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“It’s a mockery that everyone wants to make a web show; TV is number one” – Divye R Dixit

Divye believes that Indians need to start being proud of their ethnicity rather than getting influenced from the west.

Amidst the flock of seasoned producers, there are several first-timers, who manage to make a substantial impact in the industry.

And today, we are going to be talking unhinged with Mr. Divye Ratna Dixit, who made his debut as a producer with the Zee TV show, Sethji. While, the show may not have been able to get the desired numbers, it still cemented the fact that new concepts are finally being tried more extensively than ever.

So, here is a vis-a-vis conversation with the man himself-

Tell us something about yourself and about your journey..

My name is Divye Ratna Dixit and my background isn’t as such from a particular medium as one would think so. I am no artist who can play a guitar or anything, but I have an eye for art and I can listen to a song and tell you that there is something right or wrong about it. I figured this when I was in 10th grade and I started watching theatre plays and that was when I realized that I like media in general. Later, I went to North America, where I completed my education from York University in Colombia. I completed my Bachelors in Media Psychology and even though that is different what the actual visual medium, it is there where I learned about figuring out trends. What is working and why is it working and other things attached to it.

For example, in films, there has been a trend followed where there were multiple back-to-back films on freedom fighters and patriotism, where The Legend of Bhagat Singh happened followed by Rang De Basanti and so on. Then, we saw a wave of RAW agent films like Ek Tha Tiger or Kahani among others. So, I had a knack of making out what do people want to see in content, as a person spends so much time in front of a screen, be it television, film or mobile. So, I was always intrigued to know what do people’s minds go through when they are watching content. If you remember, there were stories about how people in India would jump off watching Shaktimaan as they drew inspiration from the protagonist. But imagine the same in America, where if people do it by watching Superman or any superhero (laughs). That doesn’t happen. Indian people have a really strong and aesthetic impact of content on themselves as compared to other audiences. So, I was clear that I want to do something related to content study and media study as to how people react to a presentation.

That was the beginning of my journey and I began to get interested in film-making and soon, I shifted my college and went to Paris, where I lived for four years. I used to go to this school called ECA, which is one of the oldest film schools on planet Earth. The exposure that I got there was amazing, where I worked with the guy who played carpenter in A Midnight In Paris. So, we did a lot of filmmaking before I got into the news section and started working for BBC as a research consultant. We analyzed how this particular documentary on the crisis in Syria or crisis in Bahrain would work for people. This gave me a lot of knowledge about human beings and story-telling at the end is all about humans. Since childhood, I have been a talkative one (laughs) and telling stories was what got my attention.

After travelling almost 45 countries in 2 years, my mother asked me to come back to India. Originating from Delhi, I came to live in Mumbai 2 and a half years ago. I had no clue that there is a flock of hundreds and thousands of people coming here to make a living and fortunately, God had been kind with me. My vision was always clear where I wanted to make a media company that stands for something rather than just making money. I personally don’t like the fact that how Indians, after living abroad and watching these different countries are aping the west and don’t stay Indians anymore. According to me, this is lack of self-esteem, where one thinks that if a person is not educated he cannot be successful. Infact, my father was an uneducated wrestler who is running a company that makes millions. So, this is where I realized that I want to stand for a particular thing and be particular about it when I make my own company. However, when it comes to producing, I did not want to become a producer so quick and it just happened, where I took a chance when I got an opportunity.

This is when I built my own marketing company called VMS Communications, where OffShore Productions partnered with VMS Communications and we have a video compression technology, where we can take a video and compress it upto 300% without any quality loss. For eg- take a trailer which is HD and around 50 MB and convert it to 400 kb, which is actually like sending Hello on WhatsApp. So, it was this crazy technology that led me to work with all the big channels and make apps, be it Hotstar or Sony LIV and we started marketing for them too. Slowly and steadily, VMS became successful and I began film-marketing. How to reach people easily, especially to the mobile screens and tell them to watch a film and if they react to the videos, then how do you re-target them etc.

How did Sethji happen?

How the show happened to me is a very interesting story. Personally, I am not a guy who can think of making a television show and I did not even watch television. Infact, I hated them to be very honest. This was because, on television, there was a point, where negative was glamorous! A character like Komolika was more revered to than others and people wanted to see and be more like her, which I thought was negative and it was like telling people that negative is nice. Fortunately, that changed and shows like Laado and Balika Vadhu came in and TV was progressing towards better concepts. I always wanted to make films, where I have directed a film myself which went to Junior Cannes too. I wanted to make films and I was clear about that. I knew I want to make something that is of value to the company and it builds an eco-system which doesn’t die too easy. So, with television, you have the opportunity to tell stories every day and if people like your story, they will stick to it.

Firstly, I quantified that I am making a complete TV show and this is when I began jamming with my creative friends and I have a very close friend, Priyamvada Kant, who is an actress with whom I was discussing this. We were just chilling one day and thinking about what kind of a TV show do we want to make and she came up with this beautiful idea of a Utopian village. A village where there is no electricity and live like ancient people and somehow they are stuck in time even in today’s era in 2017. Then the story of a girl, who is a punk and a girl of today entering this village and the thought behind it is that our generations are going so fast. The difference between our grandparents and our parents hasn’t been that much to the difference between our parents and us. They were still close to each other and their liking and dislikes still had a similarity. When it comes to today, the 4 year-5 year olds have become so smart and use technology that we cannot even imagine. So, the gap is so big that when a grandmother tells her grandchild, that aa teri nazar utar deti hu, the kids would revolt to this idea immediately. And Sethji is no different as it is literally about every household. And hence, my vision has been the same with Sethji, where Pragati (female protagonist) comes to this village, Devsu and how she amalgamates technology with rural beliefs to make a better living and this is what makes the story an amazing one.

