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From Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi's Chanakya to Sanjay Khan's The Sword Of Tipu Sultan, The Great Maratha to Vinod Khanna's take on Maharana Pratap to Sagar Arts' Prithviraj Chauhan, historicals have time and again been attempted by different makers. History has always fascinated film and serial-makers. As Sanjay Khan says, "I am a student of historyand love to inform people of our heroes. But it has to have the flavour of that era, inventive dialogue and authenticity" Zee is promising to do that with its just launched historical Jhansi Ki Rani. Two other historicals are also currently on air Chittod Ki Rani Padmini Ka Johur(Sony) and Meera(NDTV Imagine) . Interestingly, all the three are women-centric, a change from the hitherto male historic figures.
However, unlike a mythological, which has an immediate connect with the viewers courtesy the Gods, a historical is a difficult genre to pull off. First, the historical character has to be completely positive and have a great persona. Avers Dr Dwivedi, "When there is a tough challenging time and the person facing it is a great personality, it creates history." Of the dozen odd historicals aired so far, only a couple of them have done exceedingly well. Chanakya and Tipu Sultan are remembered even today for their authenticity, casting and grandeur.
Yet, the Chanakya maker did not venture to make another historical . "You have to invest a lot of time and money on a historical. In 1988, when I made Chanakya, I had made the pilot episode at the cost of Rs 18 lakh which works out to Rs 1.5 crore today. It also involves a lot of research. You have to be able to study and interpret the missing link. Unlike in Hollywood where major blockbusters are based on history or literature, here people are averse to it," he laments.
Interestingly, Nitin Desai, who has produced Padmini, was part of the Chanakya team as the art director. Today, he is producing two historicals, Raja Shiv Chhatrapati on STAR Pravah besides Padmini. While the Marathi historical is doing well, Padmini hasn't been recieved well and will soon go off air. "I told Nitin that he should attempt an historical only if he has the time and money to invest on it. Now with the element of TRPs coming in, I think somewhere the seriousness is missing."
Jhansi Ki Rani on Zee TV is touted to be extremely authentic as its writer Hussain Zaidi has been researching on the subject for 10 years. The serial's story begins from Laxmibai's childhood. It shows how the little girl was uninterested in doing household chores and preferred playing muddy kabbadi matches with the boys. The girl, Ulka Gupta, who plays the title role has a great spark in her. Incidentally, B.R. Films had made a historical by the same name with Tina Ghai in the title role, but it fared badly. That was on Doordarshan.
Zee conceptualised making a series on Jhansi Ki Rani in 2007 as it marked the 150th year of the mutiny. "We decided that we will make series on different freedom fighters, with Jhansi Ki Rani being the first one," informs Nitin Vaidya, COO of ZEE and Business Head of Zee TV. The serial, however, was to be produced by Chandan Singh of Innovative 9, but it got delayed and Zee then roped in Contiloe Films as the producer. Sets have been put up in Mumbai as well as Aamgaon in Gujarat and it is also being shot at Maheshwar in Indore and Chomu Palace in Jaipur.
The serial is pitted against another historical, Meera and the popular soap Balika Vadhu. Interestingly, the three serials have a girl child as their protagonist. It's a different thing that one is a fictitious character while the other two are characters from history. Even Padmini is aired at the same time. While Meera has opened with a rating of 1.8, Padmini is going off air due to lack of TRPs. Agrees Danish Khan, Vice-President, Sony, "It is true that Padmini hasn't done as well as it was expected, though it has performed reasonably well in the South market. We are bringing it to its logical end this month."
Ajay Balwankar, Programming Head, Zee , is not worried that one historical has bitten dust. "Jhansi Ki Rani is a strong property; it will make an impression on women across ages. People will want to see it. As for Meera, it's not really a historical, it is a mythological. Just because one historical is not doing well it doesn't mean others won't," he reckons. Shailaja Kejriwal, EVP, Content, NDTV Imagine, feels that the success of any serial depends on the making and story-telling. She believes that Meera has a strong curiosity value for the viewer. "People have heard and love her songs, they want to know about her," she says adding that in the current scenario, every channel will offer all kinds of genre from social dramas, historicals/ mythologicals, reality shows etc. "The idea is to experiment," she quips.
Historicals, which were once the domain of Doordarshan, did not have any place on satellite channels a few years ago. Says Dr Dwivedi who was part of Zee a at one point, "Satellite channels considered it downmarket to air historicals." Today they are being made at the cost of Rs 9-10 lakhs per episode.
Prithviraj Chauhan was the first historical to be aired on Star Plus and it was the numero uno weekend show. Like Jhansi..., Prithviraj, too, started from the warrior king's childhood. That track was supposed to be only for a few episodes, but the child artiste playing the role became so popular that the channel continued with him for almost a year. Consequently, by the time the grown-up Prithiviraj made an entry, people had lost interest and the show winded up. Hope Jhansi Ki Rani takes a lesson from this and despite Ulka's charm, stays true to the subject and introduces the grown-up rani at the right time.