The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Copycats script small-screen success story

Calcutta, May 18: If it’s big on the Indian small screen, it must be an adaptation.

From Kaun Banega Crorepati (Who Wants To Be A Millionaire) and Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin (Yo Soy Betty La Fea) to Indian Idol (Pop Idol), every major hit on television is a licensed adaptation or “an official format” of a successful international show (see box).

There are no boundaries to the hawk-eye hunting by STAR and Sony honchos, with original shows being traced back to Spain and Colombia, America and Argentina. The copycat trend has been carried to Cannes 2005, where grabbing adaptation rights has dominated the buying and selling at the MIPTV (television market). STAR, for instance, has bagged two money-spinners from the house of Dutch-based Endemol Entertainment ' a high-tension quiz show named Heartbeat and a reality sports programme, The Match.

This follows the launch of Sony Entertainment Television’s new reality talent hunt Fame Gurukul, based on the record-breaking Spanish show Operacion Triunfo, and meant to fill the gap left by TRP-topper Indian Idol, which in turn was a desi avatar of the popular UK show Pop Idol.

“The idea is to look out for good shows that can be adapted to an Indian milieu,” says Tarun Katial, executive vice-president and business head of Sony Entertainment Television. “Once we like a show, we approach the company having the rights. After negotiations, we buy the format and then adapt it accordingly.”

A tweak here and there is allowed, but one cannot change the basic structure. Ask Synergy Communications’ Karun Prabhakaran, executive producer for adapted shows like Kaun Banega Crorepati, Mastermind India, University Challenge and India Child Genius. “You cannot touch the basic format' For KBC, which is still the most successful of adapted shows in India, we kept the sets, music, graphics exactly the same. In fact, a senior producer from Celador (the original company) flew down to ensure that we hadn’t made major changes. We even had Amitabh Bachchan flying to London to watch the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire shoots. He watched a lot of tapes of both the UK and US versions before going on air.”

The rules are relaxed and the format made more flexible when a fictional show is adapted. Says STAR Plus’s creative director Shailaja Kejriwal: “Our most popular serial in recent times, Miilee, is adapted from the Argentine tele-novella Wild Angel. They sent us the full story and screenplay, but we watched only one episode of the original before preparing our storyboard. While the Latin American social structure is very similar to ours, the setting, the costumes, the morals are altogether different. So while adapting, we just used the original as a take-off point and then packed it with our original flavours.”

The acting often borrows heavily from the original. Says Mona Singh, better known as Jassi: “Before shooting began, I used to watch the original of Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin ' the Colombian show Yo Soy Betty La Fea ' very closely. I was asked to imbibe the basic body language of the character.”

Not every adaptation spells success. “People couldn’t love to hate Neena Gupta when we adapted The Weakest Link to Kamzor Kadi Kaun,” recalls Prabhakaran. “The Indian audience found her attitude too rude, but when the Indian Idol judges were as blunt with the participants, people loved it. So the choice of adaptive material has to match the changing tastes of the viewers.”

Formatted adaptations, both fiction and non-fiction, are here to stay. “With 60 channels running 24 hours a day, we do not have the manpower or even talent to produce such huge quantities of software,” admits Kejriwal. Though adapting and translating is often “more difficult than producing an original show”, says the industry, it is invariably “a safer bet”, having already tasted success in several countries.

So, copy kiya jaye'

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