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Star Plus opens its time slot gambit today with Mahabharat at 8.30 PM

Star Plus' trump card might be the weekday slot that they have chosen. The earlier show time will ensure that Mahabharat will not clash with known crowd pullers such as Sony's KBC and Big Boss on Colors

Sohini Sen | Mumbai | September 16, 2013

Arjun and Draupadi in Mahabharat

Star Plus has a lot riding on its new show 'Mahabharat'. The tale based on the epic story from Indian historical mythology is Star's big release for the season.

In recent times many historical and mythical shows have come on the small screen. However, none of the remakes was able to repeat the super success of BR Chopra's 'Mahabharat' and Ramanand Sagar's 'Ramayana' in the late 1980s on Doordarshan. Ramayana was made twice – once by erstwhile channel NDTV Imagine and most recently by Zee TV. Both fell flat on people meters. Mahabharat found no takers either in the form of Sanjay Khan's 'Maha Kavya Mahabharat' or Ekta Kapoor's 'Kahaani Hamare Mahabharat Ki'.

Meanwhile, Colors launched 'Jai Shri Krishna' in 2008 by Sagar Pictures which ran for over a year. Sahara One’s 'Jai Jai Jai Bajrangbali' (2011) and Colors' Mahavir Hanuman' (2010) couldn’t impress viewers going by TAM data for the shows. Meanwhile, launched in 2011, Life OK's 'Devon ka dev Mahadev' has been doing well.

Why then is Star Plus going ahead with such a show? On being asked, the channel confirmed that there was no consumer research done. However, the show has been in the making for three years. Star has taken help from renowned historian Professor BB Lal and the Draupadi Trust to make sure they stick to historical facts. Author Devdutt Pattanaik has helped with creative inputs while Salim Khan has helped Mihir Bhuta with dialogues. Oscar-winning designer Bhanu Athaiya, music directors Ajay-Atul, action director Ram Shetty are also part of the show.

Nikhil Madhok

According to Nikhil Madhok, Senior Vice-President – Marketing at Star India, the need for the story of Mahabharat needed to be told, “especially at a time when our society is going through social and political changes”.

“The story of Mahabharata has been told and retold several times over. But if you see, the current generation of under 25s, that is, those who had not grown up watching Mahabharat on Sunday mornings, would probably not know about the complexity and enormity of the story,” said Madhok.

With the backing of a big brand like Star, the story is likely to reach more viewers than the earlier versions attempted by other channels.

Sudha Natrajan

Sudha Natrajan, Founder-Director, The Media Consultants, commented, "Mythologies have come back and gained popularity. Unlike non-fiction, or episodic stories, which do not need viewer loyalty, mythologies do help promote and build loyalty. Channel share and stickiness increase with this genre of programming. It is my observation that the youth, who are becoming aware, worldly wise as well as technological savvy, are also inclined to explore their roots and their history. It depends on the treatment and the casting, which will determine if the youth can resonate with it or not. The Bhagwat Gita and the entire story of the Mahabharat are timeless and relevant even in today's society. If the narrative is simple, and is able to form a contemporary bond with the youth, it will work."

While Ramayana is a linear story, Mahabharat is much more complex. It has many characters and innumerable viewpoints. Ramayana as a story is well known because either it has been passed from generation to generation as bedtime stories or it has been staged as plays on Ramnavami every year. However, Mahabharat's retelling needs skilled hands and Star Plus hopes that they will be able to do the job. Unlike Chopra's Mahabharat which was narrated by Kaalchakra or time, Star Plus' Mahabharat will be narrated by Krishna. Krishna will also pose questions during each episode.

