Television

Discovery's Arun Thapar & Subhash Chandra Bose documentary

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MUMBAI:  When you decide to make a documentary that seeks to throw some light on the disappearance of a national leader, you obviously are going to get noticed. Especially if the leader is the much-revered freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra who allegedly disappeared following an air crash in Taiwan and the channel in question is factual entertainment provider Discovery India.

Today, the Discovery India will air the documentary Subhash Chandra Bose: the Mystery. With the Narendra Modi led government releasing the long-hidden-in-secrecy  Netaji  transcripts in January 2016, the issue has been hitting newspaper headlines all over again. And historians have been eager to get at the bottom of the truth about what really happened to Netaji as accounts of him being seen after he allegedly died have been recorded.

Discovery’s documentary produced by Iqbal Malhotra’s Aim Television therefore comes at an opportune time. It has been a pet project of Discovery Networks Asia Pacific vice president and executive producer Arun Thapar who has worked on it for more than a year. Indiantelevision.com posed Arun some questions and got some quick replies from him. Read on:

Why did Discovery decide to commission a controversial documentary on the life of Netaji? Whose idea was it – Discovery’s or AIM’s ?

Discovery Channel has been a pioneer in bringing differentiated and high quality content to our audiences. We are committed to meet viewer expectations and widen our local appeal by showcasing great stories about India and its prominent figures.

Subhash Chandra Bose  is one of the most celebrated freedom fighters of the country. But his life is still overshadowed by the mystery surrounding his death. Discovery Channel wanted to bring the amazing facts and perspectives on his alleged death or "disappearance" to its viewers, especially with the recently declassified Bose Papers now available and new leads in the enduring story. It’s not about controversy but about facts and perspectives.

Why is it interesting now from the viewership perspective?

Despite many books on the subject, theories and inquiry commissions, the mystery of Netaji’s death or disappearance continues to intrigue Indians. New twists and turns in the story continue to emerge. Through this film Discovery Channel’s purpose is to present the facts and raise the pertinent questions and delve into its many layers. It’s an incredible story of an extraordinary man in extraordinary times.

Why was AIM Television commissioned to produce it?

Discovery Channel enjoys a long and successful partnership with AIM TV, which is a well respected production company with a great track record. When we proposed the idea to Iqbal Malhotra, the Producer, he was excited to pursue the subject that’s been close to his heart.

Did you have to keep any sensitivity in mind while deciding on the breadth and scope of the subject? While scripting and filming it? What did you rely on for the raw material for the script? Who has shot it? Who wrote it? Did you have to take help from specialists or historians who have been tracking the subject?

The life and death of a national hero is an evocative subject. It needs a lot of care and research. We've been very particular about the sources and we've presented a balanced narrative that does not pursue sensationalism at the expense of substance. We've had participation by individuals close to the subject matter and it has entailed an exhaustive search for material, including archives and historic pictures from around the world. For research and interviews the team worked with experts and scholars from around the world. It’s taken a year to make.

Did you face any challenges while filming it? And after completing it?

Every production is challenging in its own way - access to research material, experts, characters, the logistics of filming abroad, multiple crews, collecting all the material, getting all the copyrights and the crafting of a compelling narrative that stays true to the available facts and ensures that the perspectives of speakers and contributors from various parts of the world are truthfully represented. All of this is a complex yet intrinsic and exciting part of the creative process, especially when you are making a show to Discovery's high standards.

Has this received interest from other Discovery channel outlets in the region and internationally?

The film Subhas Chandra Bose: The Mystery will be available to Discovery programmers around the world. It is the prerogative of each regional programming expert to plan and air it according to the preferences and demands of each region's respective audience.

This subject can have massive appeal considering Netaji's legacy. Which language and which part of India do you think will watch it the most?

Discovery Channel is broadcast in four languages in India & South Asia – these are: English, Hindi, Telugu and Bangla.  We also have a separate channel for our Tamil viewers - Discovery Tamil, which will also simulcast the documentary. Discovery has gained enormously from our language localisation strategy and we believe that each language makes the content all the more appealing to its respective audience.

How different is the profile of a documentary viewer now compared to say three years back?

Well firstly, "documentary" is a bit of an archaic term. We are leaders in Factual Entertainment and that’s on the back of world class content, localised for Indian viewers, including a slew of purpose-made original content. The audience is not a homogenous set. It’s vast, diverse and continuously evolving in terms of tastes and preferences.  With digitalization, new channels and great content is now reaching viewers like never before.  Rural viewership data released by BARC has added massive audience numbers to the measured television universe and we are excited to serve our viewers the very best that TV has to offer. Viewers across various audience segments gravitate towards high quality, differentiated content. We have a sizeable following amongst the young and we have seen that the youth from smaller cities and towns is appreciative of content that satisfies curiosity and is revelatory.

What difference has the  digital evolution brought in the traditional factual entertainment genre?

Digital platforms have redefined viewer experiences and expectations, not only in the broadcast sector but across every end-user focused industry. For content consumption, the ‘second screen’ is complementing traditional lean-back TV viewing. This is an opportunity for broadcasters like Discovery to reach out to new audiences, especially the millennials. And we are focusing on immersive content that they will enjoy and be moved by.

What other big national titles or other subjects or titles would Discovery be commissioning? Pardon my ignorance, but is this kind of a subject a first for Discovery in India?

India content continues to be a focus area for the network. We have endeavoured to produce and broadcast ground-breaking programmes for Indian viewers and you can expect a lot more.

In recent months, we have aired high calibre India programmes on a variety of subjects like Siachen, Humayun’s Tomb, A.R. Rahman, HRX Heroes with Hrithik Roshan, Mumbai Railways, 1965: India’s Battles & Heroes to name a few, on the Discovery Channel. Several more are in the 2016 line-up. We continue to innovate and deliver value to our viewers.

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