A biopic on Ramdev is Discovery’s ticket to Indian prime time TV

Perfect screen presence.
Perfect screen presence.
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
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The good times are rolling for Ramdev and Discovery India is looking to cash in. After years of streaming shows on wildlife, lifestyle, and machines, India’s famous yoga guru-turned-entrepreneur may be its next “Deadliest Catch.“ 

It’s not every day that the founder of a consumer goods firm becomes the subject of an elaborate biopic by a major media company. Ramdev, however, is a household name in India, first as a proponent of yoga and now as the owner of a trailblazing company. He is often seen endorsing his Patanjali brand of rice, detergents, and cooking oils. His public life has seen its share of controversies, too.

And in all this, the US-based Discovery Communications sees good content for an enticing script.

Already airing 11 channels in India, the media major is now set to launch Discovery Jeet, foraying into the country’s general entertainment segment. And for a big-bang entry, it has scheduled, among other shows, a biopic on Ramdev and a documentary on the 1897 Battle of Saragahi, fought between 21 Sikh soldiers and 10,000 Afghans.

“As far as stories on inspiration and underdogs go, Ramdev’s was a natural choice,” said Karan Bajaj, Discovery’s senior vice-president and general manager for south Asia. The show, titled Swami Ramdev: Ek Sangharsh was conceptualised as a four-episode biopic. ”But, once we got talking to him we realised that what we’d known about him was just the tip of the iceberg. So the canvas turned out to be really big.” 

The channel will go live on Feb. 12. 

The move comes amidst the overcrowding of the general entertainment channels (GECs) segment, the largest—up to 60% in 2016, according to a 2017 report by KPMG and FICCI—in India’s $27.3 billion media and entertainment industry. 

So far, Discovery’s offerings in the country, including the flagship Discovery Channel and others like TLC, Discovery Turbo, Science, and Animal Planet, have largely catered to upmarket, English-speaking audiences, translating to roughly between 10 million and 15 million households. But that’s merely a fraction of the hundreds of millions of India’s TV-viewing households.

“There is a feeling in tier 2-3 towns that there is a boom happening in India and these cities are not getting a fair share of it. So we wanted to showcase stories of underdogs, people who have come from the fringes of society and have found the courage to overcome challenges,” Bajaj said in New Delhi at the launch of Jeet in the presence of Ramdev. 

With Jeet, Discovery is targeting over 100 million households with its GEC, the bulk of the advertising dollars really being in this segment. The channel has a line-up of nine shows in the biopic, fiction, comedy, and paranormal genres, which will also be available in Telugu and Tamil, besides being listed on Netflix.

It wants to compete with the likes of Viacom 18, Star Network, Zee, and Sony, which churn out high-ranked shows such as Naagin, KumKum Bhagya, Super Dancer, and the Kapil Sharma Comedy Show

And nothing like a little yoga with Patanjali and Ramdev to flag off a campaign.