Diana Silvester is a name to reckon with in the television industry. The producer of Asianet’s ‘Cinemala’, Diana has to her credit the record of being the producer of one of the longest running television programmes in India. ‘Cinemala’ has completed 988 episodes and is on course to touch a milestone of 1,000 episodes. Changes in timing, format and actors have not much affected the show.

Diana is the brain behind the series that is perhaps as old as the channel itself. If stars of the silver screen have participated in the comedy show, some of its actors went on to shine in tinsel town as leading stars. One of the reasons for the show’s popularity is its irreverent attitude to the high and mighty from all walks of life. Politicians, cultural icons, bureaucrats and mediapersons have all been at the receiving end of the show and, yet, many of them are fans of the programme.

Diana, who completed her masters in Mass Communication from the United States, was recruited by mediaperson Sashikumar during the early days of Asianet. She remembers how he was keen on having a programme that was different from Doordarshan’s ‘Chitrahar’, which used to be a compilation of film songs. Excerpts from an interview with Diana, one of the pioneers of the television industry in Kerala…

First take

There were a lot of constraints and we had to weave a show around film clippings that were categorised into themes. We started off with a storyline to link the clips and an anchor to host the show. The show took time to find its feet. But then it caught on and became one of the first shows in Malayalam to get high TRP ratings. Then we decided to change the format and gradually it evolved into the satire based on current events.

Comic streak

My father, C.R. Silvester’s theatre troupe Tip Top must have staged some of the most memorable comedies in and around Kochi. I feel my show is not a patch on that. Rightfrom schoolmy interest was in comedy and comic roles. Whenever I did theatre, I would choose to do comedies. In the time needed to stage a comedy, I would be able to produce 10 serious programmes.

Planning each episode

I have a dedicated team, each of whom contributes to the show. We discuss the theme for the week and then sit together to plan the show on paper, complete with written dialogues and storylines. Some of the actors are adept at improvising and I have no hassles about that. Sinceit is based on current events, we don’t have much time to plan and prepare for the show. Yet, many of the episodes have made certain issues the talk of the town. I have a great team, there are no starry or artistic tantrums. Ours is not a programme that is a rollicking comedy but a satire that holds a mirror to real life. It is akin to a trapeze act. We walk a thin line, one small slip and the whole act falls flat.

The art of lampooning

No one has been spared but the pleasant surprise is that most of them have never nursed a grudge against the programme or its actors. Recently, we contacted Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Defence Minister A.K. Antony for a statement to be aired for a mega show we are planning. Both of them willingly gave us time. Similarly, K. Karunakaran’s family has been very supportive of ‘Cinemala’. Dileep, Kalpana, Praseetha, Suraj Venjarmoodu and Salim Kumar are some of the stars who have participated in the show. Then there was Usha Uthup who wanted us to feature her in the show. She did a splendid job too!

On the popularity of the show

People enjoy our programme because, in a way, we tap into their feelings on a current issue and visualise that in a lighter vein. We try to ensure that there is no vulgarity. Crisp lines and word play help our talented actors take off on a subject. Actually, I have not analysed why and how the show has caught the imagination of the people. But I consider myself blessed to have won the eyeballs of television viewers.

SARASWATHY NAGARAJAN