A fantasy drama, Nirja Guleri’s 1994 show Chandrakanta revolved around a prince and a princess, kingdoms and spies, love and betrayal. It was a runaway success with the Indian audience.
Partly based on Devaki Nandan Khatri’s novel of the same name, the show starred actors such as Durga Jasraj, Rajendra Gupta, Irrfan Khan, Akhilendra Mishra, Mukesh Khanna, Pankaj Dheer and Krutika Desai, among others. Shahbaaz Khan and Shikha Swaroop played the lead roles.
A success par excellence
Chandrakanta became a cult series, and was one of the first shows to use special effects. Pankaj says, “I don’t think anyone has been able to match the finesse of the show. It was a brilliantly written subject. The location, sets, costumes and characters added flavour, and Nirja left no stone unturned. Sunil Agnihotri, the director, was convinced about what he was doing at that time.”
People believed that when they read the story of Chandrakanta, they would be transported to another world. “The language is so rich and mesmerising. It pulls you into the story. I don’t think any other show in the fantasy genre has enjoyed the popularity Chandrakanta has,” says Shahbaaz.
It was Shahbaaz’s second show, and he was thrilled to play the lead. He says, “It was an amazing concept, and it was special for me. I played Prince Virendra Singh, who was a swashbuckling hero, a dream man on a white horse like a prince charming. I got compliments for my looks, baritone and physique. It was a dream role for me.”
Pankaj was glad to enact a role that “was larger than life”. He adds, “It had all the emotions like the nau raas (nine emotions). ” Former Miss India (1988), Shikha was simultaneously acting in films while doing the show. “It was like living a fantasy life, and it was unreal and magical. I enjoyed getting ready for the show and to be adorned in the jewels and costumes that transported me to a different world,” she says, adding that she felt she was living in a “dream land”.
Camaraderie on the sets
Shahbaaz and Shikha’s chemistry worked for the show. Shahbaaz remembers his co-star as someone who was “gorgeous, and as thin as a toothpick”. I would take tips from her on remaining slim,” he says.
Shahbaaz also took the onus of bringing his friend Irrfan on board. “Irrfan wasn’t keen on doing TV at that time. But I urged him to meet the producers. I spoke to him about the show. He played the double role of twin brothers. Akhilendra’s role of Kroor Singh aka Yakoooo became very popular too. There was so much talent on the show. I feel the amalgamation of the actors made the show what it was,” adds Shahbaaz.
Shikha also says Shahbaaz was “professional” and was glad that “he was tall”. “In fact, most of the cast members were tall. The average height of the people on the sets was 5’11”. This helped the cast look impressive. Nirja took care while choosing actors for the roles, and that reflected in the show,” she adds.
Round of controversies
However, the show ran into multiple controversies, and was pulled off air after two years by the channel. Shikha recalls, “Nirja broke all records of success. There were controversies and mishaps. In fact, we couldn’t wrap up the show properly as some of the costumes caught fire on the set. We couldn’t air any episode, and had to shut it down. Perhaps, there was sabotage, politics and misunderstandings.”