I believe that Indians need to start being proud of being Indian rather than getting influenced from the west.

As you have been mentioning, it seems there is a lot of cultural impact on you more than being a business person. And the portrayal of families on TV is actually completely different that how it actually is. So, are you happy with the way TV has been projecting Indian beliefs and the cultural impact it has?

I will answer that with an example. Like one may have an amazing story about a guy climbing Everest; but his clothes and other things are going to be the same as every other normal person, right? So, the women on television today are as real as it can get. Of course, I don’t mean everyone is like that. May be a ratio of 5 out of 100 is how much it actually can be. But, there still is that number that comes from there directly. No filmmaker, even if it is a Sanjay Leela Bhansali can draw parallels from a complete fantasy. It’s just that, as storytellers, we don’t tell the boring parts and try to make it interesting. So, when it comes to the mediums, if it is a film, the 2 hours or so that one is watching the film, the maker has full attention of the audience as he/she has paid money and is sitting in a dark room to watch it. However, with television, the person may be cutting vegetables or kids to be handled and several other things that makes TV completely different than films. So to make that content magnetic, it is only fitting that the visual appeal is being catered to accordingly and it is okay to have women wearing gold and it is important that the appeal is conveyed. So, to keep that attention, it is totally justified that a woman is shown decked up and over-the-top because the magnetism is important.

There is a norm some people believe that there is regression when it comes to portrayal of women on-screen. There seems to be an absence of normalcy when it comes to portrayal of women as it is all about struggle in the end. Do you feel the same?

I think it’s completely normal to showcase a woman’s struggles on-screen. Infact, it’s perfectly normal considering how all of us go through so much struggle in our lives anyway. It can be that of deciding on a nail-paint to the financial challenges, everyone has that. Normal stories have no juice in them and when it comes to a woman on television being regressive, I don’t believe that. According to me, she is not regressive, it is a state that one is showcasing and there is nothing wrong with it. So, I don’t know if I should share this, but when I met Subhash ji for the first time, the man who changed the television industry, we sat for the meeting on how to make a television show. He went on to tell just one thing that take a woman, show that she is troubled and tortured and then showcase her fight against the same and voila there is your television show. Indian women are running this country and they are the backbone of this country. So, when that woman watches TV at home she watches another woman facing struggles in a situation which is outrageous; it is actually helping them. It helps them in a way that it motivates that woman to think that if she can, I can too. And hence, I believe that characters go through a journey and it is how its depicted is what is important.

There finally seems to be a transformation happening on television, were risks are being taken and there are shows with male protagonists too. What do you have to say about this transformation?

The transformation is absolutely super and it is inevitable. I think it was certain and it was bound to happen one day or the other soon and it is finally happening. I cannot deny that TV is a female-dominated platform, but women are also working and going out in real life too, right? It is important for people to realize this that television is not a second or a third platform, it is still the number one platform in India, when it comes to entertainment. So, it was inevitable to try creative content too apart from presenting the quintessential saas-bahu sagas. Infact, it has happened quite late and should have been taken place years ago.

What is your take on the rising digital age right now?

I come from the app world and I have been there for a long time and I know what kind of a future it is going to go through. It’s an absolute mockery right now where everybody wants to make a web-series. However, like every business, there is a huge high and then the business bites quick sand soon, when the pioneers come out and change everything.

Why do you think TV has the power to have a massive cultural impact not only on the elder generation, but on the young generation too, even though the latter is not really the target audience?

It is the reach that the medium has. A television set is present in every house and we are a country of 1.2 billion people. Even if you think that why has YouTube and Facebook became so big then that is because everybody has it on their phones. And of course, if you have it everywhere, it is bound to affect people accordingly. Again, with my background in Media Psychology, we used to read this at college that audience has two brains- conscious and subconscious ones. Generally, entertainment is for the conscious brain as one would like a character only if he/she relates to it. However, what actually happens is that when you’re watching that content, some of that actually goes to your subconscious mind. And this is probably at its maximum with India, where people are impacted by content with extreme levels.

Since you come from a marketing background, how do you think it plays a role in conveying the content to the people and making it successful? And what do you think makes one’s show stand out from the array of shows already present?

There is only one thing that matters at the end and that is STORY. One can do and practice as much marketing as one wants to do and try everything, but in the end, it is the story that will matter. Of course, I don’t mean that marketing has no role whatsoever, but it will only act as an aid to a genuinely story driven idea. The only need to market a product is because there are so many channels and there is a lot of competition and generate interest. Once that step is accomplished, the only advantage that it will give you is that people will stick it for only for the first few episodes. Later, if the content is not clicking with them, they will lose interest and there goes your viewer.

At Offshore Productions, we have really senior people working for us which include people having worked for shows like Jodha Akbar and have been in the industry for past 25-30 years and then I exactly have people by their side whose average age would be 24. Infact, I am the eldest one and I am 25, there is nobody elder than that age in that segment of people. So, we have tried to maintain the right balance of people to present a story which is nurtured well and presented accordingly.

That was some unique insight on the era of television, wasn’t it? What do you have to say about the same?