First things first. Much as the snooty, discriminating & elitist section of society ignore and mock TV serials, fact is, in terms of popularity & reach – demographic & psychographic penetration – they race past movies, hands down. The very nature of TV serials allows them to be modest, homely, personalised and intimate entertainment. The concept, plot, execution, cast, treatment – unlike larger-than-life movies – makes them totally relatable to the aam junta and due to their daily telecast, makes the serial, a family thing. It is a well-known fact that, 2 decades ago, when Mihir’s rumoured death – in the iconic Saas-Bahu– hit the air, scores of women across the country went into mourning mode! Hence, despite all the superior airs of the anti-TV serial brigade, it remains a very important aspect of India’s life and times, a pucca MUST DO box ticked by zillions in their daily activity list!
Incidentally, the TV serial is red-hot across regions, cultures and languages too, each having their very own culture-specific template & audience-friendly offering. Bengal is very much part of this scenario with their Best-sellers and Also-rans. Presently, Zee TV’s Netaji is one of the biggest hits in this space and director Shibangshu Bhattacharya gives us a little peep into its making.
A peep into the director’s life is in order. Detesting academics – but seeing it as a necessary evil – the young man kept his equilibrium by alongside nurturing his love for theatre. After a decade, he chanced into a bit role in a TV serial and then later into direction. As can be imagined, a person with no Godfather or connect with the right sources, confronted huge struggle but hope, confidence [that came from consistent learning on-the-job] and a sharp eye for the main chance, finally won out. The art of shooting fast resonated perfectly with TV channels and soon, he found himself in the mega-serial market.
Cut to the present. Netaji, as a subject, was not his but the channel’s choice. It was a bold and courageous move, because historically, very few movies or serials have worked celebrating Political icons. What was his reaction when he was invited to direct this inspirational figure? Challenge? Opportunity? “Both! As a professional, I was mandated to do a job to the best of my ability. For my turn, I was supported by a fabulous team of Researchers, Script & Dialogue writers, technicians and of course, actors. Everyone pitched in superbly to make Netaji the super-hit it is today.”
We come to the pocket-sized dynamite, the young Netaji. What a blow-out performer! Where on earth did he surface from?” Well, 11 year old Ankit Mazumdar, who plays the young Netaji, had done a couple of roles but I guess it was serendipity ... right time, right place, right person!
Apart from looks and body language, he has two major advantages: One, the ability to quickly memorise his lines. Two, to be totally camera-free. This helps hugely in the believability factor for the viewers. Also, his face reflects all the goodness, passion, compassion, intensity and fearlessness that went into the making of the older Netaji.” A blood-tingling inspirational bio-serial [especially for Bengalis] were the co-actors also seized with the spirit of nationalism and patriotism that defined the core of this narrative?” I really can’t say. Being talented, hard-core professionals, they certainly did attempt to live their roles. The viewers’ reactions suggest that they were all brilliant.”
We move to Director Shibangshu’s life after Netaji. Films? He smiles a boyish smile. “Since Struggle is my middle name, I can’t get away from it! I’d love to graduate to films and even have a couple of ready scripts BUT getting a good Production House here is as much a task as Netaji’s fight for freedom! There is just one big banner that does most of the big films. They have their special and select roster of film-makers. We newcomers – despite our TV serial success – don’t count! I am looking at other Producers and Banners too. Bengal anyway is a small market ... let’s see.” Regarding the state of TV serials, he believes “most seem to be very regressive! There is invariably a bunch of scheming women, forever committed to make life miserable for others. What is the message beamed to millions of viewers? That women are women’s worst enemies, dying to see the other suffer, traumatised at their happiness, envy, jealousy and revenge their driving force? It’s so sad and disturbing – but since there is no complaint from the viewers, I guess it will continue.” Regarding Bengali films, he believes that “while there are some brilliant directors, many more should be given the opportunity. Look at the way Bollywood is going – a whole new bunch of new directors, offering non-formulaic themes with actors, are making it big. Why can’t our industry follow that route? There is no dearth of talent – only opportunities ...”
He flashes a resigned smile. I cheer him up with Gully Boy’s iconic line, meant for him – Chill, Tera Time Ayega!