TV's fascination for the gods

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Mythology continues to hold Indian viewers in its thrall.

Nithya Subramanian

At one time, mythological serials like the Ramayan and Mahabharat on Doordarshan had viewers glued to their television sets on Sunday mornings, and the streets wore a deserted look, bringing the neighbourhood to a virtual standstill.

With the explosion in cable television, not only Doordarshan but private channels too backed projects such as Om Namah Shivay, Sri Krishna, Shree Ganesh, Jai Ganga Maiya, Jai Mahalakshmi and others. While these serials may not have cast the same spell as Ramayan or Mahabharat, they did manage to attract a dedicated set of viewers.

Now Star Plus plans to launch a new series called Shirdi Ka Sai Baba, on Maharashtra's greatest saint, on Sunday evenings to add strength to its weekend programming. Produced by Ramanand Sagar, who also produced the popular Ramayan series, Shirdi Ka Sai Baba traces the story of the humble fakir who became a saint.

Says Ajay Vidyasagar, Senior Vice President, Content and Communications, Star Plus, "The series will precede Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC)." The saint has a large following in the western and northern parts of the country and the programme is bound to do well in this region.

Shot at the Sagar Studios in Baroda, after four years of exhaustive research, the sets recreate the small and simple town of Shirdi, the Baba's home between 1849 and 1918. "The scale and approach of Ramanand Sagar's team were quite dramatic and there was a certain sense of genuineness. Therefore, we decided to go ahead with the project," says Vidyasagar. In recent months Star Plus has invested more in weekend programming. Besides KBC, it has launched shows such as Baa, Bahu Aur Baby and Shanno Ki Shaadi to keep viewers on their couches . And the channel claims to have met with success. "If the content is appealing, viewers will make the appointment to watch the show," he adds. As one media observer says, "We love our mythology. The Indian pantheon has millions of gods and goddesses. And each one has fascinating tales, which can all be woven into different serials."

On the Kapoor trail

As if viewers do not get enough of their daily quota of family squabbles on television soaps, news channels too have joined the act.

Some of them devoted considerable airtime discussing the marital discord between Bollywood actress Karisma Kapoor and her industrialist husband, Sanjay Kapur. The couple, which is trying to work out the future of its marriage, was followed by camera teams not only to courtrooms but also to Goa, where the two celebrated their second wedding anniversary.

While the couple stayed away from the media, news channels were not deterred by the hotel's efforts to keep prying cameras away. In an attempt to keep the story alive, studio anchors asked waiting reporters all manner of questions related to the `mood' and `body language' of the duo. Something akin to the Agra summit between Pakistan's General Parvez Musharraf and the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, where `body language' became a moot discussion point, especially when other information was not forthcoming.

Street smart

The Indian version of the popular children's series Sesame Street is set to hit television screens next year.

Supporting India's Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan initiative, the non-profit educational organisation, Sesame Workshop and Turner International, will launch the show on Cartoon Network and POGO.

Miditech, a company managed by the talented brothers Nikhil and Niret Alva, will produce the series. The team has already spent an intensive two weeks in New York to help develop the series' characters and sets, which will be built in Delhi. Miditech's writers and puppeteers were trained by US experts.

To ensure that the content is relevant to local needs, Sesame India will incorporate an innovative curriculum developed by Indian educators. In addition to teaching basic cognitive skills such as literacy, Sesame India will reflect the vibrancy of India's multiculturalism. The series will celebrate the similarities and differences that are part of children's everyday lives.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated October 7, 2005)
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