‘Apni marzi se kahan apne safar ke hum hain; rukh hawaaon ka jidhar ka hai, udhar ke hum hain’ – the lyrics by poet Nida Fazli, sung hauntingly by the late Jagjit Singh, set the tone for director Ravi Rai’s romantic drama, Sailaab.
The 1995 show revolved around two lovers – Shivani (Renuka Shahane) and Rohit (Sachin Khedekar) – who broke up due to certain circumstances and married other people.
They meet after a few years, only to realise that they still felt the same way about each other. Though they start meeting often thereafter, but their relationship remains platonic.
The story and the way the show was directed was its USP. Sachin says, “The show was realistic. It wasn’t overdramatic at all. People felt that after the [other] shows on Doordarshan, this story presented a fresh and modern take on relationships. The sensitive tone of the show and the performances were a result of Ravi’s vision.” Sachin and Renuka had also worked with the director on another series called Imtihaan, which aired on DD Metro. That is why Ravi cast the two in Sailaab.
Ravi says, “I didn’t have a story from start to finish. In fact, I would write episodes on the sets. My idea was: what if I met my ex after five years? Would I feel the same emotions? Would we rekindle our romance? I can never pinpoint what worked for Sailaab. When I presented the pilot to the channel, I had the perfect cast and the title song in place. I delivered the whole package, so there was no room for any changes or demands from the channel.”
Originally, the show had approval for four episodes to be aired, which were later increased to 13. But ultimately, it ran for almost two years. When the show’s 15th episode was being aired, the channel began shutting down shows that weren’t delivering ratings above 10. Ravi was worried about his serial, as Sailaab wasn’t pulling its weight. “But the channel had faith.
Ultimately, something clicked and we didn’t look back after the 17th episode. The show became a hit. Hats off to the channel heads, who stuck with the show for six months when it wasn’t working for them business-wise, though it was a quality product,” says Ravi. He wrapped up the show at the 90th episode, as he didn’t want it to drag on, unlike today soaps, which continue for years if they are successful.
Ravi admits that he never let Rohit or Shivani cross the line in their relationship, as his “middle-class mentality” didn’t let him. He says, “If they acted on their emotions and feelings, their families would have suffered the consequences.”
Sachin enjoyed playing Rohit. “Though he loved Shivani, he never stopped loving his wife,” says the actor. Sachin’s popularity soared with the show. He had a huge female fan following. “I was told that my fans weren’t girls, but women,” he quips.
Renuka recalls that fans would come on the sets, expecting it to be an “intense atmosphere”, but find the cast and crew laughing and joking around. “We were all very close friends and wanted to make something that was close to our hearts; something we believed in,” she adds.
She wasn’t initially keen on playing the confused character of Shivani, who was torn between love and duty. Renuka says, “I loved the fact that the role changed me as a person, as it was contrary to my beliefs. I didn’t understand why she couldn’t marry Rohit when she is in love with him. I even fought with Ravi when he planned for Shivani to get married to someone else. Throughout the serial, there was not even a hug between Rohit and Shivani, and yet, their love was potent.”
The actors are glad to see the wonderful response the show gets even today, as people continue to watch it on YouTube. “In fact, a year ago, I met a teacher near Jalgaon (Maharashtra), who gave me all the 90 episodes of the show on a pen drive. As an annual ritual, he and his family watch the whole show every summer,” says Sachin.