Ektaa Kapoor Reveals Slate for Financially Responsible Balaji Telefilms: ‘People Expect Me to Cater to the Massier Audiences’ (EXCLUSIVE)

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Indian content queen Ektaa R Kapoor’s Balaji Telefilms, which is in robust financial health, has revealed a strong upcoming slate.

On the film front, Balaji recently boarded director Nanda Kishore’s Malayalam and Telugu-language magnum opus “Vrushabha,” starring Mohanlal, and also in the works are Hansal Mehta’s “The Buckingham Murders,” starring Kareena Kapoor, Rajesh Krishnan’s “The Crew,” starring Kapoor, Tabu and Kriti Sanon and Karan Boolani’s “Thank You for Coming,” starring Bhumi Pednekar. Sequels to Dibakar Banerjee’s groundbreaking “LSD: Love, Sex Aur Dhokha” and Raaj Shaandilyaa’s “Dream Girl,” starring Ayushmann Khurrana and Ananya Pandey are also in the making.

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On the television and streaming front, the details of the shows will be eventually released by the respective platforms, but broadly, they include an untitled historical for a leading broadcast channel, a pre-medieval era show for a global streamer, a show based on a real murder in the TV industry for a leading streamer, a love story for Sony and three more shows.

“My personal content-making ability on television is [for] B&C centers. On films of course, the paying audience – so the urban mass. And now the shows I’m making, automatically whenever anyone approaches me, be it an international app or an Indian app, they look at me to probably help them transcend to the smallest center women,” Kapoor told Variety.

“Me, as a production house, people expect me to cater to the massier audiences. And I think I’m much more comfortable doing that,” Kapoor said.

Balaji, which was started by Kapoor and her parents Jeetendra Kapoor and Shobha Kapoor in 1994, is the single largest television content producer in South Asia. The company made a tremendous impact with mother-in-law, daughter-in-law soap “Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi,” which aired 1,833 episodes between 2000-2008 on Star Plus and was one of several in the genre produced by Kapoor.

“When I did ‘Kyunki’ and all the soap operas, I was constantly told, of course, that it is regressive content that put women in boxes, but no one realized that it was the only series where women led the story, and it was their story. And it was 80% women were homemakers and caregivers. So the story did revolve around what was at that time, probably the most relatable issue for women,” Kapoor said.

Despite being warned by her financial team that it would be a loss maker, Kapoor went ahead and greenlit “The Dirty Picture” (2011), starring Vidya Balan, about an actor who doesn’t behave like a victim but a survivor who takes on the male-dominated industry by navigating through her sexuality.

“For me, that’s a great story to tell. No one probably saw it at that time. But that became one of our biggest hits ever,” Kapoor said. It was a similar story with female buddy comedy “Veere Di Wedding” (2018), starring Kareena Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor, that made more than five times its investment.

“Women are 50% of the population. You also know that this is an underserved population. You also know that this is a population that people actually underestimate as having a taste and a choice of their own. It’s just a huge opportunity waiting on a business side. On a personal side you also know that these are stories we want to tell and they are stories that will resonate. They are stories which will, as a woman in the content making business, are relevant and important. That’s why I, on a personal and professional, level, chase these stories.”

Balaji recorded a 76% financial surge from last year, with revenues of $71.6 million for the financial year 2022-23. In the first quarter of 2023, Balaji recorded earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $1.4 million, up from a loss of $3.8 million in the previous quarter.

The loss caused a complete restructuring of the company with the three verticals – film, TV and streaming – treated as separate businesses and the removal of their inter-dependencies.

“Treating the three different businesses like three different profit centers actually helped in seeing where the lacunae were, where the optimization was less, where there was too much fat and too much wastage, as far as capital goes. All the restructuring in the last one year has actually resulted in this report. I don’t know if I’m talking too soon, but I think we’ll be seeing exponential growth in the next year too.”

Kapoor aims to hit at least a 20% to 30% growth rate in all three verticals every year.

Earlier this year, Kapoor and her mother Shobha decided to step back from the management of Balaji’s streaming business ALTBalaji, known for its mass-oriented bold subjects with societal impact like sexual orientation and gender.

“Clearly ALT had to do content for mass India, and some of it was not completely gelling with us and our sensibilities. And the best thing to do at that time was to resign from the management [..] still have ownership of the company and let the creative teams who head this department continue with their job. It was a strategic decision and a personal one,” Kapoor said.

“We have a chalked out plan for three years on how to build the OTT platform separately, our content strategy on digital separately, our films, which we have about four more IPS we’re creating which are extremely new and interesting,” Kapoor said. “And on television, of course, it is a regular, entertaining masala that we churn out year after year, we don’t play too much because it is the medium where people want comfort viewing – they like it to be regular. And like most comfort food is and comfort entertainment is, it gives you a certain amount of melancholy, certain amount of feeling that the world is the same.”

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