Hindi serial gets a local boost

Singapore connection... Mr Deepak Gurnani (above) is the first Singaporean to produce a mainstream, big-budget, 312-episode Hindi serial.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

One of the newest additions to Hindi TV channel Star Plus is Phir Bhi Na Maane... Badtameez Dil (BD), a serial about college sweethearts, played by Pearl V. Puri and Asmita Sood, who separate because of misunderstandings and find themselves working together years later. The show has already become popular as the audience likes its departure from the traditional "saas-bahu sagas" that revolve around a woman and her mother-in-law.

"One thing I like about the show is that it deals with divorce and marriage, but from the youth perspective, unlike your typical shows," says 29-year-old housewife Saumya Agarwal.

Mr Himanshu Chaudhari, who is a vice-president in an international bank, likes that the serial takes place in the office as well, as opposed to what goes on in the home. "The office banter is quite likeable," says the 33-year-old.

Viewers may not know that there's a Singaporean connection to this TV serial: The production company, Saurabh Tewari Films (STF), is owned by Singapore company Tequila Shot Entertainment (TSE). This makes one of TSE's managing directors Deepak Gurnani the first Singaporean to produce a mainstream, big-budget, 312-episode Hindi serial.

The premise for BD came about as TSE was looking for "a fresh concept for our serial, which would be a departure from the oft-repeated saas-bahu melodrama serials, which are a staple diet of Hindi television".

Writer Saurabh Tewari, who Mr Gurnani credits as "one of the most talented writers in the Hindi serial space today", conceived the show "as a contemporary drama set in today's real world of divorced and dysfunctional relationships".

STF and TSE were also behind Rangrasiya, a serial that aired on Colors. The show was about a woman living in a village who fell in love with a border police officer. Though it was "a very well-conceived serial and received many accolades for its treatment and visual grandeur", the show had to come to an early end due to the channel's scheduling issues.

Producing a TV serial is a lengthy process that can take between eight to 12 months from concept to telecast, Mr Gurnani explained. The auditions for the actors alone took a little over six months, and involved thousands of hopefuls.

Explaining the process of producing the serial, he said: "First we get a concept approved by a channel and then produce an audio pilot which, upon approval, leads to a pilot episode being shot with the lead actors. The channel uses this pilot episode to do its marketing and research among its target audience and gathers feedback. Only when they are fully convinced do they commission us and enter into an agreement to produce a certain number of episodes."

The high set-up cost was one of the challenges that the team faced. "BD's two sets cost Rs2.6 crores to erect in Mumbai's Film City before even a single shot was canned," explained Mr Gurnani. "In addition, the standing cost of the sets and the massive working capital requirements make this a financially challenging but ultimately rewarding experience."

With the show's tremendous appeal to the target audience, what's next for STF?

Said Mr Gurnani: "We have been pitching some ideas to a couple of Hindi channels and we hope to have at least one more serial on board by the end of this year. We also have a Hindi thriller feature film in the scripting stage. We hope to complete pre-production work on it by the end of this year and then aim to finish early next year and hopefully have it on screens by mid-2016."

TSE is also looking at producing a Hindi movie in Singapore. "Currently we are evaluating post-production facilities available here," he shared.

He added: "Serials need too much work on a daily basis and require time-sensitive delivery, with a heavy penalty for late delivery. A movie set and shot in Singapore will make more sense."

bhavnav@sph.com.sg


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