Ekta Kapoor, whose Kahani Hamare Mahabharat Ki went on air early this month, tampered with the structure of the Hindu epic and began the series with "cheerharan" to grab viewer attention.
Excerpts from an interview:
Your Mahabharat is finally on air?
I wanted to see everyone's expressions. And the response has been a relief. Frankly, when I saw the first episode I liked what I saw.
But Mukesh Khanna seems to hate it.
(Laughs) I know some people hated it. I was prepared for it. On Tuesday Mukesh Khanna went on television to blast our 'sets' for Mahabharat. He didn't realise we shot on location at the Aamer fort in Jaipur. He said, "It is not at all an authentic set." My response, "It is real location, sir." We shot the first two episodes at the Aamer fort. It took me seven days.
How was it shooting at Aamer fort?
I love the Aamer fort. The response I got was overwhelming. I did it without caring about the results. I've made the Mahabharat for a new generation. I don't care what the traditionalists think. For the first time critics liked what I've done. But with the joy came the sadness. I lost my most trusted director Gary Bhinder.
That came as a blow?
Yes. His death really hurt me. Just the other day June 15, I was explaining the scene to Gary and I promised him we'd hug each other on the day the first episode of the Mahabharat was released. Today, he isn't there. It makes you wonder what is life about.
How much of a difference will his departure make to the Mahabharat?
Gary and I knew each other so well - we had interconnected minds. We knew exactly where to take the Mahabharat. But we've a fantastic team. I don't think the serial will be affected half as much as I am. At any given time we've four different directors working on four different units of Mahabharat.
There's a creative head supervising each and every episode. We've canned only nine episodes in three months. Each episode takes 11 days as compared to an average episode of my other soaps, which takes one-and-a-half-days.
How will you cope with the deadlines?
I'll increase the number of units. But I won't compromise on quality. I'm loving the feedback I'm getting.
You've tampered with the structure of the Mahabharat. You started your narration with the cheer-haran episode?
Yes! I decided to do my own take and take on the criticism from the very first episode. I used the cheer-haran like a prelude to grab viewers' attention. And people are shocked by our beginning.
This is my most ambitious project and I've been ready for the raised eyebrows. Every change in the original Mahabharat has been done in close consultation with me. I don't want this to be just another one of my soaps that comes and goes. Twenty years from now I want someone to call up another producer and say, "Dude you just made the new version of Ekta's Mahabharat.
Are you setting aside your other soaps for Mahabharat?
Not at all! I'm doing everything I was doing earlier. But yes, I'm a little more enthusiastic about this project.
Are you marketing your Mahabharat on DVD?
Of course, we're already getting eye-popping offers for DVD deals...
Is it true Mukesh Khanna was offered Shantanu's role while he wanted to play Bhishm Pitamah again?
Why have you cast all the regular Balaji artistes in Mahabharat?
Oh, there're lots of new faces. All the gods and goddesses are going to be completely non-Balaji artistes. How can audiences accept actors they've been seeing for years and months as deities?
What about your reality show Kaun Jeetega Bollywood Ka Ticket?
Very honestly, the Mahabharat came a day after the reality show. I've been too taken up with the Mahabharat to bother with anything else.