Television

"Swaraj is one of the most difficult shows we have worked on": Contiloe Pictures’ Founder & CEO Abhimanyu Singh

"It's not just one story that I've been running for a year and a half; it's 75 different stories,"

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Mumbai: ‘Swaraj – Bharat ke Swatantrata Sangram ki Samagra Gatha’, an Indian historical TV serial that aired on DD National channel has been eye-grabbing since its launch. The show that telecasted on India's 75th Independence Day has potentially captured viewers' attention for its storytelling and production work. The 75-episode mega serial was endorsed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and focuses on the contribution of the freedom fighters and unsung heroes of the freedom struggle.

It is an attempt by Doordarshan to bring alive the tales of courage of over 550 freedom fighters on television. Swaraj will tell stories and bring to focus contributions of heroes such as Rani Abbakka, Bakshi Jagabandhu, Tirot Sing, Sidhu Murmu and Kanhu Murmu, Shivappa Nayaka, Kanhoji Angre, Rani Gaidinliu, Tilka Majhi, Rani Lakshmibai, Maharaj Shivaji, Tatya Tope, Madam Bhikaji Kama, and more.

The show has been ideated by Contiloe Pictures’ Founder & CEO Abhimanyu Singh, who mainly produces Hindi-language television shows. His passion for storytelling kick-started two decades ago and has, over the years, created some stellar shows across genres including history, crime, horror, thriller, events, formats, comedies, animation, and mini-series, managing to constantly keep audiences engaged, ensuring they were interested in his style of storytelling and giving them enough reason to watch his shows. He has successfully made a place for himself in the media & entertainment industry and has received accolades for his work like “Mahayoddha Rama" & his debut digital franchise “State of Siege”. Deeply rooted in bringing out in-depth stories, he has successfully produced over 100 TV shows under his banner, including independent shows for Doordarshan, two feature films and two OTT projects so far and continues to focus on large productions.

Contiloe has produced historical shows like Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat, Bharat Ka Veer Putra – Maharana Pratap, Taj 21 Sarfarosh – Saragarhi 1897, Ek Veer Stree ki Kahaani… Jhansi Ki Rani and mythological shows like Sankat Mochan Mahabali Hanumaan, Vighnaharta Ganesha, Yashomati Maiyya Ke Nandlala as well as digital series under his ‘State of Siege’ franchise, of which season three is in the making.

In an exclusive conversation with Indiantelevision.com, Singh shared insights about his shows and deliberated views on the challenges, responses from the audiences and further talked about his upcoming shows at length.

Edited Excerpts:

On the response that Swaraj received from the audience

Abhimanyu: So far, the audience response has been fantastic. People are aware of the invasions that occurred in India but they are unaware of the specifics. It's both informative and fascinating for the audience to learn about how the western invasion of India began and how it all culminated with our Independence in 1947.

On showcasing Swaraj on popular OTT platforms

Abhimanyu: The government is already interested in showing it on over-the-top (OTT) platforms. Prasar Bharati has recently made a move to invite digital partners, which will help the show to reach a potential audience.

On the making of the show

Abhimanyu: The procedure began at the beginning of 2021. It's a lengthy process from research and scripting to shooting. It's been a year and a half, and I believe the project will continue for at least another year. Researching and producing 75 episodes for the audience is a time-consuming process.

On the challenges of producing the show

Abhimanyu: The biggest challenge is that we have to produce 75 different stories. It's not just one story that I've been running for a year and a half; it's 75 different stories. So, preparing, researching, casting, and creating the mood is extremely difficult. Without a doubt, Swaraj is one of the most difficult shows that we have worked on.

It's a responsibility and it's a challenge, but we have a very strong, historical guidance, and a team of great researchers. You are telling 450 years of history. It spans across such a vast historical length. The enemies are constantly changing (From the 1st episode to the 75th episode, viewers will see freedom fighters fighting different characters), the invasions and heroes are constantly changing.

There is a tonne of work to be done on a single episode, including casting, changing the looks, changing the costumes, and more. I believe that has been the most difficult aspect in terms of ensuring that sensitivities and sensibilities are taken care of.

We have been doing history-based shows for 15 years, and we know what we should be careful of. The challenge emerges from the time period (historic) and the nature of the time more than anything else.

On the show's shooting & locations

Abhimanyu: We are using various sets -  changing, retaining and repurposing all of them. Apart from that, we have shot in a variety of other locations as and when the need arose - whether it's Delhi, Haryana and North East because the freedom struggle occurred throughout India, along with a lot of visual effects in various locations, and set extensions.

On prime minister Narendra Modi's views about the show

Abhimanyu: To see the Prime Minister watching your episode is a very good experience. The Prime Minister, the Home Minister, the Information & Broadcasting Minister and the entire Council of Ministers were invited to watch the episode. It is only the beginning. This journey will continue for another year and a half. So I strive to create a show that makes a difference, a show that tells our story to our people and the rest of the world.

On the launching of India@75

Abhimanyu: More than strategically for me, it's a very good gesture on the part of the Government. Making  such a good show, which educates people about our history and releasing it on the 75th celebration. After India has completed 75 years of independence, people are getting to know more about India and its freedom fights - the credit should be given to the Government.

On dubbing of the show in nine different languages

Abhimanyu: A lot of our content is being dubbed. Hanuman and Ganesha have both been dubbed in all of the southern languages, and they have done exceptionally well. Culturally, we are one. As far as our consumers are concerned, they are diverse. It's one country. So, dubbing in various languages makes it easier for people to understand and helps us reach out to a wider audience. It's not such a difficult task. We work with a lot of dubbing partners who are experts in their respective languages.

On his views on TV vs OTT

Abhimanyu: In my opinion, both will coexist but whether television will continue to exist in its current form is debatable. You have a younger audience that is not watching content on television sets. But your older audiences will continue to watch television on TV sets. However, television is now also being consumed as a 'catch-up television' on digital mobile phones.

When I was doing Ashoka six-seven years ago, I noticed that many people were watching Ashoka on their mobile phones rather than on television. So, you saw the disruption in consumer behaviour 10 years ago, and obviously, that has changed and gotten faster with the pandemic and introduction of 4G, which increased it further, and with 5G especially, it will change once again.

So, while there will undoubtedly be some disruption, television will continue to exist. But in what and in which form I don't know; you may see television being consumed on mobile phones and iPads. There will be change but when that will occur, how quickly it will occur, or where that inflection point (a curve of viewership will change for TV) will occur,

On the future shows

Abhimanyu: We are in the third part of the State of Siege, it's going to be better. It's going to capture a fantastic anti-insurgency operation that happened recently. We're also working on a rather big historical (untitled) in the digital space. We have focused on two things - like all storytellers, we're working on a nice story. And then the whole idea is to create another one or two franchises in a year. So that we were making substantial content and ensuring that we kept the viewers entertained.

So, we'll be working on different aspects. One is obviously, in our digital space. Our sister company Illusion Reality Studioz has increased its footprint too, not only in visual effects and animation but also now lots of stuff that we're doing in the meta space. It is something that is keeping us extremely busy. Learning a very new space really interests us as storytellers. We’re exploring how we can use the Metaverse as well for storytelling.

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