By Priyanka Bhadani
Costume dramas on the small screen have come a long way. From just one or two shows based on history or mythology (like Ramayana, Mahabharat, Chandrakanta, etc) across channels that were telecast on Sunday mornings on Doordarshan in the 80s and the 90s, now it has become a daily affair. Almost every general entertainment channel has a property belonging to the genre of period drama, fantasy or mythology. Some of the recent popular shows across channels include shows like Mahabharata, Buddha, Maharana Pratap, Mahadev among others. When the appetite for the genre was so big, it only made sense for Sony Pal, the newly launched GEC from the Multi Screen Media group, to have a show in the genre to grab sufficient eyeballs.
But while there was an idea, the task was to find a story that fits well into the channel’s theme — Ye Pal Hamara Hai — which aims to empower women. And thus Singhasan Battisi, a popular folklore — derived partly from mythology (story of Raja Vikramaditya) and partly from history (Raja Bhoj), seemed like a good idea.
Concept and story
The show that went on air last week starts with Raja Bhoj’s (a philosopher and king from the Malwa Kingdom in the 11th Century) fascination towards a rock in the cave after sitting on which a person always gives the right judgement. Upon visiting the cave with the rock, Bhoj discovers the story behind Raja Vikramaditya’s (a ruler of the first century BC) throne. The legend has it that Vikramaditya’s throne was embellished with 32 dolls, each possessing a unique quality like patience, promise, forgiveness, self-respect, equality among others. As Bhoj visits the throne, each doll emerge out of the 32 pillars to make him aware of Vikramaditya’s qualities that led him to become one of the celebrated kings from India. That’s the track that the show follows.
Anooj Kapoor, senior EVP and Business Head, Sony Pal, during the launch of the channel had remarked that this is one of the best stories to highlight the qualities of a women. “Even mythology and history say a lot about the contribution of women in shaping up the society,” he said.
Interestingly, the idea was to highlight how even in the contemporary times, the women possess all these qualities and can lead one to reach greater heights. Dheeraj Kumar from Creative Eye Ltd, who is producing the show, says that at a time when society is in the clutches of patriarchy and men think that they are way superior than their women counterpart, this story is really significant. “It gives us an opportunity to look back at our foundation which established that it were these 32 angels that guided Vikramaditya to lead him to become one of greatest Hindu kings. After a few centuries, even Raja Bhoj becomes a famed ruler known for his tactfulness and wisdom as the 32 dolls narrate him the stories of Vikramaditya’s magnanimity,” says Kumar as he talks about the show that will track these 32 stories.
The show has all the elements of a costume drama – mythology, history and fantasy. A research team led by Ram Govind, who has been associated with many popular shows from the genre like Jai Jai Jai Bajrang Bali, Ravi Chopra’s Ramayana, etc in the past, has worked on the finer details of the story.
While stories of Vikramaditya’s generosity have featured in the show Vikram Aur Betal and an earlier version of Singhasan Battisi that was aired on Doordarshan in the late 80s, this one tries to connect stories to the contemporary times.
C.L. Saini, the story and screenplay writer, who is working in sync with Govind, says that the team is using a version of the story that was translated by Somnath from the Sanskrit text Singhasan Dwa Trinsica. “There’s a lot of other material available too and while we are referring to many to re-check and re-confirm the facts, we are sticking to Somnath’s version for the basic story and then adding modern elements to it,” says Saini, who informs that while Raja Bhoj is a historical figure with many history books establishing details about his kingdom and his family, Raja Vikramaditya is more of a mythological figure with many details about him being ambiguous.
“Besides tracking the story of the 32 dolls, the show also reveals the magnanimity of Vikramaditya and Bhoj. Bhoj has been credited for the introduction of paper as Bhoj Patra; and has also been popular as a great writer and poet,” says Saini, also informing that Bhoj has written his own version of the Ramayana, known as Champu Ramayana, that too will be shown in the course of the show.
Art & aesthetics
Since the story is set in the past era, a lot of attention was paid to the designing of the set. Three different sets have been erected in Powai for the show. Vinod Bagh of Future Studio, who has designed the sets, took this as a challenge as it was his first set for a fantasy-historical drama.
“One of the sets is a cave, while the other two are palaces — one of Vikramaditya and the other of Bhoj,” says Bagh. “We wanted the gap between the two periods to come out well. The difference between the two kings’s rule is of around 11 centuries and thus the costumes, properties and props have been chosen accordingly,” he adds.
In fact, the team is going for a lot of outdoor shoots as well in order to get the aesthetics right. “There’s a mention of a pond in the palace of Vikramaditya. Since we wanted to get it right, we went to Panvel where we shot at a pond and also near a tunnel,” says Vaibhav Muthha, one of the four directors from the show.
The team also went to the Borivali National Park to shoot few sequences featuring Vikramaditya during tapasya. “Many sequences have been enhanced by visual graphics as well,” says Muthha.
The most difficult part, according to Kumar, was to shortlist the actors for the show, especially the 32 actresses playing the angels. “While we have made the show very contemporary in nature, we still needed actors who could gracefully portray the roles of the angels. As for the role of Vikramaditya and Bhoj, we needed actors who reflect strength and compassion at the same time,” says Kumar, who zeroed in on actors Karan Suchak (Raja Vikramaditya); Siddhartha Arora (Raja Bhoj); and Sayantani Ghosh, who as Mahamaya – the main devi of the 32 angels – narrates the story.
For actor Siddhartha Arora, who has always played very contemporary characters, this is his first brush with the genre. “It’s kind of ironical that in my first show – Mukti Bandhan, I made my entry in a car; in the second show – Na Bole Tum Na Maine Kuch Kaha, I rode a bike; and this time, I would be riding a horse,” quips Arora, who says that it is quite an enriching experience, as the show is training him in many ways. “There’s a lot of action involved with fight and horse-riding sequences,” he adds.
While Ghosh, who has done quite a few shows in the genre, says that the entire show has a very mystic element to it because of which it will stand out from the others. “While I have done similar roles, the novelty here is that I am playing a sutradhar, who connects the two eras. It is an interesting role,” she says.
Karan Suchak, who was last seen in Star Plus’s Mahabharat as Dhrishtadyumna, a show like this which has a fantasy, mythological as well as historical essence, is an interesting combination for the audience. “It isn’t just acting that one has to pay attention to, body posture, Hindi and Sanskrit diction, physique, etc also needs to be taken care of,” says Suchak, who thinks that the number of shows in a similar genre has grown because the audience wants to know about their origins. “Plus, the shows are quite appealing visually and thus makes for a good watch,” he says.