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Trailblaze Possible

Ekta Kapoor Jan 2016
What happened when an international entertainment trailblazer who has been credited with revamping India’s television landscape came to NYU Stern? Well, of course, students and faculty from across New York University (NYU) flocked to hear her insights into India’s booming television industry, the world’s third largest TV market in terms of number of households, and the next areas of entertainment growth in India.

Such was the case on Monday, December 7 when Undergraduate College Dean Geeta Menon welcomed to NYU Stern the entertainment industry’s revolutionary powerhouse Ekta Kapoor, who is the Joint Managing Director of Balaji Telefims, one of the leading production houses in Asia and the Middle East. Professor and Executive Director of Entertainment, Media, and Technology program at NYU Stern moderated an hour-long conversation with Ms. Kapoor ranging in topic from her early career and family influences to the vision and future of her 21-year-old company, Balaji Telefilms, which is known for being unique, distinctive and disruptive.

When asked why she chose to take on the television industry as a career, Ms. Kapoor responded that she believes that we are influenced by our environment around us as well as our leanings and underlying genetics. She said, “There is no bigger influence than where your mind is, where your passion is. For me, it was television.” Ms. Kapoor went on to commend her parents for not allowing her to sit at home watching television, even though she loved it. They encouraged her to go out and do something with her passion.

After some fits and starts, she embarked on the Balaji Telefilms business with her family, emphasizing that she learned quickly to lean on her instincts to drive the content she developed. Ms. Kapoor went on to explain the counterpart to instinct, “You also need to understand the views of your audience” so that you can create engaging content that will resonate. India is made up of primarily one-TV households, so you have to be careful to develop content that appeals broadly to everyone in the home.

Revamping India’s television landscape with pioneering new content – especially in the soap opera realm -- was just the beginning, and Balaji entered the movie business. Recognized as one of the top five film studios in India, it has become a heavy hitter in that arena. Asked whether she likes television or movies better, Ms. Kapoor compared the two, saying that the stories in TV are slower to develop and are in some ways an extension of reality, while the stories in a movie are told much more quickly and are very much an escape from reality. Therefore making them are equally different!

Students from NYU schools including the College of Arts and Sciences, Gallatin School for Individualized Study, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, and Tisch School of the Arts were among the eager audience, all hoping to glean Ms. Kapoor’s secrets to success in such a dynamic and complex industry. NYU’s most popular minor is the Business of Entertainment, Media, and Technology, so it is unsurprising that during the question and answer portion of the event, students posed thoughtful, pointed questions reflective of what they are learning in the classroom and past experiences.

One of the students in the room, a former US-based soap opera writer herself, shared how proud she was to have worked in an industry that is often the first to push the envelope on key social issues of our time, such as the AIDS epidemic or LGBTQ rights. Fitting of what her company has become known as -- unique, distinctive and disruptive -- Ms. Kapoor agreed with the student, sharing that she doesn’t just want to push the envelope, she wants “to tear it.”

There is perhaps no better place to push or tear the envelope from a creative standpoint than in the digital streaming content realm, which will allow Balaji to work beyond the one-TV model. As Ms. Kapoor guides the company into the future and the digital content streaming business, she told the audience of the power of the internet, “[It] has shrunk the world and it’s now about how you connect with people everywhere. Countries are no longer barriers and it’s about catering to global India.”

More coverage:
Ekta invited to NYU for a talk on cinema

Ekta Kapoor addresses students at New York University

Ekta Kapoor invited to NYU for a talk

See photos from the event