EXCLUSIVE | Shailja Kejriwal, Zee Entertainment: Zindagi will curate, create, collaborate

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In 2020, keeping consumers’ evolving entertainment needs front and centre, ZEE Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. announced the return of its content brand, former linear TV channel Zindagi, on its digital entertainment platform, and helming the return-on-digital of Zindagi was one of the original content veterans from broadcast television, Shailja Kejriwal, Chief Creative Officer – Special Projects, Zee Entertainment.

Kejriwal has brought Zindagi back with the promise to offer its existing content library and also to create fresh new thought-provoking shows with a bold, multicultural narrative.

It was her belief in the power and ability of storytelling to be a great catalyst for change, and that, supported and enabled by the visionary leadership of the incomparable Subhash Chandra Goel, led to the creation the unique and path-breaking channel Zindagi, which had then brought two countries from either side of the border on one common platform for the first time in more than 60 years. She also helped create and drive the similarly disruptive Zeal for Unity initiative.

Storyteller, compassionate dreamer and believer in great content with the proven ability to power her original muse and first love, powerful stories across mediums, with cause and commerce. That’s Shailja Kejriwal, with whom we connected for an exclusive chat on the OTT launch of the second innings Zindagi and its potential and promise.

Shailja shared her views on the channel, its offerings, and the OTT content space in general while reflecting on the future of digital. And, since remember how realistic, sensitive and genuine the stories from across the border always were on the former, linear avatar of Zindagi which Shailja had powered in India, also about Zindagi‘s current slate of content.

A good story finds its own audience

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Kerjiwal is delighted with the audience’s response to the revival of Zindag, and asked about two new originals Zindagi has launched, says, “The philosophy of Zindagi has been that a good story that is relatable and leaves you with something to think about, will find its own audience. The fact that Zindagi has become a well-loved brand only proves that the audiences are happy with the diversity and inclusivity that it offers.

“The two originals that we have launched so far are as different from each other as can be. Churails and Ek Jhoothi Love story has both found tremendous response not only in India but also among the South Asian diaspora,” she says, adding, “Our content slate has legacy content acquired from across the border and curated by us. Along with that our two originals Churails and Ek Jhoothi Love Story have received overwhelming response.”

Image-churails-poster-zindagi-poster-mediabrief-1.jpgKejriwal believes every story has a bit of the creator in it. And if that finds synergy between the writer, director and producer, then that’s the yardstick of knowing that it will find resonance beyond the makers.

Churails was born out of the societal non-conformism of all the makers. Anyone who does not conform to the rules of society is deemed to be problematic, and especially for women, the word often used is ‘Churail’. Hence, Churails was about a group of women who decide to reclaim their lives and their power!”

On the second original, Kejriwal says, “Ek Jhoothi Love Story came out of the self-image issue created by social media. We all want that perfect selfie for our DP and we want the ‘picture-perfect’ partner,” she says.

Image-Ek-Jhoothi-Love-Story-zindagi-poster-mediabrief.jpgOn expectations from the next original on Zindagi, Dhoop Ki Deewar, Kejriwal expects that “like Zindagi’s other shows, it too will help us establish that art has the potential to bind people in solidarity.”

“This creates unreal expectations and dissatisfied relationships. The story deals with within-and-beyond-social-media relationships, and tries to focus on sensitivity and goodness beyond the filters.

“So no matter what the story is, we need to know why we are telling this story and how it impacts us to look at things slightly differently. It needs to make the viewer feel some emotion, and to that effect, be entertaining.”

She says, “Dhoop ki Deewar is a cross-border tale of love, family and loss, and highlights that borders are just walls built by us. It’s a story of Vishal from India and Sara from Pakistan, who find their lives interconnected when they lose their fathers in war, and their common grief becomes a foundation of their friendship.

“The impact of martyrdom and war on these two families and how they realize that peace is the only answer, is what the web series explores,” she says.

Zindagi’s content strategy for 2021

We shift gears to Zindagi’s content strategy for 2021, and Kejriwal explains, “Our strategy for the brand is divided in three parts: curate, create and collaborate. We’ve been successful with the first part. The second part is ongoing as we are continuing to create original content from across the border.

“The third part is what we hope to do in the near future – a collaboration, where people from across South Asia can work together with a common pool of artistes, writers and directors. Hopefully soon!”

On the comms approach of Zindagi

On the comms approach of Zindagi, Kerjiwal says, “We believe in the power of our narratives and we are striving to let our distinguished content be discovered by viewers. Zindagi as a brand and its content has been loved by viewers,” she says, adding, “and hence, through our marketing efforts, we are constantly reaching out to the loyalists who have supported our content in the past while also inviting new viewers to sample our shows.”

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Opportunities for Zindagi OTT distribution

Reflecting on the opportunities in OTT distribution, Kejriwal is happy that Zindagi now has the opportunity to create content for different audiences — not only within India, but internationally as well. “At Zindagi, we think of language over geography and try and cater to different cross-sections of audiences,” she says.

“The OTT space has definitely made creating for Zindagi more exciting. One can create a premium show like Churails and a mass show like Ek Jhoothi Love Story, and not be bound by geography. Just feels more exhilarating,” she says.

On Zindagi’s journey during 2020

On Zindagi’s journey during 2020, Kejriwal, says, “2020 has been an encouraging year for us, considering we launched Zindagi on ZEE5 and we have been receiving remarkable feedback on our content library including the original shows that were launched.

“In the last year, not only us but the category as a whole witnessed substantial growth with an overall increase in content consumption on digital platforms, with more and more people turning to OTT for entertainment due to the ongoing lockdown. This,” she adds, “has encouraged us to ramp up our slate of original content and we should be launching an original every other month — COVID permitting production.”

On OTT content regulations

“I believe in Certification over Censorship especially on paid platforms! We need to spend more time educating our people than protecting their so called “impressionable” minds with our thoughts of what is right for them and what is not. Till then Certification (with a voice over if need be) should do. Else we are just encouraging intolerance and suppressing diverse opinions!”

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Trends in the digital content space in 2021

On trends in the digital content space in 2021, Kejriwal, says, “I think the digital content space is evolving, and while creators are experimenting with concepts, I believe this year should be treated as a year of inclusion and diversity.

“We certainly need more concepts, talent, from all over the world to come together on a common platform so that the category as a whole can grow.”

When asked about her learnings from each of the two broadcast giants — STAR India and ZEE — that she has worked with, Kejriwal says, “STAR taught me to think big and think out of the box, and Zee has taught me how to make it commercially viable.”

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Advice to professionals

We also took the opportunity to ask Kejriwal for her advice to professionals. “The best part about this business is that it needs people with business backgrounds as well as people with creative backgrounds,” she says. “It is unfortunate that we don’t have integrated courses or schools that teach both together.”

She adds, “I would encourage the business people to spend a year or two on the production side, and the creative people to spend some time understanding the business side. That would give a complete understanding and could lead to creative success, potentially.”