Television: All in a day’s work

American television series 24, a crime thriller ran for 192 episodes across eight seasons. Each season of the series depicted a day in the life—every episode an hour—of Counter Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer (played by Kiefer Sutherland). With 18 Emmys in its kitty, 24 has earned a mention in almost all the lists of top TV dramas.
Soon Jack Bauer will come to India as Jai Singh Rathod, played by Bollywood star Anil Kapoor, who bought the rights to remake the American series in Hindi from Fox and 24’s producer Howard Gordon last year. The show, which is in its post-production stage, is expected to premiere on Colors channel in October. The show also boasts actors like Shabana Azmi, Anupam Kher, Tisca Chopra and Mandira Bedi.
Would Rathod be able to move through the mind-numbing traffic of Mumbai the way Jack Bauer does in New York? Would it be possible for him to blow up all that stands in his way (aircraft, cars, buildings), considering the budgets the Indian small screen runs on? “It is true that we cannot match up to international budgets,” says Kapoor. “But we are adapting the show to the Indian context and trying to level out the differences in budget with top-notch acting and writing.”

This is easier said than done, says the co-writer of the series, Rensil D’Silva, of Rang De Basanti, Aks and Kurbaan fame. “The American show is such a big brand and the biggest challenge is to find a way to integrate the Indian elements with the foreign elements and keep up with the real-time format at the same time,” he says.

Richa Chadda with Anil Kapoor in 24
Richa Chadda with Anil Kapoor in 24

Show director and co-writer Abhinay Deo says, “The real-time format is something entirely new to me. You need to account for every minute, every second. You cannot jump between scenes, you have to give the characters the exact time required to get from one place to another. This affects everything starting from the screenplay, performances to the shooting pattern. For example, you cannot have a slow motion shot in 24. Nor can there be a time-slide. Nothing that can hold time back or speed it up can be used. So these are huge technical challenges we faced while shooting.”
Even so, 24 is, to date, the most expensive fiction series to be shot on the Indian small screen. It is also the first time that an American series is being remade in Hindi and the first time that a Bollywood biggie like Kapoor appears in a lead role. But there are other challenges as well. According to a recent KPMG report, nine of the top ten shows on Indian television are daily soaps; CID, a crime thriller, has the tenth spot.
The team behind 24, however, is confident. “24 will be our first step in experimenting with an international fiction format,” says Raj Nayak, CEO of Colors channel. “We are trying to bring together Anil’s mass appeal and our mass audience to create history on Indian television. We have always been at the forefront of bringing change to the small screen and have successfully delivered international non-fiction formats like Bigg Boss, India’s Got Talent, Khatron Ke Khiladi and Jhalak Dikhla Jaa.”
But will the unconventional format of 24 attract Indian viewers, who are used to watching crime series like CID or Crime Patrol? “First of all, I would like to congratulate the makers of CID as it has been on air for over 12 years. It is extremely difficult to captivate the audience for that long,” says Deo. “At the same time, I feel that Indian audiences are ready for a show like 24. I believe that we have moved into a space where apart from shows like CID and Crime Patrol and others like Uttaran and Balika Vadhu, we have a ready audience for something that is pepped up a little more, something that is presented a little better, something which actually challenges your intellect, entertains you and gives you an emotional connect at the same time.”
Pakhi Kartik, who works with Fireworks Production and has been writing for CID for a year now, feels that the Indian audience, especially in smaller towns, may not be ready for a show like 24. “As a viewer, I am glad that 24 is being made in India. I love the pace of the American show and I am looking forward to see how it takes shape on the Indian screen,” says Kartik. “But where CID scores over the other shows in its genre is its simple and straightforward format of storytelling. 24 is a deeply intellectual and layered series. While it might be of interest to urban audiences, rural audiences might find it hard to follow.”

Shabana Azmi with Anil Kapoor in 24
Shabana Azmi with Anil Kapoor in 24

24 will surely be a game changer, she says, but it may not be enough competition to a long-standing show like CID. “The success of 24 will mean a lot of positive changes in Indian television. But like many other crime shows that have been aired―be it Shapath, Arjun or Crime Patrol―I don’t think it will be a competition to CID,” she says. “The main reason being that the format is different. People are so used to seeing CID, the characters are so popular, that it will take much more than Bollywood stars and a new format to change viewer loyalties.”
The small screen poses a huge challenge when it comes to audiences, agrees Deo. “You start looking at the audiences in a different manner because this is not a two-hour captive audience. We are talking about an audience which needs to come back week after week,” he says. “Unlike a film’s audience who will have to see whatever you give them after they have bought the ticket, small screen audiences have a wide range to choose from. That is one of the most important and biggest differences.”
Although the team behind 24 has ample experience in Bollywood, it is interesting that most of them including Deo, D’Silva and Kapoor are making their television debut with 24. “To be frank, I am anxious and nervous,” says Kapoor, who was part of the eighth season of the American series in which he played a Middle-Eastern leader Omar Hassan. “I also feel hugely responsible because a lot of people have trusted me and my vision. I am feeling like a newcomer because when it comes to fiction on television, no mainstream star has ever ventured into it. It is exciting when at such an age and stage in my career, I am able to do something as novel and interesting as 24.”
The first season of the show is almost ready and the last leg of the shoot is on at a mill in Kurla, Mumbai, which houses the main set of the Anti-Terrorism Unit. One look at the set, and you know that the makers have paid attention to detail. The set is a replica of the one seen on the American show, complete with newspaper cuttings, Venn diagrams and huge monitoring screens. “Yes, we have taken the backbone from them,” says Deo. “But I must add that after the backbone, the flesh, the muscle, the body, the vein, the blood, the heart and the soul are completely Indian.”

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