Television

"For the last 10 years, we decided not to market the epic serial. We wanted 'Ramayan' to resurface for the new generation": Sagar Arts Marketting Director Prem Sagar

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A legendary maker of the epic serial Ramayan, Dr Ramanand Sagar has achieved several milestones including the Padma Shri award. On Friday, added another one to his overstocked cupboard when he was bestowed with the India Telly Lifetime Achievement Award.

Taking a trip down memory lane, indiantelevision's Sibabrata Das interviews Sagar's son and the company's marketing director Prem Sagar to find out how the "hand of God" worked to create what many a faithful follower have termed the biggest miracle on Indian television. Excerpts:

Ramayan was more a cultural than a commercial obsession for the family. Did this have anything to do with the break up of the deal with BBC?

Everything was almost finalised and we were called to the BBC office. They wanted our star to attire as Lord Rama and move around the BBC office for being photographed. We initially agreed, but then realised what they were trying to do. We told them that our Rama couldn't be photographed; he carries the image of God. Finally, it was Mahabharat that was shown on Channel 4.

How difficult was it to make an epic serial like the Ramayan when you got the nod from Doordarshan and were given just 10 days to bring it on air?

Our initial reaction was not to agree. But we changed our stance the next day. We met in the terrace, as we usually do every morning as a joint family to take up important issues while my father feeds the pigeons. All of us decided there that we could make it. Imagine Ramayan went on DD without a bank.

Your family has believed in ancient values and culture. Did astrology predict Ramayan would come from Dr Ramanand Sagar?In 1942, an astrologer called Nityanand predicted in Kashmir that my dad would make mythologies. It is really a miracle. The birth of Ramayan and Shri Krishna was seen in 1942 when he didn't have money to even buy milk. Who would have thought that he would create epics for television? He was, after all, making romantic movies.

Do you think the younger audience has changed and Ramayan would no longer appeal to them?

For the last 10 years, we decided not to market the epic serial. We wanted Ramayan to resurface for the new generation. We have actually relaunched it now.

How?

We invested around Rs 4 crore (Rs 40 million) to digitise Ramayan. It took us almost two years to do that. We took a big risk. But now we have an upgraded Ramayan. The entire Ramayan has gone through smoke. The special effects and frames are redone. We have remixed the soundtrack. In short, we have made Ramayan ready for the 2004 generation.

What are the new revenue streams for Ramayan?

As the legend goes, the story of Ramayan never ends. Even now it is running in some parts of the world. We have also launched Ramayan on different regional channels including the four ETV networks. We are selling VCDs and DVDs of Ramayan. The epic serial is shown in 50 countries. We are also planning to get into publishing of the mythological serials.

Are you planning a return of Ramayan on Doordarshan?

We will feel our mission is complete when DD takes it. We have made our intentions known as a new generation has come up after the telecast of Ramayan in the '80s. How can you deny them from seeing the greatest Indian epic? Ramayan teaches us idealism. The truth is that if you want to lead an ideal life, you have to pay a price for it. That is what makes Rama such a strong and relevant character today.

What did the family go through when Ramanand Sagar's first two films flopped and he ran out of money?

Well, it has been quite a battle for my dad. He started as a clapper boy in 1936 before he wrote Barsaat for Raj Kapoor which went on to become a big hit. Writing has always been his biggest strength and he has written for 59 motion picture films. Then he made two movies that flopped. I remember how excited he was and he took us in the old Hindustan Morris car to the Royal Opera House. But there was hardly any turnout. That put the whole family into a lot of hardship. Before the industry could accept him again, he had to churn out a lot of hits.

"He (Ramanand Sagar - inset) used to ask us to travel across the country to get into the pulse of people's viewing tastes. He wanted feedback from direct audience contact. The whole family was taught how to reach masses"

He joined Gemini as a writer?

He became a star writer and created the biggest hits like Insaniyat in Gemini. He admitted SS Vasan as his guru and learnt film making and the business side of it.

How many movies did he make under the Sagar Arts banner?

He made 16 motion pictures under his company. He had 12 successes including six super hits like Arzoo.

What have you learnt from him?

He used to ask us to travel across the country to get into the pulse of people's viewing tastes. He wanted feedback from direct audience contact. The whole family was taught how to reach masses.

What made him move away from movies to television?

He realised the mass power of television in 1975 when we were shooting for a film called Charas. It was there that he decided to make three mythological sequels - Ramayan, Shri Krishna and Jai Maa Durga.

Why did it take so long to make Ramayan?

I was sent around the world with pamphlets. But nobody was willing to put money behind the project. We were criticised for leaving movies and getting into television. Everybody thought it was a stupid idea.

Why Vikram Aur Betal was made ahead of Ramayan?

We did it as a test market product. We were given the 4 pm slot on Sundays. For a 3,500-year-old story, it was a real bad slot. But it was a popular programme and started a new trend of special effects.

Even Ramayan got a bad slot?

DD had very few viewers on Sunday mornings. But with Ramayan really taking off, it became the golden slot for DD.

Did you make more money on Shri Krishna?

Krishna was kind to our family. It made a debut on DD-2 in 1992. Then it was shifted to DD-1 and ran for another three years. After that it ran on Zee TV for about 18 months

How attractive is DD today for production houses?

DD has to realise market situations and move with the times.

How is the third generation taking the Sagar Group ahead?

It is an amazing blend of three generations. We have an experience in ideas and story content. The third generation is adding technology while imbibing our values.

Why was Jai Maa Durga not made earlier even after an announcement was made?

In 1997, we had made an announcement and had plans to have Hema Malini play the lead. The rights were to be with Amitabh Bachchan-promoted ABCL. But Shri Krishna got a long run. It was then that Hema Malini did Jai Mata Di on DD. So some time had to pass. Now we are doing it with a new cast.

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