MUMBAI: It's BIG show time folks. With themes ranging from India's partition, through to tales developed around the strife torn state of Kashmir, to blockbuster soaps, Hindi entertainment television is witnessing some monster budget action. And it's all coming together at the same time. Star, Zee, Sahara, Sony and national broadcaster Doordarshan are all rolling out high-cost productions this month.
With budgets of some of the shows in the Rs 3 to 4 million per episode range, there is some serious money the channels are throwing behind these January launches. Additionally, no one seems unduly worried that the upcoming cricket World Cup, which kicks of 8 February and runs till the end of March, will make these shows non-starters.
As far as the big ticket shows that Zee, Star and Sahara are launching go, the common thread running through them is that they all have nationalistic sentiments as a backdrop. Take Zee's mega budget show Mulk. It is set in Lahore in the pre-partition era. One wonders what took Zee so long to come up with such a concept considering the super success the group's 2001 blockbuster movie Gadar achieved at the box-office. Gadar was also set in partition India. Mulk, which goes on air on 12 January at 10:30 pm is directed by Chandar Behl and is about friendship during the partition of India.
Star Plus has two mega scale one-hour weekly shows ready for launch. The first, Kashmeer, is a saga of 'love and hatred with the backdrop of militancy' and begins its run on 16 January in the 9 to 10 PM slot. The second one, set to debut shortly is the Miditech production, Saara Akash. The story of Saara Akash revolves around a young flight lieutenant and three other officers in the Indian Air Force, two of whom fall in love with the same girl.
Sahara has Mission Fateh, which will commence on 24 January and highlights the emotional side of soldiers on the front. The weekly serial based on Indian war heroes is also a large budget project.
But in terms of sheer scale, Sahara TV's mega project with Bollywood A-list actress Karisma Kapoor surely takes the cake. Karishma The Miracle of Destiny has Karisma in a double role and is shot in Mumbai as well as locales abroad. It's not exactly a musical saga, but music too plays an important role as an integral part of the story with as many as 52 songs composed by well-known music director Anu Malik. Produced by Sahara TV, the serial's creative head is Akash Deep whose production banner Cinetek is the assigned producer of the serial which is directed by Anurag Basu. While Karisma plays the main protagonist, the serial has several big league Bollywood names in its starcast which include Arbaz Khan, Sanjay Kapoor, Jugal Hansraj, Tinu Anand, Sheeba and Arshad Warsi. Besides there are also well known television stars in key roles which include Ayub Khan, Harsh Chaya, Resham Seth and Shahrukh Bharoocha, to name just a few.
Sahara has also got another big-budget show with former queen bee of Bollywood Sridevi in the lead. This one is a sitcom though, and Sridevi reportedly plays an Indianised version of an old US show titled Lucy.
Sony Entertainment has opted to keep off the "nationalist" bandwagon and has instead gone in for a big budget soap Kahani Teri Meri produced by Balaji Telefilms. KTM, which replaces another Balaji offering Kutumb in the daily 9:30 PM slot is being billed by Balaji as "much larger and far more lavish than any serial currently airing on television."
According to the information available with indiantelevision.com, the most expensive show that is currently on air as far as Hindi entertainment C&S channels are concerned is Kismey Kitnaa Hai Dam on Star Plus, which costs Rs 2.5 million per episode. Kismey is taking a "seasonal break" and its slot is being taken up by Kashmeer.
The New Year has already seen the launch of two mega-serials on Doordarshan, both produced by Sanjay Khan's Numero Uno International Limited (NUIL).
Maharathi Karna, a portrayal of the Mahabharata from the viewpoint of Karna, throws light on the life of this unsung hero adding a new perspective to this epic tale. The other serial, 1857 - Kranti, tells the story of India's first war of independence.
Maharathi Karna started on 1 January and airs every Wednesday and Thursday between 9 and 9:30 PM and 1857 - Kranti launched on 29 December and airs every Sunday between 11 and noon.
It is quite likely that some of the new shows on air will rival the kind of budgeting that was envisaged for Zee TV's stillborn reality show PoW (Prisoner of War).
When Zee announced in March 2001 plans to launch a POW modelled on the UK Channel 5 game show Jailbreak which ran in 2000, the talk was that the per episode cost was in the region of RS 5 million. The show, which was to be shot on location at a specially constructed 40,000 sq. feet area set at the Zee Group's EsselWorld theme park in Mumbai, never saw the light of day.