Twenty years ago, much before Ekta Kapoor, television history was made. The mother of all family dramas, Ramayan, was screened on TV once a week and the country would come to a standstill for an hour. Then, the 78-episode serial directed by Ramanand Sagar aired in 50 countries. This time round, the epic saga — telecast on NDTV Imagine — has already helped the new channel debut in seventh spot in the Hindi general entertainment segment. Director Anand Sagar, 62, as assistant to his father, was even witness to the first wave.
What is different about this version of Ramayan?
The story of the Ramayan cannot change, but what has changed since my father made Ramayan 20 years ago is technology. At the time, we didn’t
have even 10% of the budget that we have now. Ours is a daily format while that was an hour-long weekend show, so the style of narration has also changed.
Epic moments: (top) Sagar worked on the script for six months; the lead pair, Gurmeet Choudhary and Debina Bonnerjee, make their TV debut.
We noticed that this time the narration is slower and situations are stretched.
It is harder to hold audience attention for a week. They want a good story and like the small details. What matters is the soul of the story and it is the prerogative of the creative people involved as to how they want to tell it. My way cannot be the same as my father’s. We had received criticism even when the old Ramayan started airing, before it made history.
What are the special effects like? There is a strange yellow sheen on the screen during telecast.
That is a technical problem, part of the initial hiccups, and will be taken care of. Today, our competition is global and we are trying to make our special effects comparable with the international standards of television. We are working with 3-D and other background effects, which were not possible earlier.
Could the high ratings be because there are no other popular shows in that time slot?
We creative people don’t understand TRPs. The channel looks into these things. But, if a new show on a new channel is being watched, then there must be something to it.
What is your target audience?
This is a cultural documentary, and the younger generation that did not get to watch the earlier version will be very interested. Gurmeet Choudhary, who plays Ram, would have been three or four years old when the first Ramayan was on TV. Older people will watch it to compare it with the earlier version. Either way, I’ll get an audience.
Will they be able to relate to new faces such as Ram and Sita?
The image of Arun Govil and Deepika is imprinted in people’s minds and the comparisons are natural. But we shouldn’t forget that they were new once and became famous only after the show.
How does it feel to belong to the first family of Ramayan?
The Ramayan has been a part of our lives ever since we were kids, and we used to have the Ramayan paathat home every Sunday. Of course, we didn’t care about it much then, but I think as Indians, we have the Ramayan in our genes. It has been through god’s grace that we made history, and I feel very lucky.
Which members of the Sagar family are involved in the present show?
Besides me, there is my son Shakti, and his cousin Amrit, who are the creative directors; and his other cousin Jyoti is doing the special effects. My wife Nisha is doing the costumes, my brother Subhash is producing, and brother Prem is handling the marketing and production, while our youngest brother Moti also helps out.
You made a few Bollywood blockbusters — why have you stopped making films?
Everything we have tried on television has been successful, and now we are so deep into it that we don’t feel the need to do movies. The younger generation, Shakti and Amrit, are planning to make a film and I might think about it after Ramayan.
Ramayan is aired on NDTV Imagine, from Monday to Thursday, at 9.30pm
# Size of the set in Vadodara - 35 acres
Time spent shooting every day - 14 hours
Cast and crew on the sets daily - 300 people
Crowns, swords, bows and arrows - 600
Total number of episodes - 208, and counting