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How Sunjoy Waddhwa rode on the success of ‘Balika Vadhu’ to scale up Sphereorigins

MUMBAI: Having been part of the Indian television industry for almost 15 years, Sphereorigins has carved its niche with clutter-breaking and issue-based shows.

The production house came into existence in 2002, but their claim to fame came in 2008 with the launch of ‘Balika Vadhu’. The show was launched at a time when Indian television was crammed with saas-bahu sagas.

The story and the setting of ‘Balika Vadhu’ in itself was a clutter-breaker: It was set in rural Rajasthan and took up the social issue of child marriage.

But bringing ‘Balika Vadhu’ on television was not an easy feat as it was hard to find takers for the show. The show got its life when Sphereorigins CMD Sunjoy Waddhwa narrated the story to Colors’ then programming head Ashvini Yardi, who Waddhwa had worked with at Zee TV. As Colors was a new channel then looking out for clutter-breaking shows, they immediately picked up ‘Balika Vadhu’.

Being selected by a brand-new channel acted as the biggest advantage for ‘Balika Vadhu’. Nonetheless, Waddhwa was apprehensive at first, considering the channel was new and in 2008 many channels came and soon went off air.

“The trepidation was from both the sides. For us, it was a risk because we were launching a show on a new channel and it was difficult to say if the channel would survive. A number of channels had launched and gone off air. For Colors the risk factor was that ‘Balika Vadhu’ was the first issue-based story that was rooted in rural India and was the only show that had a child protagonist,” Waddhwa said.

However, Waddhwa decided to stick on. The channels’ approach matched Sphereorigins’ belief in getting out of the prevailing television content norms. “What attracted us to Colors was that they wanted to break through the structure where everything was a grand set-up. In those days, every set-up and characterisation was more or less similar,” Waddhwa stated.

Upon launch, ‘Balika Vadhu’ set a new trend and a slew of copy-cat programmes were launched. The innocence of little Anandi and Jagya kept the audience hooked, so much so that ‘Balika Vadhu’ became the tent-pole show for the channel. Colors was able to enjoy the top slot on the rating chart with the help of ‘Balika Vadhu’ and soon became a Hindi GEC to be reckoned with.

2008 marked the busiest period for the company as they launched five shows in that year—‘Balika Vadhu’, ‘Raajkumar Aaryyan’, ‘Grihasti’, ‘Mohe Rang De’.

After that, Sphereorigins worked on various other shows such as ‘Tere Mere Sapne’ (Star Plus), ‘Jyoti’ (NDTV Imagine), ‘Iss Pyar Ko Kya Naam Doon’ (Star Plus), ‘Saraswatichandra’ (Star Plus) and more.

The production house continued to release four shows a year. However, over the last three years, it has offered only one or two shows a year. ‘Balika Vadhu’ also went off air on 31 July last year, after completing three seasons and becoming the first show to complete 2,000 episodes.

To date, Sphereorigins has created about 5,000 hours of content across genres. Currently, it has two shows on air—‘Peshwa Bajirao’ (Sony) and ‘Mere Angne Mein’ (Star Plus).

The company did not launch any shows in 2016, but this year it has so far offered two shows—the historical show ‘Peshwa Bajirao’ for Sony Entertainment Television (SET) and the thriller show ‘Koi Laut Ke Aaya Hai’ for Star Plus. ‘Koi Laut Ke Aaya Hai’, being a finite series, went off air in June 2017.

“At Sphereorigins, we don’t do extensive research or market study of the trend. We don’t keep tabs on the number of shows we produce. We focus on ourselves, like which genres we haven’t covered or touched upon. For instance, ‘Koi Laut Ke Aaya’ has been our first thriller. We wanted to be cross genres because we do not believe in telling just one kind of story. If you see our shows they are all different; some are light-hearted, some deal with serious issues but all of them have substance,” Waddhwa explained.

With ‘Peshwa Bajirao’, Sphereorigins has dabbled in the historical genre and the show has received positive feedback since its launch. “’Peshwa Bajirao’ has resonated with the viewers. That is what motivates us to keep up the good work. The child artists have found a special place in the hearts of the masses. We are sure that the audience will continue to love and support this show,” he added.

The first thing that the launch of ‘Peshwa Bajirao’ saw was its comparison with the Bollywood film ‘Bajirao Mastani’. The producer, however, never felt challenged as the stories differ in the two works. “While the story of the film ‘Bajirao Mastani’ was a romantic saga, ‘Peshwa Bajirao’ is the story of a ruler who was destined to do great things at a small age. Also, it’s not just a story of a boy, but his friends and family as well—narrating how they helped Bajirao to fulfil his destiny,” he added

Waddhwa is now looking to do another historical show, one that’s grander than ‘Peshwa Bajirao’.

The production house is also planning to work on non-fiction shows. “We would like to do something on the non-fiction front, a reality show of sort. We haven’t decided on the format or style, but that is something we want to create,” he added.

Waddhwa is not focusing much on regional or animation vertical of the company. He feels that the Indian market is still very young when it comes to animation and it’s also not yet economically viable. “Considering the amount of money we spent on ‘Chhoti Anandi’, we could easily have had a content syndication deal with the international company,” he concluded.