas, plots, words, the works. The rest is up to you. Of course, you understand that you have complete autonomy here?"
Ahem. Yes boss.

They informed me that the theme for the fortnight was lust. I didn't quite follow that, but waited for puzzles to get sorted on their own. It took her sidekicks just a few minutes to realise that I was clueless about kitchen-politics plots. I was made to sit through reels of some previous tapes to get an idea. I saw how women suffer, whimper, whine, scowl, scare, plot, deceive, kill, die, and are reborn to go through the same cycle again. Tenacity is in no short supply; goodness of heart and intent is, and warmth, even more.

I saw a slap-special episode, where everyone who was anyone walked up to the stage and slapped a woman standing there. The same woman who was the recipient of this honour in each case stood there mute, while these others had their lines to say after their slaps, and thus managed their two minutes of fame. (Unlike, as I soon discovered, most men characters in the soaps who are mostly lily-livered spineless squeaks who often get by several episodes without a word to speak on screen.) It so happened that every other serial aired in that week had a more-or-less similar sequence! I finally knew what the theme for each fortnight meant! I identified several other themes which have already been aired: kidnapping of husband, kidnapping of wife, abduction of child, death of husband, death of child, infidelity, first-wife-reuniting-with-third-husband or vice versa, ghosts scaring people who aren't yet ghosts, husband killing wife or vice versa, and many more such pulse-stopping, heart rending plots.

Back in the viewing gallery, where I was made to witness several parallel shoots all overlapping in terms of sets, costumes, actors and actresses and the props. It would have needed a complex grid and quick planning to manage these five rooms on the set, with shoots for five different serials in each; the actors spoke, cried, pouted and vomited their parts in one room, quickly disappeared into the changing room, and reappeared on the set to do their parts in the other room for the other serial. From Kanjivaram silks in the kitchen shot to a slinky nightdress in the drawing room, to a heavily bejewelled protagonist turning off the lights in the bedroom, these transitions were quick and unmistakably un-lifelike.

And nauseating.
How long did I survive there? Why ask, now that you know I am back doing what I like best: being my own boss!


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