New Delhi, June 11 (IANS) Guess what is about to rule prime time television? Tales of yore. India's rich history and mythology are once again feeding the small screen, with new shows hoping to captivate viewers, like the 'Ramayan' and 'Mahabharat' did in the 1980s.
From reality programmes, TV is about to take a leap into history and and legend, beaming palatial sets, elaborate costumes, glitzy jewellery and hi-tech action sequences into homes.
'Our country continues to be religious, and mythological shows continue to have a place. They will always work,' says Nikhil Madhok, senior director, marketing and communications, Imagine TV.
Perhaps that's why costume dramas - whether historical, mythological or fantasy - seem to have caught the fancy of TV producers, who are spending millions, anything between 10 and 50 percent more than the cost of production of a regular soap, to recreate legendary stories like 'Shobhaa Somnath Ki', 'Dwarkadheesh', 'Kahani Chandrakanta Ki' and 'Jai Jai Jai Bajrangbali'.
'When 'Mahabharat', 'Ramayan' and 'Shri Krishna' were popular in the 1980s and 1990s, they were aired only on weekends. That time, nobody thought of airing mythology-based shows on prime time,' Madhok told IANS.
'In the early 2000s, everyone started moving from the once-a-week format to dailies and mythological shows got lost in between. But when we came with the new 'Ramayan' in 2008 as a daily, it opened everyone'e eyes and there was a resurgence.'
However, the producers are ensuring there's no repetition - they are either digging for untold historical stories or hunting for new angles from the lives of gods.
Take for example Zee TV's 'Shobhaa Somnath Ki' - it is based on a Gujarati legend which talks about Shobha, who fought fearlessly when Afghan invader Mahmud of Ghazni tried to destroy the Somnath temple in the 11th century.
The idea was to make 'a fairy tale with all the elements of valour, romance, poetry, adventure, bravery, and fight for cultural identity, among others', according to Sukesh Motwane, programming head of Zee TV.
Sahara One decided to open closed chapters with 'Kahani Chandrakanta Ki' - a take off from the popular 1995 TV series 'Chandrakanta', which was a romantic fantasy about two lovers - Chandrakanta and Virendra, who belonged to rival kingdoms.
'Chandrakanta' was based on Devaki Nandan Khatri's eponymous novel, and the latest is inspired by his second novel 'Chandrakanta Santati'. It explores love between Chandrakanta's son and the daughter of the evil king Shivdutt.
'Lately people have been working on a lot of historical and mythological shows, and I felt there was a vacuum for a fantasy show. Also, the story of 'Chandrakanta' has not been told repetitively... so, there's a lot of freshness in our storytelling,' said Agnihotri, who also produced 'Chandrakanta'.
There are also shows like Imagine TV's 'Dwarkadheesh' and Sahara One's 'Jai Jai Jai Bajrangbali', which will show new facets of the lives of Lord Krishna and Lord Hanuman.
Agnihotri says producers should not bring 'educational' content on TV.
'Nothing educational works. People only want entertainment, and there's a cycle for everything. For a decade saas-bahu sagas ruled, after which reality shows became a rage. Now when there were too many reality shows happening, period dramas are back,' he said.
The production costs of period dramas have escalated beyond imagination.
Recalls Agnihotri: 'In 1995, one episode of 'Chandrakanta' used to cost me Rs.1,000,000. We used to shoot in Mumbai's Film City by hiring a space for Rs.5,000 a day. It was a weekly show that time. Nowadays, we shoot in the set of a 'mahal' (palace) which costs us Rs.150,000 a day. The costs are too high!
'Earlier our leading lady Shikha Swaroop (who played princess Chandrakanta) used to wear dresses that cost Rs.7,000 to Rs.8,000 and now, none of her dresses for the role of queen Chandrakanta costs less than Rs.35,000. We are spending close to Rs.1,400,000 per episode now, and it is a daily!'
Madhok too pointed out at the burgeoning budgets of such shows, saying: 'Everyone wants the best. People are shooting on HD (high-definition) also these days, which itself requires higher investment. The range of money spent on each episode of a historical can be wild - anything between 10 and 50 percent over and above the money invested on a daily soap.'
But the makers are not cribbing thanks to good viewership!
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at [email protected])