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Star India's Gaurav Banerjee's take on 'P.O.W. - Bandi Yuddh Ke'

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MUMBAI: It has been labeled as the pioneer of saas bahu sagas. But, the leadership trio -- Uday Shankar-Sanjay Gupta-Gaurav Banerjee -- at the Twenty First Century Corp-owned Hindi GEC Star Plus -- has over the past few years been working at breaking down this myth. The mantra has been create differentiated content with the help of real, relevant Indian stories and series. And, Star Plus’ latest effort, the Nikhil Advani-directed Israeli-show Hatufim Khatufim adaptation, P.O.W.- Yudh Ke Bandhi, is once again a reflection of that philosophy.

'P.O.W. - Bandi Yuddh Ke' is very Indian though it is adapted from leading Israeli format licensing house Keshet International’s successful 2010 series; it was also made into the runaway global hit 'Homeland', courtesy US cable network Showtime.

The Indian version works as a large-scale high-octane family drama with a thriller backdrop. The story takes us through the journey of the lives of the two couples Harleen–Sartaj, Nazneen-Imaan and the aftermath of the return of the war heroes after 17 years, over 126 episodes.

Two Indian PoWs Sartaj and Imaan -- declared missing in action (MIA) after the Kargil war ends in 1999 -- are rescued from the Indo-Pakistan border after escaping from captivity. They work to overcome the trauma of torture and captivity while settling back into their interrupted family lives.

An ensemble cast of discerning actors like Purab Kohli, Sandhya Mridul, Amrita Puri, Satyadeep Mishra and Manish Chaudhari have teamed up for the project with Nikkhil Advani. While Purab plays a naib subedar in the Indian army, Mishra will be seen as an air force officer. And, the editor from the channel’s side is Saugata Mukherjee.

Banerjee and his team chose the Israeli version created by Gideon Raff, which focuses on the emotional upheaval that the two soldiers and families face on their being locked away for 17 years and on their return to their homeland. The US adaptation worked more in the space of a thriller, and questioned whether the protagonist is a terrorist or not.

Nikkhil Advani, whose company Emmay Entertainment is producing 'P.O.W. - Bandi Yuddh Ke', has been quoted in the media as saying: “I realised the real prisoners of war are the soldiers’ wives and families. The wives haven’t been able to move on with their lives…they have this sense of guilt that’s holding them back. They think, ‘What if he comes back?’...The story has a lot of emotions. Homeland is a little cold for Indians. Indians inherently love emotion.”

Indiantelevision.com had an interaction with Star India deputy chief creative officer Gaurav Banerjee yesterday and he had his own take on the show. Said he: “P.O.W is a deeply emotional story. But, we have thriller dimensions as well. I think for us the difference is that this an Asian story but it was set up in Israel. We found a very strong Indian context in it and also the story in itself is very different. It’s s an art -- a challenging art -- writing a fresh story and adapting a great story in the current context and in an Indian milieu. We have worked hard on the story over two years.”

Banerjee admitted that a decision on the time slot and exact launch date for the show has yet to be taken. But, sources expect the airdate to be late October, late prime and that it will run from Monday to Saturday.

'P.O.W. - Bandi Yuddh Ke' has been under development for two years. And, both Advani and the channel consulted army experts to help maintain accuracy in the writing and while shooting. Filming started earlier this year in locales in Punjab and Mumbai. In all, 36 episodes of the show have been canned. “We have used a proper balance of real-life locations, special effects and VFX,” said Banerjee.

The channel has roped in two brands Tiago and Patanjali Kesh Kanti as co- powered by sponsors. One can expect some amount of brand integration of the two in the show as is the practice on television these days.

Highlighted Banerjee: “It's a big Diwali launch for us and you can expect us to be little ambitious about this. Since, it's a finite series, we started with the trailer. It will be followed by more glimpses of the characters as we go along. The music has played a very good role in grafting the story and that is important as we set up the marketing of the show. Also we want all kinds of media to be a part of it but moreover we believe in the story.”

Banerjee is hopeful that Indian viewers will celebrate P.O.W with Star Plus. He stated: “Star Plus is known for great stories. One of the big things for us is to be the platform where viewers gets the best stories, concepts and content. Sixteen years ago, we started with 'Kaun Banega Crorepati', which was the first format we adapted from the US and, last year, we did the show 'Sumit Sambhal Lega' which was also an adaptation of the big Hollywood iconic show Everybody Loves Raymond. We always want to be the platform for India’s best stories. Therefore, our goal is to bring original stories and also some great stories from the world to the larger Indian audience.”

Says a media observer: “What could work in Star Plus’ favour is the timing of 'P.O.W –Yudh Ke Bandhe.' Indo-Pak relations are at near boiling point following the massacre of Indian soldiers in Uri by Pakistan-backed terrorists, and the incidents and debate thereafter has captured the minds and hearts of Indians. Emotions are running high as most in India want a resolution of the decades-long conflict between the two nations. The story could well strike an emotional cord with Indians who want to see some action from India’s side.”

Banerjee laughed off the insinuation that show was fortuitous in its timing. “You would like us to believe that,” he said.

But, in his heart of hearts, he probably knows that the airdate for 'P.O.W. - Bandi Yuddh Ke' could not have been timed better, and Star Plus may well have cottoned on to a winner.

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