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Delhi on the telly

After a slew of movies celebrating Delhi, a new TV serial hopes to capture the life and times of India’s Capital, Pranav Dixit gives an insight.

tv Updated: Aug 15, 2009 17:54 IST

A young girl in a simple handloom salwar kameez opens the bathroom door, wipes her wet face and walks over to a nearby dressing table. For a moment, she stares at her reflection, then turns to a small calendar on the wall and tears off a page with her bare arm.

“Cut!” yells a loud voice. The girl freezes on the spot, her arm still outstretched. “Let’s roll again.” That scene, being shot in a farmhouse on the outskirts of Delhi, is a fleeting moment from Zee TV’s brand new soap, 12/24, Karol Bagh, scheduled to go on air later this month. After years of seeing serials shot in studios, with ‘outdoor’ shots largely restricted to the environs of Mumbai’s Film City, viewers will finally see a serial set in Delhi, shot in Delhi, with Delhi stars, and infused with a Delhi sensibility. From shooting an eve-teasing scene in crowded Ajmal Khan market, to having the lead pair buy sweets at a real sweet shop near Pragati Maidan, the makers are trying to ensure that viewers get an authentic Dilli experience.

The serial revolves around the struggle of the Sethis – a typical middle class family living in Karol Bagh – to survive in the modern world. It also touches on the generation gap, relationships and the clash between tradition and progressive thinking.

Real on reel
Says Sukesh Motwani, senior creative director (fiction), Zee, “Until now, no one has shot a show entirely in Delhi for a general entertainment channel.” He adds that they chose Karol Bagh as the primary location because it represents the middle-class trader locality fairly accurately. “Also, it is an area that a lot of Delhi people can instantly connect with.”

Unlike the five star hotels that pass off for houses in other soaps, the Sethi family lives in a house that actually looks like one. Simple decorations adorn the walls. A big, old-fashioned TV with a rounded screen sits on an antique wooden table, there’s a glass showcase below and near the front door stands a creaky old rack, smothered under a heap of raddi newspapers. And the actors swap shiny zari saris and masses of jewellery for sensible salwar-kameezes and minimal makeup.

Behind the camera
So what’s it like shooting a serial in Delhi? Certainly not like Mumbai where people are quite used to seeing films being shot. Ravi Bhushan, director of 12/24 Karol Bagh, recalls his experiences while shooting outdoors in the crowded lanes of Karol Bagh. “We had cameras hidden in cars, on balconies and rooftops,” he grins. “We used wireless mikes to record the actors’ voices. In the hustle and bustle of the Ajmal Khan market, we actually managed to can an entire scene without anyone coming to know about it, not even the traffic police, who stood not ten feet from us!”

Whether the makers of the serial manage to do justice to the city of course remains to be seen. Also, given the fact that channels start examining the bottom line soon after a serial begins, one can only speculate whether the present commitment to location shooting will continue. Or will 12/24, Karol Bagh also end up as yet another a studio-bound show? Sukesh claims that the serial aims to celebrate the nuances of life in Delhi. “So the Dilli factor will never go out of the show!”