"The fate of a programme is governed by the channel it is telecast on":Sagar Arts' Amrit Sagar

 The latest launch to hit the Star Plus' screen is Hatim. Based on Persian children's classic Hatim Tai, the fantasy show is being brought to life by the Sagar Arts' complete with adventure, feats, science and lots of bravery and valour. Created by the newest entrants from the Sagar stable Amrit Sagar and Shakti Sagar, the show has combine the art of story telling with lot of technical finesse.

Joining the duo is yet another member from the generation next of Sagar family- Jyoti Sagar. He is responsible for generating the computer graphics, an integral element of the special effects for the programme.

Actor Raahil will play central character Hatim, while the main villain Jaal is being portrayed by Nirmal Pandey and the bigger villain, who operates behind the scenes villain Najumi is being essayed by Vijay Ganju. Jasmine is the female lead in the show.'s Vickey Lalwani met Amrit Sagar in Sagar's 'Natraj Studio' at Andheri. Excerpts from the interview:

Since the Ramayana days, how much has the company evolved? Where do you plan to go from here?

I think we have evolved quite a bit and that's why we have lasted, despite the on-slaughter of the saas-bahu soaps.

With the young generation- Shakti, Jyoti and I- now joining in, we are focusing a lot on technology. Our latest show 'Hatim' is technologically quite advanced than all the previous shows from Sagars. We youngsters have studied filmmaking abroad, observed a lot. We aspire to bring in fresh and different stories. We are determined to change the face of Indian television.

What is the improvement in technology?

The special effects we did in Ramayana were done on the sets. For Hatim, we have used computer graphics, animation tools. Besides, we have changed even the style of taking the shots.

You said that you guys have fresh and different stories. Isn't 'Hatim' an old Persian tale? What new are the kids going to see?

Ramayana has been told a million times. But yet we made it work, didn't we?

"At DD, with a new official taking charge every three months, you have a new policy introduced and you can't even argue since it is a government channel"

A still from Star Plus' 'Hatim'

True. But 'Ramayana' was a mythological tale. With Indian's being seen as spiritual wasn't it bound to click?

You have a point there. But we have also made Alif Laila based on Arabian Nights.

While Alif Laila was taken off air by DD is a different story, but fact of the matter is that it was no1 on DD. Even when DD decided to withdraw it, it still enjoyed the top slot.

Today, the same show is in its forth rerun on Sab TV. Why DD refused to give us one more extension for Alif Laila, is beyond my understanding.

Is that the reason why Sagars looking at satellite channels? First you had 'Arzoo Hai Tu', now 'Hatim'...

I can't really comment on that part. Of course, there is no denying that there are advantages of working with Doordarshan. The product is always yours, you can keep selling it and make money. But DD has some whacky terms and conditions, especially when it comes to rates. With a new official takes charge every three months, you have a new policy is introduced and you can't even argue since it is a government channel.

DD needs to get a corporate structure in place. The pubcaster can do better than any satellite channel because of its phenomenal reach. There is a huge market but sadly they are not willing to exploit.

You seem to have a lot of complains. Care to elaborate?

A producer buys air-time from DD. If one of his shows is doing well in the prime slot, he would appreciate if they give him the air-time in one of his afternoon shows (subject to the fact that he has a show in the afternoon slot) at a cheaper rate. If he can earn something more and promise to pay them in return, isn't it beneficial to both of them? But DD is not willing to listen.

Take another one. If a producer has a few seconds of advertising left in one of the shows in the morning/afternoon slot, he would appreciate if those few seconds are carried forward in the show in the prime slot. But DD is not willing to listen. The fact is that it is a Herculean task to rope in advertisers in the non-prime slots. Advertisers shy away in the non-prime slots of their channel.

And where are the big promotional campaigns which are vital to create a buzz? Where are the publicity gimmicks which are necessary to sustain the popularity of a show? Look at the manner in which the satellite channels handle these departments. Content is important, but so is the packaging, especially in today's times.

How has the experience with Star Plus been? Especially since Star Plus is known to interfere...

I don't think that should be termed as interference, if you look at the quality of programmes on Star Plus. Besides, we would be foolish to close our doors on suggestions offered that are meant to help us.

If Star Plus is not happy with a particular costume or a backdrop, we need to see it from their perspective.

Deepak Sehgal (senior vice president, content and programming) remarked at the 'Hatim' launch that he was not very confident of the Sagars pulling this one off...

But we did, didn't we? There could be two reasons why Sehgal spoke that way. One, we have been branded as makers of mythological serials. Two, we are identified as DD producers due to our long association with them (smiles).

