Prachi Srivastava

Big B: From Reality to Fiction!

Fourteen years after his first television appearance on KBC, Amitabh Bachchan is set to play a fictional character on TV. afaqs! traces his television journey and tries to understand if Yudh can do for Sony what KBC did for Star Plus.

There are men, and there are Gods. There are only a few in the middle and one of them is Amitabh Harivansh Srivastava alias Amitabh Bachchan (his father had adopted the pen-name Bachchan; meaning "child-like" in colloquial Hindi). Facing the vulnerabilities of a common man, he rose from the ashes like a phoenix each time he was written off. And, once again he is here to do what he does best, challenge the game on the most widespread viewership platform, television.

Big B: From Reality to Fiction!
Big B: From Reality to Fiction!
Big B: From Reality to Fiction!
Big B: From Reality to Fiction!
Big B: From Reality to Fiction!
Big B: From Reality to Fiction!
Big B: From Reality to Fiction!
Big B: From Reality to Fiction!
Big B: From Reality to Fiction!
Ending months of silence on what Bachchan's television fiction debut will be about, Multi Screen Media unveiled its first look on May 31, during the premiere of 'Gunday' on its flagship Hindi GEC (general entertainment channel), Sony Entertainment Television (SET), the channel on which the show will be telecast.

Titled Yudh, the show will feature Bachchan as a business tycoon whose business has taken a hit; he is troubled because the survival of about 10,000 people depend on his business. The man is also shown shuttling between the two women in his life, and has a son and a daughter.

KBC: The show that saved two sinking ships

This is Bachchan's second television venture. His debut on the idiot box was with the quiz show, 'Kaun Banega Crorepati' (the Indian adaptation of 'Who wants to be a Millionaire?') on July 3, 2000. Then in his late 50s, Bachchan was self-admittedly in debt and struggling to support his family. Big Synergy's KBC, albeit a risk, was a silver lining for him.

Back then, it was considered a step backward for a Bollywood star do a TV show.

Nikhil Rangnekar, CEO, Spatial Access, reasons, "In most cases, it is actors who are not so successful in films who turn to TV, and that's why it is seen as a backward step." He clarifies that while this does not apply for Bachchan, it still holds true for other actors.

When KBC was launched, it changed the game and went on to create history on Indian television. It got recognition to STAR India's flagship channel that was struggling for sustenance, and brought "much deserved" stardom back to Bachchan's life.

As per TAM data provided by a subscriber, the first season of KBC took Star Plus' share from 2 per cent to 25 per cent (six metros) in the 9 to 10 pm prime-time slot. Since then, it's been 14 years, and the show will be launched in its eighth season with Bachchan, soon. Except the third season, all the seasons were hosted by Bachchan.

According to Siddharth Basu, producer, Big Synergy, Bachchan's blockbuster punch with KBC exploded a myth. "Instead of shrinking anyone, the small screen has expanded, and added depth and connect to a star's reach beyond the larger than life appeal of cinema. It is a parallel career, with far assured higher returns, and substantially fire-walled against the risk of low viewership. But, of course, without that larger than life stardom of the big screen, there wouldn't be that star value on TV. So the two need to co-exist."

The trend-setter

Big B, as he is fondly called, made the small screen big with his charismatic presence, opening the door for the Bollywood fraternity to invade the TV screen. As his famous dialogue from Kaalia goes, "Hum jaha pe khade ho jaate hein, line wahin se shuru hoti hai (The queue always begins from the point where I stand). Since his debut, a flock of stars have made successful and not-so-successful attempts at hosting shows on the small screen, raising the stature of television forever.

Bollywood celebs have also captured television as reality show judges. Famous "big screen" faces have understood the power of the medium and have readily accepted offers to be a part of it.

TV catches up with Bollywood?

Shailesh Kapoor, founder and CEO, Ormax Media, opines, "TV is a strong medium with a reach much higher than cinema. But in terms of star appeal, film stars doing fiction content on TV is a definite step forward for the television industry."

Echoes Basu, "The reach of television is already far bigger than cinema, its annual revenues three times that of Indian movies in all languages combined. Fiction on TV has by and large remained cheap and cheerful, and the advent of big ticket fiction, mini-series and marquee names, augurs well for content and quality, but their sustainability will depend on the ratings and revenues they are able to garner."

However, Rangnekar adds, "TV is and will continue to play second fiddle to Bollywood."

In recent times, there have been several attempts to merge the star power of Bollywood with the reach of television. The trend setter '24' was the first fiction show that featured Bollywood stars like Anil Kapoor, Anupam Kher, Shabana Azmi and Tisca Chopra. Reportedly, Sony is also doing a fiction show with Jaya Bachchan which is being produced by Endemol India.

Such efforts have further reduced the gap between TV and Bollywood. "A number of such shows (read: fiction shows) are under consideration and in the pipeline," Basu adds.

Why a fiction for Bachchan, now?

Television as a medium requires a lot of time of actors and therefore, whenever a Bollywood star opts for it, it's a finite series. Bachchan's decision could have something to do with the fact that he now does fewer movies. Kapoor says, "The younger stars like Ranbir (Kapoor) and Ranveer (Singh) will avoid doing television fiction, as they are rightly focusing on increasing their fan base via cinema. But we should be able to see some of the more established stars consider fiction content on television in the years to come."

The other possible reason could be a good, viable script. With Bachchan understandably charging an exorbitant amount, the channel has to make considerable investment including the supporting cast and production of the show.

Kapoor agrees and adds, "TV economics did not allow for high budget fiction shows earlier, which they do now."

"For an actor of the stature of Bachchan, there is no right or wrong time for anything. He is a trendsetter. It could just be that since he doesn't do too many films these days, he might be looking at TV in order to continue acting regularly, which is in his blood," Rangnekar adds.

The Battleground

Kaun Banega Crorepati changed the fate of Star Plus. It increased sampling and helped Star Plus catapult to the No.1 position in the genre and remain there, with the help of other shows by Balaji Telefilms.

As compared to Star Plus, which was not an established channel before KBC, Sony has been a leader and has tasted success. While Sony is stumbling since the past few years, KBC too has lost its former appeal, with stagnation setting in and family quiz shows flooding various channels.

Experts are of the view that the channel will have to strengthen its other shows as well in order to leverage Yudh's viewership. "The current programmes on Sony are not so popular. The channel will definitely have to ramp up its programming and introduce fresh and new content to be able to leverage the viewership that Yuddh can possibly bring in," Rangnekar says.

Basu believes that drama series need a fine ensemble cast, regardless of whether they're big names. Sony has roped in actors like Kay Kay Menon, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sarika to support Bachchan in Yudh. Anurag Kashyap is the creative director of the show, which is being co-produced by Bachchan-owned production house Saraswati Creations and Endemol India.

"Whenever KBC is on-air, Mr. Bachchan rates as the most popular non-fiction character on television. He has strong equity amongst the family audiences. Anil Kapoor is a known face too, but Mr. Bachchan's popularity is far higher. But on television, characters work, not stars. So, a lot will depend on how the audience engages with his character in Yudh. A big-ticket show such as Yudh will definitely help Sony. The key will be how they can use it to launch new shows around it," Kapoor avers.

During the announcement of the show launch, Deepak Dhar, managing director and CEO, Endemol India had said, "An amalgamation of an ingenious original script, great production values, the inimitable style of Anurag Kashyap and the stupendous talent and persona of Mr. Bachchan; this finite fiction series is sure to be blockbuster television!"

For the record, Sony has already roped in Cadbury and Olx as the presenting and powered by sponsors, respectively.

Home page picture courtesy: Amitabh Bachchan's Facebook page.

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