If Shah Rukh Khan had been born ten years later, would he have got a chance to play Fauji’s Abhimanyu Rai, the TV role that took him closer to superstardom?
More importantly, would Fauji have even been made now, when all you see on TV are weeping bahus, scheming in-laws and talent shows where the talented rarely win?
If you are among those who wonder why a nation that lapped up classics like a Tamas and a Hum Log now insists only on watching endless family dramas, you might find your answer in Venita Coelho’s new book.
Soap! Writing and Surviving Television in India is tagged “A Handbook For Aspiring Writers”. But you don’t need to be an aspiring writer to enjoy this one.
Venita’s insights into the history of Indian television, peppered with her own experiences – from being a “runner around” at UTV during the Doordarshan days to being the Vice President at Sony Entertainment Television – make this book a priceless read.
Stories on family politics, she says, will never go out of fashion because they are what Indians have loved most down the ages, right from the time of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
And though we follow the Western structure of story telling in the movies, where there is a beginning, a middle and an end, Television is where the Indian structure of story-telling is alive and well. Our great narratives, like the Panchatantra, never end: One story leads to another, Arabian Nights style.
The book traces the evolution of the Indian soap and explains why despite the red tape and the bureaucracy, the Doordarshan era was the golden age for fiction-based shows. It speaks of TV bosses who were sacked while they were choosing dessert during lunch hour, of program heads with no creative bone and no Hindi, of burnouts and impossible deadlines.
For aspiring TV writers, Soap is a book like no other.
With live examples, Venita explains how to work your story, how to sell your story to the channel, how to sustain the pressures of having a daily show on air and how to use flowcharts, graphics and power point presentations to track characters, family trees and the plot.
The book goes right down to the basics: it tells you how to copyright your idea, how to deal with the health hazards of being a writer (carpal tunnel, a bad back…) and even how to demand – and get – the money a channel owes you!
A must-read for anyone interested in the strange world that is Indian television.