For Ramayan, Zee had unveiled a first of its kind virtual temple on its Facebook page. Interestingly, Zee had also leveraged the 3D depth-sense concept and created an exciting 90-second game of modern-day ‘The Battle of Good vs Evil’ for all those visiting Mumbai’s malls. The game created 3D avatars of Ram and Ravan. The players had to assume the Ram avatar and their mission was to nail the 10 heads of Ravan with accurately aimed arrows. Players could choose from amongst a choice of arrows such as the Soorya Baan (sun arrow), Agni Baan (fire arrow) and the Naag Baan (snake arrow). Zee had also made the show available on Doordarshan in the time slot of 11 AM on Sundays, trying to make the old weekend morning slot popular again.

Time slot gambit However, Star Plus' trump card might be the weekday slot that they have chosen. Mahabharat would come on Star Plus on weekdays at 8.30 PM. This has been decided after much consideration. The earlier show time will ensure that Mahabharat will not clash with known crowd pullers such as Sony's Kaun Banega Crorepati (which comes on Friday-Sunday at 8.30 PM) and Big Boss on Colors (weekdays 9 PM). This is also a noticeable shift from Star Network's Satyamev Jayate, which by coming at 11 AM on Sunday mornings had tried to rekindle that dying time slot.

The 8.30 PM time slot comes into play for the viewership profile as well. With the release of the new LC1 list, TAM is covering 92 per cent of the HSM urban markets against the earlier 74 per cent. After the inclusion of these towns, the average primetime has shifted to 8-9.30 PM and shows playing in this time slot do better. Mahabharat is likely to be more popular with the audience from the LC1 towns than the urban population.

Amol Mohandas

"We have seen channels try and capitalise on the Sunday morning slot just because earlier, mythologicals worked well. However, times have changed and with that people’s lifestyles too. Moreover, telecasting in the same time slot may raise viewer expectations and is more likely to be compared to the previous versions of similar programming. This genre would find high affinity among the smaller markets. Hence 8.30 PM looks good as viewers in smaller towns would be relatively free compared to their metro counterparts," said Amol Mohandas, Business Head at Allied Media Network.

Mahabharat's marketing strategy is far wider. It is being touted as the biggest marketing effort a show has seen on any GEC ever. Star has created Mahabharat themed museums across 7-8 cities. These museums will showcase an array of weapons and jewellery used by characters in the show. There will also be Glasstrons – something like a sci-fi glass – on the screen on which viewers would be able to see content linked to the show.

To make sure that the show reaches not only the urban mass but also the Tier 1 and 2 cities and towns, the same museum has been converted to a ‘Mahabharat Museum on Wheels’ that will have LED installed canter vans travelling throughout the country. To connect with the younger generation in metros, Star Plus will travel to colleges across various cities and install a virtual wardrobe there. The youngsters can then see themselves on TV screens dressed as any of the characters from the show. Star will use the Kinect Mirror technology for this leg of the promotion.

Though the channel is not ready to disclose anything right now, more activities are planned for the next six months – each time a special turn of events takes place in the show.

The channel will also introduce a high engagement app which will allow users to listen to  Mahabharat shlokas, take part in daily contests, pose with different weapons and jewellery from the show, and even go through the entire family tree of the Mahabharat characters. On social media sites, they have created a page for each of the major characters of the show and not just one common page for the whole show. While, there will be uploads on YouTube of specific content from the show – like ‘the making of Mahabharat – full episodes will not be uploaded for virtual or online viewing yet.

The outdoor campaign for the show will cover around 100 cities across the country. It includes innovations like a life-size mannequin of Arjun firing an arrow at a fish rotating on a motor above him. There will also be one of Shakuni with his dice. On television, five character centric TVCs have been created including one each on Draupadi, Krishna, Shakuni and Arjun, which are already on air. The teasers were launched four months in advance. These are being shown through the Star Network as well as 25 other channels. Again, the making of Mahabharat is being shown during primetime on Star as well.

A lot is riding on Star Plus’ Mahabharat. Its success will dictate the future of mythological shows and historical epics. The weeks ahead will unravel whether the new Mahabharat can rival the viewership success of BR Chopra's 'Mahabharat' and Ramanand Sagar's 'Ramayana' in the late 1980s. Star is leaving no stone unturned to achieve that.

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