Mumbai: Ram has returned. Two decades after the first epic enthralled a nation new to television, the Valmiki Ramayana has been repackaged and remade for NDTV Networks Plc.’s new entertainment channel, Imagine.
It’s clearly a different India now and in many ways, the show, to debut on Monday night, reflects this. Much of the epic, directed by the son of the original director, tells the story from Sita’s perspective and also includes lessons on the environment. With elaborate sets in Vadodara, it has been billed the biggest budget television serial, although officials will not disclose how much.
But the essence, promises Shailja Kejriwal, senior vice-president of programming at NDTV Imagine, remains the same. “When any society is at a threshold of a new future, the way India is right now, they look to the past for ideals. What better ideal than Ram,” Kejriwal said.
Evergreen idols: NDTV Imagine hopes that its new series on Ramayana will bring the entire family together around dinner time.
“We wanted something that could bring the entire family together around dinner time, something that could become the core of our programming, that espoused good values.”
The new Ramayana is one of several religious entertainment remakes in the offering. Ravi Chopra, son of B.R. Chopra, director of the renowned Mahabharata serial, is remaking the epic as a Rs100 crore movie. Meanwhile, producer Bobby Bedi, maker of movies such as The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey, is remaking the Mahabharata as a serial, directed by Chandra Prakash Dwivedi, producer, director and actor of another popular serial Chanakya. Another serial also is planned on the Upanishads.
The spate of religious programming, media analysts say, is rooted in viewers fatigued with the so-called K-serials and game shows. “Maybe it is time to go back to real life,” said Sudha Natrajan, associate director of Lintas Media Group.
“Epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata have timelessness to them…We like to say we are hip and all that, but when it comes to your own family, where there are children and elders, it is good to have something you can all watch and bond over. You do want your child to know his history.”
This version, aptly enough, is a family affair. The new Ramayana is directed by Anand Sagar, the son of Ramanand Sagar, director of the first epic. And his son—Ramanand Sagar’s grandson—Shakti Sagar is the creative director of the serial. He said it was a challenge to try and remake what his grandfather had done: “We have the same look, same feel and same emotions as the former version, with subtle differences.”
Kejriwal says this version explores relevant issues such as women’s empowerment and environmental conservation in the context of the story. “I was fascinated to find out that Sita was educated by rishis Gargi, Maitreyee and Anusuya. They taught her how a man and woman complete each other. So, the message was not walk one step behind her husband, but walk with him. It struck a chord with me. Parallel to the Ramayana, we have also explored events from Sita’s perspective.”
Current events, observers say, is also helping fuel interest in Ram. For the last few months, religious Hindus have been embroiled in a battle of their own with the government over the future of Adam’s Bridge linking India and Sri Lanka, also known as Ram Sethu because it is believed to have been built by Ram.