THE RANJAN’S AT # 1 TELEVISION AVENUE
Posted by barkha on February 28, 2011 | 3 Comment
Indian television owes a lot to Shashi and Anu Ranjan. They have, via their Indian Television Academy (ITA) awards given a stature and a respect, that Indian television fully deserved, but were lacking. Today these awards are the Emmy’s of India. Shashi and Anu, who pioneered the Woman Achievers Award and BETI, have combined well to take out the idiot from the idiot box and make it a proud profession to be associated with. When the annals of Indian Television are written, Shashi and Anu Ranjan, will feature prominently in those. Here we talk to the Ranjan’s:
What made an acting graduate from FTII turn to production and direction?
Shashi: Since I did not belong to any film family, I had to struggle for a couple of years in Mumbai for getting good work as an actor. During those days I did some films, some good, some very bad and I was not getting the kind of roles that I wanted to do. So instead of waiting around I thought of doing something else, in the creative world, where I could sustain myself with dignity. As I am from Haryana, I decided to make a Haryanvi film, called BAHU RANI, which was made at a cost of Rs 4 lacs and recovered close to Rs 35 lacs. That was a very satisfying feeling since it was a big success, in those days. Subsequently I produced 5 more films as a producer, director and actor so I got my experience of a producer and a director, at a very young age. Television, at that time had just started to take off in India and I was one of the first to realize the full potential of this medium. I started my television production company at that time and since then have produced over 2000 hours of television programming. I was a pioneer in the concept of talk shows in the country. It was also the first time a film star was stepping into television, this happened in my talk show which got Shatrughan Sinha, to host the show. I also made three Hindi movies, SIYAASAT (92 with Kimi Katkar, Kumar Gaurav and Shakti Kapoor), DOBARA (Jackie, Raveena and Mahima) and recently DHOOM DHADAKA. During all this I also started the Indian Television Academy, the primary platform in the country, for Television. We also started the Television magazine called GR8, the first magazine of television in the country. So summing up it has been an interesting journey, filled with highs and lows.
Your take on the current state of programming in Indian Television?
Shashi: Currently Indian Television programming is very mediocre. There is a paucity of good writers. The current crop of leaders of the various channels, do not have the vision to do something different, which is ironical since television, as a medium, is an ideal platform to try and conceive something untried and path breaking. Everyone is a “me too” channel today. When Saas Bahu started, everybody followed suit, then it became the girl child and everybody ended up making soaps around that, etc. Quite frankly the programming is quite pathetic in the current times.
Where did the germ of the idea come from, for an award specific to television, the ITA awards?
Shashi: The idea for the television awards came from attending a film award with Anu, where we were given front row seats, but some television fraternity friends were pushed to the back rows. We didn’t quite like this division between television and films. We felt that while TV was growing and soaps like Buniyaad and Mahabharat were not only immensely popular as programming but had also made their actors very popular and visible to the general public. I felt that they needed some dignity and also a platform where their work could be recognized. That was the birth of the ITA awards. The platform was created with great aplomb. It is heartening that not only is it successful, but it has brought a lot of dignity to the television industry. Similar with our magazine, GR8, in fact, it is called the Filmfare of Indian Television.
Anu: Today, the US and India are the two most prominent television countries in the globe. Hence these are the two countries where television awards are justified. It took us 18 months of hard work, spending time in LA, watching how they conduct the awards, seeing how television was not getting the respect that it deserved. The unanimous view was that “you do it and we will follow.” I got the Maharashtra Chief Minister during that time, Vilasrao Deshmukh to support it. Mahesh Bhatt, Shatrughan Sinha, Javed Akhtar, all were unanimous in their support. So we launched the ITA and they were all there at the launch. We got the channels to support it and we decided to do our first awards in 2001. It is the only award where we don’t nominate anyone. The channels and the production houses send in the entries and we have no say in that. Hence anyone can send in the entries as long as they fulfill the criteria and then you go for it. It is the Emmy’s of India. A lot of television awards have come and gone, but the ITA has stood solid in all these years and continues to grow.
What got you into the numerous Social causes that you are involved with? It is not something we see quite often in the Indian Film and Television industry?
Anu: Quite honestly it was not something I thought I would be doing. It just happened. We knew people supporting various causes, but beyond that never gave it much thought. My sister was doing some photography for the UN, in Delhi, on the girl child. During that time, her director, asked me if I wanted to do something on female foeticides, which back then I had no clue about. I told them that what I could do for them was to provide a platform, since I had limited first hand knowledge of the foeticide issue. So we decided to have this on television, do an event, and I asked the UN director to come and talk about it. They were happy with the outcome since it was a televised event and they had an audience listening to them. Cut to a few months later when they (UN folks) again talked to me and they mentioned that the adverse ratios between the male and the female child, is the most in the cities of Delhi and Mumbai. They actually picked up two, three hospitals in South Mumbai and Delhi, and when they gave the skewed ratios of the boy to girl, in the last decade, it hit like a ton of bricks. One did not expect this in cosmopolitan areas like South Mumbai and Delhi, as opposed to the smaller places. Clearly, there were things happening in these areas, which nobody talked about.. In fact we were informed that this practice is most prevalent in families that are more advanced culturally, socially and economically. This got me motivated, and I called the director and informed them that this is an issue and a cause, for which I am going to do something about.
So I founded BETI. The name said it all, there was no further explanation required. It was launched in the company of Shabana Azmi and Diana Hayden.
And without sounding frivolous, you have actually made support of a good cause, Fun, as opposed to making it preachy and boring?
Anu: Yes that was a conscious decision for the sole reason that in any cause, if you start taking a very serious approach, people loose interest. Also it is human nature, when celebrities talk, it registers right away! So all for a good cause, and if it is also fun, more power to all. Not frivolous, but fun and it is making a difference in people’s lives.We have had the woman achiever’s award, the fashion shows, cricket matches, all for BETI.Finally as per the latest UN statistics the ratio, in India, is actually improving as a result of the whole awareness on female foeticide.
Talk to us about the Great Woman Achievers Award, and now we are told it is moving overseas to Dubai?
Anu: In one of my trips to LA I was at a party and there I met Leonardo Di Caprio and we started talking, amongst other things about, the Woman Achievers Award. Next day I get a call from my friend that actor, Alan Thicke (Growing Pains, etc) would like to meet me. So we went to Alan’s Santa Barbara home and found out that he wanted to talk to me about the Woman Achiever’s Award. So after talking an hour and a half about the Woman Achievers Award, Alan tells me that he has googled and found that it is the only kind in the world, and that I should be taking it to more countries, especially since there was no other, cross genre woman achievers award anywhere else. So anyway I take his thoughts and am heading back to Mumbai and I find out that the flight to Mumbai has been delayed by some time. So I ask if I can fly instead of Mumbai to Dubai and I am told that is doable. Just on a whim, land up in Dubai, meet my friends Yogi and Falguni Mehta of Petrochem, who mention to me that you do the award in Dubai and we will support you. So now the awards go global and Dubai is the first stop.