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Quite a cocktail of history, romance, reality

india Updated: May 29, 2009 23:38 IST
Poonam Saxena

Even as I kept seeing the Sony Entertainment Television ads declaring “We are changing!” I couldn’t help but wonder: how exactly was the channel going to change? Was Boogie Woogie going to stop snatching its contestants from nursery schools and actually start featuring grown-ups?

Would the channel introduce serials about the boy child instead of the ubiquitous girl child who is popping up on every channel these days (latest to join the queue — Zee TV with Aapki Antara)? Would the women characters in soaps stop wearing 20 kg of makeup and be content with, say, five kg?

Well, the suspense is finally over. Sony unveiled its new line-up of serials on the 25th of this month. Some first impressions: The most ambitious offering is the historical Chittod Ki Rani Padmini Ka Johar. Since it’s produced by ace art director and set designer Nitin Desai (Devdas, Jodha Akbar), the serial doesn’t have the tacky cardboard-tinsel look of most television historicals.

The sets have depth and sweep, the costumes are quite good. The very first scene of the serial — where Ratan Singh is being told about the ethereal, exquisite, alluring, unbelievable, incredible etc etc beauty of Padmini — was a bit trying and you wanted to tell the producer/director to just get on with it. But within minutes, not only did they just get on with it, they all but galloped with it.

Ratan Singh arrived at Padmini’s swayamvara, had a sword fight with the princess, Allauddin Khilji entered the story… what a change from most serials, where an entire episode could have easily centred around Ratan Singh thinking about Padmini or Padmini thinking about — well, nothing, since she hadn’t met Ratan Singh yet.

This quick pace is visible in the other serials too. Bhaskar Bharati is about a philanderer who suddenly — to his horror — turns into a woman and finds out what it’s like on the other side of the great divide. Once again, in most serials, Bhaskar would have been philandering for about 199 episodes and only then turned into a woman. Here, by the end of the first episode, the transformation had already taken place.

And then there’s Ladies Special, which follows the lives of four ordinary women who become friends as they commute regularly on Mumbai’s local trains. I have no idea what kind of ratings it will get, but I genuinely hope it does well because — finally! — viewers have the chance to see a serial with real, believable middle class characters with real, believable, middle class concerns.

Sony has always been a little different from the other channels. It was never as neck-deep in saas-bahus and mangalsutras as Star Plus and Zee; in fact, at one point, a young working girl with braces and spectacles did challenge the mighty Tulsi (pun fully intended), but unfortunately, the challenge just fizzled out.

The new Sony offerings — whether it’s the racy modern romantic comedy (Bhaskar Bharati) or the bitter-sweet stories of four ordinary contemporary urban women (Ladies Special) or the period costume drama (Chittod Ki Rani Padmini) — bravely buck the current trend of ultra-traditional, outdated stories and characters that seem stuck in the 18th/19th centuries.

I haven’t yet seen Sony’s other new serial, Palampur Express but I hope to next week. I did however catch the talent show, Entertainment Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega.

All sorts of people showcase their particular talent and if the two judges (Anu Malik, Farah Khan) find the act entertaining, that person gets a cheque of Rs 10,000.

It’s a nice idea, but when you have people whose idea of entertainment is the number of times they can burp in a minute, well, entertainment ke liye sub kuch nahin dekhega. (Other participants include men who dance with a dozen flaming pots on their head, women who do convoluted acrobatics, little children who sing and dance… but perhaps that constitutes your idea of a fun-filled evening?)