There is a buzz that you were asked to make quite a few changes to the 'Hatim', after you showed them the pilot.

Not really. We just showed them a show reel because we hadn't shot anything. That time, Sehgal quizzed 'kaise hoga?', since it was based on fantasy. But we managed to assure him.

Thereafter, Shakti and I sat with a team of illustrators who started making each and every character in absolute detail. Take for instance Hatim, his look, his costumes, his sword, his bow and arrow, his powers and took all the sketches to Sehgal.

Though Tarun Katial was the senior vice president, we always did our dealings with Sehgal on the creative aspects. After that, Star Plus and Sagars started working hand in glove.

Other than Vijay Ganju and Nirmal Pandey for the negative portrayals in 'Hatim', did you have anybody else in mind?

Well, we considered Tinu Anand for Vijay Ganju. And, we were contemplating on taking either Raza Murad or Kiran Kumar for Nirmal Pandey's role. But things didn't fall in place. As for Raahil, he was my first and last choice for the lead role. Actually when he came for the audition, I didn't approve of him. But when he changed into Hatim's attire, I knew that he deserved to be chosen.

Did you work in your studios?

Yes. In Baroda's Sagar Film City. At the Tilismi Workshop we created all the props for Hatim, be it sword, shield, throne, candle-stands, chandeliers, or even wall.

We have about 150 people working there. Gujarat has lots of talented artistes in the field of art and craft. Then, there's one in Mumbai- Natraj Studio wherein we have four more partners- F C Mehra, Shakti Samanta, Pramod Chakravarty and (late) Atmaram (now his family). Natraj Studio is rented out for shootings and recordings.

A still from Sahara's 'Arzoo...'
"Ramayana has been told a million times. But yet we made it work, didn't we?"

You have a show on Sahara- 'Arzoo Hai Tu'. How was your experience with Sahara?

Not bad. But it has a few rigid policies. The channel has the scope in terms of talent and finance. A KBC or a Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi is the need of the hour at Sahara.

Nobody can discount the role played by KBC and Kyunki... in Star Plus' success. KBC lifted it to the top, Kyunki... is helping it stay there.

Karishma- The Miracles Of Destiny might have done well on Sahara, had it not got into controversy and suffered a delay in telecast.

After 'Arzoo Hai Tu', we thought that you would make a soap or a sitcom. Why haven't you?

Soaps and sitcoms have been done to death. People need a change. Father is dying in one soap and the mother is dying another or a male protagonist loses his memory in one and the the female protagonist suffers the same fate. Or miracles of miracles some one, till then thought to be dead, is bring bought to life. They are all the same.

Are you satisfied with the TRPs of 'Arzoo Hai Tu'?

Technically speaking, no. But what can the show do when the channel has a maximum of TRP as 1? Arzoo Hai Tu is registering 0.8, so it's not doing too badly.

Star Plus is a different story, most shows start off with TRP 4 on that channel. The fate of a programme is governed by the channel it is telecast on.

Why did Sagars stop making films at one point of time?

We experimented with television when films were not doing well in India. People had virtually stopped going to the theatres. Our experiment worked. When something works in your favour, do you leave it or pursue it? But now again, people have started going to the theatres. I don't know what's the reason, but either some good films are being made or people don't want to be couch potatoes anymore or some lovely multiplexes are too tempting to resist. So, we are once again getting on the film bandwagon.

Shakti and I- both plan to start our own film in 2004. We are writing our own scripts individually, but yes, we do share the progress of our story at regular intervals. Writing has been a bit slow in recent times, since Hatim is taking a lot of our time these days.

What are the young Sagar debut films going to be like?

My debut film would be an whodunit; it's going to be a very dark film. Shakti is working on a Hinglish film, a crossover film, which would be aimed for international market as well.

Only after the characters are build will we zero down on the probable of the star cast.

Has there been an instance of difference of opinions between the elder Sagars and the younger Sagars?

Sometimes. But we sit together and reach a common conclusion. Sometimes it takes time, but that's a part of the game.

So what next for Sagar's on television arena?

We have a few concepts in pipeline. We are trying to work on subjects, which are absent on television. We want to tap an unexplored market and make the most of it.

Will you be working with DD in future?

Why not? In fact, we are working on a certain concept for them too. All that I am trying to say is that they need to streamline and ease their rigid and irrational policies. DD is not realising that several producers are shying away from it.

What is the budget on 'Hatim'?

(Laughs) I am not telling you that. I am not supposed to let this particular cat out of the bag.

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