By Priyanka Bhadani
In 1988 when Guroudev Bhalla (a film-maker and now a TV producer) was assisting film-maker Mahesh Bhatt, one of the projects that he worked on was based on bonded labour in India. The film was titled Girvi and starred Ajay Devgn and Pooja Bhatt in the lead roles. But as luck would have it, Bhatt became popular with commercial/mainstream cinema like Aashiqui during that period and this project went on the back burner.
The idea however, had touched Bhalla deeply and remained with him throughout these years. Thus he decided to bring it back with a television show, Udann – Sapno Ki that went on air on Colors earlier this week.
While the practise was legally abolished in 1976, in reality it still exists and has penetrated throughout the country. It is prevalent in certain sections of the society and leaves labourers with no option, but to work under those who their forefathers were indebted to.
When Bhalla thought of turning a producer for TV, this was the idea that struck him as he felt that a concept like this has all the potential to work on a medium that addresses the masses. “The only requirement was that of a good broadcaster who would understand the issue,” says Bhalla, who sought permission from Bhatt and was given a go ahead after which he proposed it to the channel which was happy to take it up.
Colors has already made a mark with its shows like Balika Vadhu, Naa Aana Iss Des Laado etc that have a distinct social message. “We have always taken the initiative about creating awareness on social issues since the channel first launched six years ago. The various issues we have addressed through our shows have become a voice of change that has positively influenced audiences across the country,” says Raj Nayak, CEO, Colors, who is looking forward to create awareness about bonded labourers and its implications on society through one of the youngest protagonists in the TV space — seven-year-old Chakor .
Set against the rustic backdrop in the hinterland of Uttar Pradesh where bonded labour is dominant, Udann is the story of an innocent child, Chakor who faces challenges at the hands of the Rajvanshi family headed by the zamindar Kamalnarayan. Caught between the social divide of the rich and the poor, Chakor’s story takes flight amidst a restrained childhood with her parents Kasturi and Bhuvan, and growing up in the zamindar’s household she has been pledged to.
Interestingly, since the team wanted to bring newness to the show, instead of using the backdrop of farming, brick industry, diamond cutters etc, the makers decided to set the story in the silk manufacturing units where the issue of bonded labour is also prevalent.
The script of the show has been developed by Robin Bhatt and Javed Siddiqui, who were associated with the project in the eighties. The research team behind the show visited places like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Karnatka and many villages in Maharashtra to understand the plight of bonded labourers.
“The script of the movie was based on a research published in the Time magazine that highlighted the millions of bonded labourers that are still working in the country. Sadly, even after more than two decades, the issue remains reported recently by Economic Times,” remarks Siddiqui.
“The issue is relevant because almost 20 million children are still bonded labours in India,” says Robin Bhatt, who talks about the campaign by Swami Agnivesh around the issue that highlighted some startling facts. While Bhatt has mainly written for movies, he says that while writing for the television , he is developing the script in a way that it is not just engaging but interesting enough to hold the viewer interest.
Bhalla’s idea is to recreate the magic of films like Do Bhigha Zameen, Mother India etc with the show. “While the show’s core aim is to give out a message of change to the audience, we want it to be as entertaining and appealing as possible and thus the grandeur ,” he says.
With the country on the threshold of significant social changes, it remains to be seen whether Chakor’s story will succeed in making a dent and educate the viewers about bonded labour. Only time will tell.
Prouducer Guroudev Bhalla says that to hold the viewer’s attention a lot of details have been worked out. Like a grand set has been designed at the Film City studios in Mumbai by art director Tina Dharamsey. While one portion of the set has a big zamindar’s haveli, the other part has the set-up of a village where Chakor’s family resides.