What does a 13-year-old girl who survived a bomb blast in Rajasthan; the world’s youngest IBM Watson programmer; the CEO of a nonprofit that has recovered 1 million pounds of food, and a flight director for NASA’s mission control, have in common?
They are all guests on Sony Pictures Networks’ (Sony) television series Keys to Kismat and among the network’s latest endeavor to feature the untold stories of Indians in America.
Produced and hosted by Nisha Mathur, Keys to Kismat airs Sundays at 6:30 PM EST on Sony Pictures Networks.
The show spotlights the successes Indian Americans and addresses a broad spectrum of issues that need attention, says Jaideep Janakiram, senior vice president of International Business and Head of the Americas at Sony Pictures Networks.
“At Sony, we pride ourselves on family-based programming. Keys to Kismat fits into our buckets of family-based entertainment and educational programming. And it’s a great give-back to the community from Sony’s end,” Janakiram said in an interview to News India Times.
Janakiram said that the show has received a strong response on social media, one of the network’s primary feedback channels, and fills the existing gap in programming aimed at Indians living in the American diaspora.
Despite being among the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States, rising in population by nearly 70% in the last decade, except for a few narratives, the real-life stories of Indian Americans living in the US remain conspicuously absent from mainstream media outlets.
Mathur, a television veteran who was awarded the Indian Academy Award for Women’s Excellence for two consecutive years, says that she’s been given a powerful medium for telling stories capable of reaching the masses. And she hopes to use television to make a difference in peoples’ lives and inspire viewers to action.
“Television can be a tremendous force. It can educate great numbers of people about the world around them and shed light on topics that are often pushed under the rug,” Mathur said in an interview to News India Times. “I feel privileged to share the real stories of those who want to make a difference in the community and start a movement,” she added.
A former producer and host of TV Asia’s Shades of Shakti, which focused on women’s empowerment, Mathur said that she realized that it was not just women who needed their stories to be told.
“I wanted to create a platform to tell the stories of entrepreneurs, men, children, families and organizations,” said Mathur.
It was then that Mathur said she went to Sony to pitch Keys of Kismat.
Mathur says everyday heroes aren’t found; they need to be discovered. The show’s content is developed by listening to what is happening in the US and India, said Mathur.
“The stories are just right out there in front of you. It’s about talking and getting perspective from those who are leaders on that subject matter,” Mathur said.
Keys to Kismat tackles tough, sensitive topics like unconventional career paths, infertility, bullying, human trafficking, domestic violence; and LGBTQ topics such as same-sex marriage; relevant to younger audiences.
Mathur talked about the show’s upcoming episode on human trafficking which features Shweta Katti, one of the first South Asian girls to come out of the red light area in Mumbai and pursue education in Bart College in New York.
The episode features interviews with makers of Love Sonia, a film about the harrowing account of two sisters trapped in the sex trade in Mumbai’s red light areas. It also has an interview with Ruchita Gupta, anti-trafficking advocate and founder of Apne Aap Worldwide, an organization which helps to empower girls in the sex industry, to gain sustainable skills to end the generational cycle sex abuse.
“To create any change, you have to have people who are willing to share their stories. When change needs to happen, it takes the courage of just one story to give inspiration to others,” Mathur said.
With each season and episode, the show aims to come full circle, feature multiple angles and carry the topics with greater gravity, she added.
Mathur says that it’s through the help of the show’s key sponsors Daawat Basmati Rice, Vibha OORRA and Malani Jewelers that shows like Keys to Kismat reach local communities.
Capturing the interest of young Indian American viewers through locally produced content remains a key focus for Sony as well, says Janakiram.
“We want to attract the younger generations- millennials and gen-Zs. There is great potential to produce more local content, rather than programming being one-directional from the Indian subcontinent to the international market,” Janakiram said.
To this end, Sony has launched the popular series Meet the Drapers, a ground-breaking reality TV show where viewers get to decide the next big tech idea. It will launch its third season and join the network’s programming successes, such as the South Asian Spelling Bee and AVS – its long-standing Bollywood and community entertainment platform.
Janakiram says he’s passionate about and a big advocate for local programming. That as a collective we have just hit the tip of the iceberg, he reckons.
“There is a lot of talent and storylines to be told from here in the US. We want to hear directly from viewers about what they want to see,” said Janakiram, encouraging viewers to reach out to the network with their ideas and feedback.