Radio storyteller | 26 Nov 2012
I feel that radio needs to have agents to break out of its Bollywood content. I don’t understand why humour on radio is so cheesy and so tacky. There is a lot of scope for wise content. Radio needs to become brave in terms of content. Why can’t we have radio plays, radio humour, radio comedy, etc? If original and honest content is created it will definitely work, there is no doubt about it.
Q. From journalism to lyrics writing, you have done it all. What inspired you to get into the art of storytelling?
Narrating stories has always been at my heart. There should be some amount of story telling in any form of communication you do and that has been my effort in everything, whether it is writing books, lyrics or journalism. To be able to say a story well and coherently is very important and that’s what I have always attempted to do. ‘Yaadon Ka Idiotbox’ happened suddenly when Tarun offered me a show on Big FM.
As long as you write the story well, people might be forced to share it or read it. Thus, be it ‘Dil Mera Muft ka’ from ‘Agent Vinod’ or any of my stories, sincerity in story telling has always been a dimension for me. Voice was never something that I used professionally in my entire career so far. I have always been a writer and writers are mostly backstage, so when ‘Yaadon Ka Idiotbox’ happened last year, it opened up a new world for me. It was great learning for my self and understanding for audience. I had never written a short story in my entire life, I had never been before a mike at a radio station, so it’s a new journey and I am learning, innovating and re-inventing as I go ahead and audiences like it.
Q. Music being the key rider on radio, do you think there is a market for this kind of content on air?
When my storytelling show commenced last year, some of my friends who are in other radio stations were not sure about the format of the show. Radio is a finicky medium, people do not tune in to radio at a particular time, however, the show defied all those perceptions about radio audiences and now people do tune at 9PM to listen to the stories.
In a friendly match between radio and television, we can say that radio won. We have been able to draw audience, we can create appointment listening, only thing we require is innovative content. The problem with radio today is that it is extremely Bollywoodised, everything starts and ends on Bollywood in India, which is very sad for radio. So when ‘Yaadon ka Idiotbox’ started at primetime, it broke the clutter and we tried to maintain the level of content to ensure that the stories were good. I really feel that the success of the show was not really about me, but about how the country is changing and how are families changing and not being able to spend time with each other.
For instance, storytelling has been a part of this country for generations and at one point it stopped, India became too busy to tell stories or give stories because things changed. Television started channels, shopping malls arrived, a lot of civilisation took place, and people’s working hours increased, which took a toll on the personal time of citizens. Non-Bollywood content can not only survive, but also thrive and progress and radio.
Because we became lazy and stopped creating new content, we started blaming it on the audience, saying that they want only Bollywood content.
Q. In the past there have been on air versions of shows such as ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’, which did not click with the audience. However, according to ratings, ‘Yaadon ka Idiotbox’ has evoked a strong response? What, according to you, has clicked with the audience?
I cannot say much about adaptations of television content because it is depending on another medium for content. What clicks with ‘Yaadon ka Idiotbox’ is that it offers new stories, so it is not the content you have heard before on any other medium which is presented in a new way. The concept is based on an imaginary city called ‘Yaadsheher’ and I created this concept because Big FM is airing this show in 35 cities which are as diverse as Srinagar, Guwahati, Kota, Allahabad and Kanpur. Thus, we need to create a unique concept which everybody can relate to. That became the strength of ‘Yaadon ka Idiotbox’, that everybody can relate to it because they can see their lives in this content.
Sadly, content on television has very little with which people can connect to. In our content there is a lot of honesty and sincerity and everybody can connect to it no matter what their age is. Secondly, the themes are also very universal and that’s what works for the show.
Q. Owing to the show’s unique format, what were the challenges that you faced?
I think my advantage was that I have no former experience of radio and thus, when I came on board I had no baggage of radio conventions. For me, content was the most important thing and I was able to concentrate on it. It was very brave and audacious on the part of Big FM to start the show at prime time because there were a lot of challenges since we were breaking some of the major radio rules. For instance, normally RJ links go on for maximum one and a half minute and my segments go on for four minutes which is too long for a normal show. As the show got popular the number of advertisements increased. However, it became a problem later because audience had to wait for too long to listen to the next segment because of the ads. Thus, Big FM went ad free during the main story telling hour bunching the ad on opposite ends of the hour. The show faced a number of challenges, however, we sailed through most of them and now have a good show.
Q. Please elaborate on how is the content for Yaadon ka Idiotbox’ generated? Do you author all the stories?
Like I said, I have never done radio before and thus I had no idea about the amount of hard work that would be required. However, when I started writing every story it became the most challenging creative assignment of my life. Every story used to be 2,800 words, which I would write everyday and then record it and package it. To create a new story, new characters, new emotions and a new ending everyday is difficult. I loved it and enjoyed it, but I realised that if the show has to go on I can continue to write stories everyday. So I set up an informal entity at home called the Monday Mandali (because we all used to meet every Monday). It is basically a bunch of young writers, most of whom I am happy to say had never written a short story in their entire lives. They were identified on the basis of their blogs, conversation with them, etc. So there are almost 15 writers now, most of who are in Mumbai. I train them and they author the stories, thus it is kind of a modern Gurukul. One person reads the story and everybody in the room has to give views on that, which is then revised if required and then goes on air. Also every writer is given credit. So, the Mandali writes and I also write whenever I can and that’s working quite well.
Q. Radio listeners have evolved over the years? Do you think there is a need of change required in terms of the content broadcasted on radio?
I feel that radio needs to have agents to break out of its Bollywood content. I don’t understand why humour on radio is so cheesy and so tacky. It does not need to be like this. There is a lot of scope for wise content. Radio needs to become brave in terms of content. Why can’t we have radio plays, radio humour, radio comedy, etc? If original and honest content is created it will definitely work, there is no doubt about it.
Q. As an RJ do you feel commercial pressure? Do you think RJs these days manage to keep their content objective in spite of the increasing commercial pressure?
I am a radio storyteller and not an RJ. Work of an RJ is very difficult; I might not be able to do it. RJing is a completely different craft. Since I am not Big FM’s employee, I do not get any commercial pressure from them, in the sense there is no pressure to do certain things in a certain way. Since ‘Yaadon ka Idiotbox’ is an outside entity on radio, it has an independent structure and thus I have never seen any commercial pressure in my show.
There are product integrations and there are things that have to be promoted on air and thus that element is there for sure. The art of an RJ is effortlessly weaving that element in their content and I admire the way RJs now do it.
Q. How do you see yourself growing from here? Would you like to take radio story telling up as a profession?
Fortunately, I am privileged enough to lead different lives in one day. I would love to run a radio station in future where I would air content of my choice and the content I feel audience will like. I someday want to air original rooted content, keeping in mind the audiences and not numerical value of the content. So on radio that is what I would like to do.
My idea is to just keep doing stuff creatively and try new stuff. If you have the capability of creating new and original content there is no shortage of platforms and that’s going to be my way forward.