By Priyanka Bhadani
When Amar Upadhyay’s character, Mihir Virani in the immensely popular serial Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (2000) meets with an accident, there were reports of yagnas being performed by viewers across the country. The viewers were unanimous in their demand that his track be retained in the serial. Result: the makers had to buckle under their demand and resurrect his character, that was presumed to be dead.
Cut to today when certain sections of the viewers have been cribbing about content on Indian TV shows going awry. But Hindi fiction shows have its ardent fans that came to the fore when last week, fans of Saraswatichandra on Star Plus expressed their displeasure on Twitter, when they came to know that the track involving the show’s lead protagonist — Saras (portrayed by Gautam Rode) — is coming to an end.
Apparently, the fans started a petition on Twitter, #NoGautamNoSC. It saw so many people coming up in arms that it even started trending in India and Pakistan.
As the protests continued, Rode tweeted in a bid to calm down his fans, “Hey friends… it’s been a hectic week & I understand what ur concerns r… I have been quiet because I wasn’t too sure about things &u all hv a right to see d clear picture…I’m not quitting or leaving d show bt my track will end soon. It’s totally d channel &creative’s call…SC has given me a lot especially the love n support from all of u, I have made so many friends & admirers because of SC. I need all of u with me in whatever I do and where ever I go from here…thanks a lot for always being there…will keep you informed on what’s coming up next….will miss SC, take care friends :)”
Interestingly enough, there have been similar cases in the recent past when the replacement of an actor or ending a character’s track has created an upheaval amongst the fans. When Pratyusha Bannerjee (Anandi of Balika Vadhu) was replaced with Toral Rasputra in 2013, viewers were unhappy with the change, resulting in widespread protests from ardent fans of the show; When the news of Barun Sobti’s replacement in Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Dun came up, the protests from the fans forced the channel to decide to take the show off air, rather than make changes in the cast. The story was repeated when Giaa Manek, who portrayed the character of Gopi Bahu in Saath Nibhaana Saathiya, decided to walk away from the show to pursue other avenues, and was replaced with Devoleena Bhattacharjee. There was a big outrage from fans across various platforms. However, the channel went ahead with the decision and the show continues to do well.
Rashmi Sharma, the producer of Saathiya… says that she understands that fans become emotional about the characters that they are watching everyday, but in a situation like the one mentioned above, there’s no choice but to go ahead with the decision of replacing the actor as a show is not just about one particular character or an actor. “A show becomes popular and is liked by the audiences because of the overall storyline. Eventually, people develop liking for a particular character in the show. And since the liking is for the character, even if the actor is replaced, gradually the new face makes it place, like ir did in the case of Saathiya..,” she remarks as she adds that in most of the cases, the viewership is hardly affected as the followers of a show want to know where the story is proceeding.
Giaa, who quit from the show because of too much “pressure” understands the emotions of her fans. However, she thinks it’s important for those involved in decision making to take a stand without being moved by such sentiments. “I was humbled by the reaction of the fans when I left Saathiya..., but the decision was taken, because I was going through a tough time. I couldn’t have continued,” says Giaa for whom the move opened various other avenues.
For actors, the love they receive from the fans is a humbling experience. “Anandi was my first role and I lived the character. When I had to leave, the love that I received made me feel great, making the move easier,” says Pratyusha Bannerjee, who has witnessed both the situations as she replaced Avika Gor as Anandi and later Toral replaced her. “As an actor, if you live the character, the audience will fall in love with you. That is what happened with me when I joined the show after Avika,” she adds.
At times, such situations become a stumbling block for channels and the production houses. “Popular actors portraying some of the most loved characters become brands for channels and when they decide to quit mid-way or a decision like this is taken due to any other differences, it becomes difficult for the channels and production houses to proceed,” says writer Purnendu Shekhar, who in a career spanning two-decades, has come across many such situations.
However, Shekhar believes that if the characters are well-etched and the storyline doesn’t lose track, replacement or removal of a popular actor from the track hardly makes a difference. “Initially, it may affect the viewership, but eventually it falls in place,” he says as he highlights that Balika... continues to do well even after the replacement. “A little tweaking in the style of writing, which is in sync with the new actor, or the new track, works,” he concludes.