For a long time, mountaineering eluded Ashutosh Gowariker. He had never attempted it and often wondered what people achieved by making it to the top of a mountain. That changed recently when he and the team working on his television show, Everest, trekked for 10 days in Uttarakhand. Along with trainers from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, they scaled an altitude of 12,000 feet. “We carried our equipment on our backs, trekked during the day and slept in tents at night. It was an incredible experience. I finally understood what I’d been missing. Battling harsh temperatures and pressures, I could feel the enormity and the force of a mountain. I returned a different person,” he says.
Gowariker brings these experiences into his first fiction series for Star Plus, Everest. The project kept the filmmaker busy for two years as he dug out accounts by mountaineers. “I was interested with the reasons people want to reach the top of a mountain — they want to feel empowered, fulfil a dream or a promise. Mount Everest is the epitome of this ambition; they believe if they can climb Mount Everest, they can do anything,” he says.
This thought was the inspiration behind Everest. Co-written by Gowariker and Bhavani Iyer (she also worked on the Indian adaptation of 24 on Colors), it follows the story of Anjali Singh Rawat, a young girl who wants to fulfil her father’s dream by climbing Mount Everest. “Instead of crossing a corridor to his room, she chooses to climb the tallest mountain to get closer to him. Thus Everest addresses two conquests: one is physical, the other, personal,” he says. The show’s shooting, with directors Glenn Baretto and Ankush Mohla, began early this year and is still underway. Everest will go on air in November.
Gowariker, known for his epic sagas, such as Lagaan (2001) and Jodhaa Akbar (2008), decided not to present it as a feature film. “As we wrote, newer characters, their own conflicts were introduced and the story kept getting nuanced. Though it would be a visual treat for any filmmaker to shoot, I did not want to tell this story in three hours. So I turned to television,” says Gowariker, who began his career as an actor with the small screen in shows such as Circus (1989), Kachchi Dhoop (1987) and CID (1998).
Producing and writing for TV has taught him a thing or two, he says. TV, he believes, is essentially filmmaking, but a medium where one has to tell a story in 20 minutes and introduce a hook in each episode to give people a reason to return for the next one. It also became a lesson in formatting. The length of the series is currently undecided.
With filmmakers having experimented with the medium (Anurag Kashyap with Yudh and Abhinay Deo with 24), the audience now expects something “different” from television shows, Gowariker believes. “With Everest, we hope to bring a cinematic experience to the small screen,” he says. What will aid this ambition, asserts the filmmaker, is AR Rahman’s music specially composed for this show; it will be the Academy Award-winning musician’s television debut. “We were working on the music for my film Mohenjo Daro when I narrated Everest to him. He’d been thinking of composing for television for a while and came on board immediately. It is a great addition because he always adds something grand to the project,” he says.