The historical ruins of Modhera’s Sun temple act as the backdrop for the final promotional of the latest mega TV series on Star Plus, says Aakriti Narang
Rising like a chimera, the magnificent Sun temple, about 106 km away from Ahmedabad, dominates its entire surroundings. Constructed by the Chalukya dynasty in Gujarat, the sand stone edifice with its engravings of men, women, children and animals look on as the cast and crew of the serial Aarambh call it a day. Two pigeons have the vantage view to the goings-on, seated as they are inside the outer crevices of the temple. The day’s heat has clearly taken a toll on the actors due to the heavy costumes that they are wearing. Actor Tarun Khanna, who plays Kayastha, breathes a huge sigh of relief when the leather arm guard is removed.
Coming close on the heels of success of Bahubali 2, the calling card of Aarambh is a screenplay by K. V. Vijayendra Prasad, who wrote the movie too.
Mounted on a lavish scale, shot across Rajasthan, Gujarat, Mumbai with a lot of V-effects, Aarambh depicts the clash between the warrior Aryans, who are in search of a land to finally settle down and the Dravidians who already possessed this land.
The cast is certainly enthused about being a part of the mythological story. Khanna says, “It is everyone’s responsibility — mine, the other actors’, the production house’s, the director’s and even the channel’s, to justify Vijendra sir’s faith in all of us. He could have chosen anybody for the casting, especially after having produced India’s biggest film Baahubali. If such a writer chooses to make a TV show, it is our responsibility to make him believe that his faith in us is correctly placed.”
However, there is endless speculation about this conflict between two civilisations in ancient India. And when you try to weave fact with fiction for entertainment, it becomes a difficult task. Khanna clarifies, “This is not history. This is a fictitious story. Everything that we see on TV is inspired from history. Thus, it is fiction plus history plus mythology because there is no actual historical record that Aryans came in this or that year. It is all hearsay.”
Since it is all hearsay, deriving from a source based upon which the characters could be shaped, was difficult in Aarambh. “An actor has to be imaginative. We are taught two things – first, take a reference for your role and second, study. If both these things are not possible or available then you must use your imagination. So that’s what I did. I used my kalpana or imagination,” Khanna shares.
He does cite sources which served as an inspiration for him. “In the movie Sikander, the army of Prithviraj Kapoor, who plays the eponymous character, gives up hope but he encouragees his men to pick up arms again and fight. The scene served as a reference point as to the way a group of men can be encouraged. To get an insight into a politician’s body language and speech, I took notes from the Hollywood movie All The King’s Men,” adds Khanna.
Using their imagination along with director Goldie Behl’s instructions to make their characters believable was not the only a challenge faced by the actors. Rajneesh Duggal, who plays Varun Dev, says, “On the very first day of the shoot, I had to ride a horse with a 10 kg sword in my hand.” Duggal had never attempted anything even close to this before. “So I took up the challenge and gave it a shot. I had to do a couple of retakes and got it right finally,” he adds. He learnt that while mounting a horse, if it goes up on its hind legs, one is likely to fall off. It is best then to hold the horse’s neck. But with a sword in hand that was impossible for Duggal to attempt. So he leant forward with the sword in hand and got the shot canned.
All the actors starring in Aarambh have worked on both the big and the small screen. Unlike tele serials which do not seem to end, this is a finite show and will not go on for six-seven years. It will end any time between six months to two years though the exact duration is not fixed.
Each character in the serial has a never-before-seen quality. Duggal’s character is a bit akin to that of Tej Sapru’s who plays a purohit. “My character has an intuitive side. There are layers to my character and intuition is one of them,” says Duggal. His character is fighting for his father’s respect and dignity, which he hasn’t received from the entire clan for all his life. He is also trying to seize the land where the Aryans want to settle. This constitutes their fight with the Dravidians. Naturally, there is a lot of politics and drama, war and romance in the show.”
But with mythology, fact and fiction serving a melodramatic mix in this serial too, is that the way Indian TV should continue or shift towards more realistic formats? Duggal believes that, “It is better that television has different genres besides reality. People see reality every day, in and around them, in joint families and wherever they go. Mostly big comedies, the ones that make you laugh and cry, those are most successful because they take you away from your real life. That’s what we also aim at.”
He feels that Pakistani plays are pretty close to real life. But Indian shows are at a different level. “Personally, I don’t watch saas-bahu shows. But if there is fiction like what Aarambh showcases, then it hooks me,” he says. He feels that people switch on the television to be entertained and to relax. “There are audiences who get hooked on to TV shows. If my naani, dadi or my mom find something interesting on television, they will keep watching it every day. That’s the kind of audience we also want, who watch it every day,” says Duggal.
Aarambh is a fictional show and has been created as a fantasy. “It is a historical drama and has its own layers. We have only done 10 episodes but it is very intriguing. And when you get one hour of that intrigue on the weekend, you are bound to get hooked,” says Duggal.
How does he pick the projects that he wants to be a part of? “First I consider whether I like the story. After that, what is my role in it and then if I like my role, I go ahead and do it.” He also looks at the set-up and the producer. For Aarambh it was the writer. “I had signed this show last June. I knew Vijendra Prasad had written Makkhi. I knew he had written Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Baahubali. What he has written for Aarambh is no less. It is amazing.”