REUTERS - The atmosphere on the sets of Nikkhil Advani’s new show is festive. Actors are dressed in bright colours, the room is covered in garlands; and as the camera starts rolling, a large Indian family banters with boisterous Punjabi echoing in the dialogue.
At first glance, “POW - Bandhi Yuddh Ke” (Prisoners of War)” looks like one of the many serials that populate Indian television. But Advani’s show is an aberration in many ways.
It is a rare finite series (126 episodes of half-an-hour duration each), is an adaptation of an internationally acclaimed show (Israeli drama “Hatufim”, which was also the basis for popular American series “Homeland”) and is about war and its aftermath – a far cry from the melodramatic, often garish prime-time shows that focus on scheming mothers-in-law which are often criticised for their regressive themes.
“The underlying mantra that I am telling everyone is, ‘don’t tell me ye TV pe nahi hota (this doesn’t happen on TV)’. I am shooting a 126-episode cinematic experience,” Advani told Reuters in an interview.
Told from the point of view of two women whose husbands return home 17 years after being presumed dead in the Kargil conflict, the series has TV veterans Purab Kohli and Sandhya Mridul among its leads. Amrita Puri and Satyadeep Mishra also star in the show which will air on Star Plus, the flagship channel of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Star India.
Advani, who was approached to direct the series after Star executives saw his 2013 film “D-Day”, says the vagaries of Indian television meant he had to adapt the narrative for an Indian audience.
“Gideon Raff was concerned that our story wasn’t kicking in as soon as the original did, but we had to convince him that we have to spend the first six or seven episodes building up characters,” Advani said, referring to the creator of “Hatufim.”
“This is India. People like to be spoon-fed. In the West, if a character stands in front of Lehman Brothers and wearing a suit, he is a banker. But here, we have to say what he is.”
War is a subject that is relevant because of escalating tensions between India and Pakistan following an attack on an Indian army base in Kashmir which killed 19 soldiers.
For Star, which has maintained its leadership position in India’s general entertainment space on a staple of long-running and melodramatic family sagas, “POW - Bandhi Yuddh Ke” is also an attempt to break out of the clutter and attract a younger audience increasingly lured by digital players like Netflix and Amazon.
“Once we watched ‘Hatufim’, the emotional, intense drama got our attention… Plus, the story was very different from what we had made, and it had done well in another local market like Israel,” said Gaurav Banerjee, President and Head of Content Studio, Star India.
Advani said the only condition put up before he was signed on by the studio was that the show would have to run six days a week.
“I was told straight off that you have to be present in people’s living rooms six days a week. Indian audiences need their staple - they need to see you every day. That is how they will connect.”
(Editing by David Lalmalsawma)