By Subhash K Jha
MUMBAI: Sanjay Leela Bhansali speaks about his plunge into television with Saraswatichandra.
What made you go into television production with Saraswatichandra?
Look at the reach of the medium! Today soaps and serials go into every home. In terms of numbers, television has a far bigger reach than cinema.The demograph of the home-viewing audience fascinated me. Every home doesn’t have audiences going to the cinema. But every home has a television. I wanted to explore the medium. But not with the usual kind of soaps.
But for you who thinks larger-than-life epic cinema, this step into the living room would appear to cramp your style?
It wasn’t easy, I can tell you that. To begin with I didn’t understand the medium. The whole thing about TRPs ruling the content was a little troubling. And the competition on the medium is just so intimidating. One has to sustain the viewers’ interests over a long period of time.
Any regrets about taking the plunge?
Are you joking? Of course not!I’ve learnt so much from the experience . Now we’re looking forward to seeing the serial on air.I hope it gets the kind of attention and love that we’ve given it.When I decided to do a serial based on Govardhanram Madhavram Tripathi’s Gujarati novel Saraswatichandra I knew exactly what I was getting into. The book is a massive achievement running into several volumes.
You are no stranger to literature, are you?
Devdas, of course was based on Saratchandra’s novel. Hum…Dil De Chuke Sanam was also adapted from a Bengali literary work.And of course Saawariya, which I am the proudest of, is adapted from Dostoevsky’s short story. I love putting literature to film.Saraswatichandra is considered the mother of all Gujarati fiction.I wanted to make a film out of it.
Then what happened?
The film didn’t work out. The novel running into several volumes, was too voluminous.Somehow it rendered itself far better to a television adaptation. It has all the ingredients, the drama, twists and turns to hold audiences’ attention for a period of time.While I could telescope the nuances of Devdas and Hum…Dil De Chuke Sanam into one feature film, condensing the sprawling epic narration of Saraswatichandra into that format was impossible.
Which would you say your serial Saraswatichandra is closer to Devdas or Hum….Dil…in terms of look and flavour?
I’d say both.If I may say so, the kind of grandeur in Saraswatichandra has never been seen on Indian television before. But more than that,I think it’s the idealism and progressive ideas of the protagonist that I wanted to bring to the home medium.The novel was written 1887. But the ideas are relevant today.
There was a highly-acclaimed 1968 film based on the same novel?
I am big fan of Govind Saraiya’s film. His interpretation of the novel was masterly.If we could capture even an iota of the film’s drama and emotions I think we’ve done our job. However let me add that our serial is very different from the film. Our serial is far more contemporary. We’ve re-located it in a urban setting. And the ideas have been somewhat contemporized. But the basic values of the novel have been retained.
What are these values?
It shows us a reformist hero who puts social progress above self. I think we need more such heroes. It’s also a great love story.Most importantly it tells the youth they need to give back to society some of what they get.
You’re immersed in your film Ram Leela. How did you find the time to supervise the making of Saraswatichandra?
Oh, we started work on Saraswatichandra long before I started Ram Leela. Right after I finished Guzaarish we began looking into what we wanted to do on television. The theme, sets, costumes, imaging and other details took over a year. The serial is directed by Arvind Babbal. He is very popular on television.
How did you pick up Jennifer Winget and Gautam Rode for the lead?
We screen-tested many and that included them. Jennifer and Gautam came out with flying colours. They were the clear choices. No contest.
How deep would your involvement in television be?
As deep as it can get. I’ve been very fortunate with this project. Star Plus have been extremely co-operative. There has been no interference from them. And yet they are there on the project hands-on.In spite of television being a new medium for me it has been a deeply enriching experience for me. The reactions I’ve got for the promotions has been heartening. I hope to do more on television that hasn’t been done before.