India TV diva's remarkable turnaround
Ekta Kapoor was India's top producer of hit TV soaps until running into difficulties three years ago. Business writer Alam Srinivas looks at how Kapoor reinvented herself and her company to return to the top with a string of hit films.
A fortnight ago, Ekta Kapoor's Bollywood movie, The Dirty Picture, won six awards, including best movie, director and actress, at a top film awards in Mumbai (Bombay), the Colors Screen Awards.
It marked a dramatic comeback, and transformation, in the life of Kapoor, the creative head of Balaji Telefilms, who was described as the queen of Indian TV until three years ago.
At that time, this 36-year-old daughter of former Bollywood actor, Jeetendra, was riding a TV high, with many of her "K" serials - the titles began with the letter K for superstitious reasons - ranked among the top five in terms of viewership.
Then came the great fall.
Channel 9x and Star TV, the two channels that aired most of Balaji's serials, took them off air; Star TV did it because of a legal battle.
In 2009-10, Kapoor's production house revenues were down 50% to $30m, and net profits dropped by a similar percentage to $3m. While revenues remained stable in 2010-11, the company incurred a loss.
Suddenly, everyone was writing the obituary on Kapoor's career.
It was a humbling experience for Kapoor.
"The crisis changed me. Earlier, I was rude to people, and reacted with emotions to how my shows fared. Now, I have realised that I need to treat my people well and be attentive to them. I am 75% more chilled than I was before the crisis," Kapoor says.
She re-worked her business strategy. TV took a back seat, although she launched a few successful serials without the letter K.
With a new CEO, Puneet Kinara, in place, Balaji decided to produce content across various platforms - TV, internet and big screen.
"I did not want Balaji to be perceived as a mom-and-pop show. I wanted it to become an all-entertainment company that provides content for all viewers," she said.
Kapoor's characters underwent a radical makeover. Pre-2009, the women-centric "K" TV serials portrayed middle-class women caught in a time warp.
Although their thinking was more modern, they were trapped in a traditional culture of conservative and sometimes outdated values.
Many critics felt Kapoor's women were relics from the past.
Post-2009, especially in the Hindi movies she produced, her women characters came across as fully-modern, living in a globalised world.
They were women who wielded power, grappled with technology and struggled with new insecurities brought by a changing environment.
Many touched a chord, especially among the middle class.
Then in 2011-12, Kapoor was back with a bang.
She backed young directors and produced films like The Dirty Picture, Ragini MMS, and Once Upon a Time in Mumbai - all praised by critics and viewers.
In the first nine months (April-December) of the 2011-12 financial year, Balaji Telefilms was back in the black with net profits of more than $2m.
The diva was back in the limelight.
Alam Srinivas's forthcoming book on Indian Business Women includes a profile on Ekta Kapoor