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Colors bets big on historical 'Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat'

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MUMBAI: History repeats itself... or so they say. From the time Indian television was born, historical and mythological shows have been an integral part of it. In the early 90s, Sunday mornings were dedicated to Mahabharata and Ramayana and today prime time slots are dedicated to the numerous gods and kings, as they battle it out for the ratings.

Colors, the channel synonymous with edgy content and reality shows, is once again dabbling with historical show with Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat. Through the tale of a great emperor who charted the course of Indian history, the channel aims to write its own saga in the genre.

“It is one of the biggest shows of 2015 from Colors stable,” said Colors CEO Raj Nayak at the dusty yet magnanimous sets of the show at ND Studios in Karjat. The idea of launching another historical show after Veer Shivaji was always on the cards, but the actual work on the new series started six months back.

“We took Veer Shivaji off air because it gave us low ratings as compared to other shows on the same time band across channels. But in hindsight, we realised that we shouldn’t have. Hence, we have always been toying with the idea but it has taken us a lot of time to build on it. And we are glad that we have been able to put a great team together,” said Nayak.

The one hour long historical, which goes on air from 2 February, is produced by Contiloe Entertainment and will see set designers Omung Kumar and Nitin Desai collaborating.

“Our brief to the production house was simple - the show needs to be the best ever,” proclaims Nayak.

Contiloe Entertainment, which has numerous genres to its credit, isn’t new to historic shows as well. After creating shows like Jhansi ki Rani, the production house is optimistic about the latest show on its platter. “Everybody knows about Ashoka the emperor and the story will resonate with urban as well as rural India. The show is about creation and will inspire viewers too,” said Contiloe Entertainment CEO Abhimanyu Singh.

The show will follow the story of young Ashoka’s journey in a dramatised manner. “There are always gaps in history, which need to be filled and we’ve made sure that the dots are joined in a responsible way,” said Singh.

A huge research team under the guidance of Srikant Sharma worked on the show. “A number of books have been written on it and we have read almost everything on the era to get story as real as possible,” added Singh.

The young Ashoka is played by Dhoom 3 star Siddharth Nigam and will see Pallavi Subhash (Dharma), Sameer Dharmadhikari (Bindusara), Manoj Joshi (Chanakya), Tej Sapru (Seleucus Nicator), Suzanne Bernert (Helena), Sumit Kaul (Justin) and Ankita Sharma (Noor Khorasan) among others etching the roles.

It wasn’t an easy task to get the cast right. According to Nayak, if the cast is right then a show will work. After numerous auditions, Nigam was shortlisted and had to undergo a three-month long training to play the part with ease.

So far, 10 episodes have been canned. Shot with three Alexa cameras, an episode takes almost four to six days to shoot. “We shoot from 7 am till 10 pm, depending on the demand of the script. However, things have improved now as we have all got a hang of it,” said Prasad Gawandi, who has directed the show.

Planned to be a finite show, which will be on air for six months, the channel will take a call on extending it based on audiences’ reaction. “At Colors we are very clear; if something doesn’t work, we kill it. But that doesn’t stop us from experimenting and taking a risk,” points out Nayak, when asked if the show will get an extension or if the one hour time slot would be shortened in the future.

With Ghari Detergent as its title sponsor, Nayak is confident that many will follow suit once the show is up and running. “In case of fiction shows, one doesn’t have to bother about sponsors as they come on their own as ratings scorch unlike non-fiction where one has to get sponsors on board beforehand as they are expensive,” highlighted Nayak.

The channel, which has a premium charge attached to it, expects Rs 1.5 to Rs 1.8 lakh for a 10 second ad slot.

Media planners too believe that since the story has not been told on the small screen before, it will tend to work in favour of the show and the channel. “Other stories have been told and retold but the story of Ashoka on small screen with modern technology should work,” said a media planner.

To market the show, Colors is routing through unconventional methods. For instance, Mumbai metro travellers are in for a surprise as they will get a coin used in the Mauryan era rather than the usual ticket token for a week. Apart from this, a special school contact programme will be executed in close to 200 schools in 50 towns in tier II markets where students will, in an interactive way, learn about Emperor Ashoka and his life.

“A number of melas and yatras are on in the country and we are tapping in to these as well to give viewers a real life feel of the characters. For instance, people can engage through archery to get a feel of the era gone by,” said Nayak.

One of the most expensive fiction shows apart from 24, the channel is betting high on the story of the young emperor and only time will tell how it fares.

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