The reality of the man
Anuj kumar goes to the edge to meet the unassuming Niret Alva
Photos (cover and centrespread): Sandeep Saxena
In focus Niret Alva’s fascination with automobiles is well documented in his early shows “Top Drive” and “Wheels”
As a teenager he used to secretly watch James Bond’s ‘adult’ movies at Odeon in his mother’s high heels. As an adult he quit print journalism within two days because he was expected to be at the bottom of the heap for a few years. As a television professional he made us realise that documentaries need not be boring and the world that India can generate television content of international standards. Arguably his biggest achievement is that he along with his brother Nikhil introduced us to the world of reality television with truth as diverse as Hospital and Indian Idol. Meet Niret Alva, the gentleman who loves living on the edge.
“After completing my course in journalism from Indian Institute of Mass Communication, I joined a media house for internship. On day one I found copies of seniors with incorrect English but I was not supposed to point them out. Getting a byline was out of question. I realised this is not the place for me.” On the contrary, he found in television a medium where the catchphrase ‘journalism is a team work’ being realised in true sense. Living on the Edge followed and the rest is well documented. “That’s the sensibility I try to inculcate in my team at Miditech. There is no junior or senior when it comes to ideas. Given a chance to choose between a boy who is extremely bright and one who is not that talented but is a team man, I will go for the latter.”
Two kinds of reality
Talking about the concept of reality television which many feel is taking an ugly form, Niret says there are two kinds of reality shows, one that show observational reality and the other that hinges on constructed reality. “Hospital, which we made for BBC, is an example of observational reality, while shows like Indian Idol involve constructed reality.”
For those who don’t remember in Hospital emergency patients in AIIMS were tracked from the moment they were admitted to their recovery. “It was observational reality done with the permission of the patients. We shot some amazing battles against cancer. The voice over (done by Niret himself) was also very point to point. BBC took special care not to insert advertisements in between,” relates Nitin. He suggests that the channel’s reputation was also a factor that they were permitted to shoot inside the premises. “I hope Indian television will eventually get there one day.”
He feels one of the reasons Indians have taken to reality television because of the feeling that they can change the outcome of a contest. “I don’t understand all this talk of leaving the young contestants in the lurch once the show gets over. Most participants are smart enough to understand what is expected of them and what they will get in return. Still I make sure to tell every participant that it is just a platform and an opportunity to get their talent noticed at the national level.” He insists that participants like Amit Paul and Prashant Tamang have become brand ambassadors of their states proving the format has mass appeal. But does it put the crown on the worthiest head? “That’s always subjective in a voting system. We know a person of the calibre of Manmohan Singh lost a Lok Sabha election.”
As for squabbling between the judges, Niret admits it’s constructed. “But at the same time it is not created. When you have three-four judges, and emotional people like Anu Malik on the panel, they are bound to have their favourites. In fact, at times we have to edit out portions.” He takes time but agrees even in the selection of judges they look for characters. For instance this time he is bringing Kailash Kher on the panel of Indian Idol. “We have to edit out some chunks,” he quips.
However, in the razzmatazz of reality shows, Niret’s efforts on the fiction front don’t get that much attention. “We were the first to put female pilot in the midst of Balaji bahus in the prime time with Sara Akash and it worked. Now our Kyunki Jeena Isi Naam Hai on Doordarshan raises rural issues and is among the top TRP grossers across all channels. And reality shows need not be only about bling. In our Lead India show, we endeavoured to find the future politician of India and we got some sensible participants talking about solutions to India’s grass root problems.”
All this is past. Niret is now working towards a general entertainment channel in partnership with Turner. Expected to hit air waves by this autumn, he doesn’t want to divulge much but hints it could be called Real. Does this mean we will get to see more reality formats? “Yes, we are in the process of devising indigenous formats but there would be much more.” As for getting from a free bird to a TRP dependent entity, Niret reasons, “We make too much of these ratings. They are indeed important but have you have ever heard of a channel closing down because of the lack of TRPs.” Back to the edge, mate!
Living on the Edge - Series on environment
Indian Idol - Music Reality show
Galli Galli Sim Sim - Indian version of ’Sesame Street’
MAD - Kids’ interactive series
Hospital - Observational reality show
Commando - Reality series
Sara Akash - Fiction
Aamir - Feature film
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