Circa 1985, Vikram aur Betaal, adapted and directed by Prem Sagar, went on air in a weird 4 pm slot on Doordarshan on a Sunday. That was the first TV show, which Ramanand Sagar’s (of Ramayan fame) company ever produced.. when they stepped out of movies into the tubezone. <b2>
Since the medium wasn’t as cluttered then and the concept of adapting a popular series like Betaal Pachhisi (in Sanskrit) was considered novel, the show worked wonders for its creators with ratings like never before.
Once Prem Sagar had admitted that the show was actually made to finalise the cast for Ramayana, which was being scripted from the original text. So Arun Govil, who played Raja Vikramaditya, was cast as Ram and Deepika who often appeared as a princess in most of the stories became Sita.
Twenty-four years later, the same stories are being retold to another generation, which so far has been oblivious to them. This time, the channel is Colors, the producers are the same and the day is the same.. the time slot has moved to 11 am.
Shiv Sagar, whose father directed the original, gets nostalgic. He informs that though his father is the director, Randeep Mahadik will helm the show’s episodes on a daily basis.
The reason: “All of us are busy with our own shows. And my father can’t be on the sets all the time now.. he’s old now. But when he directed it, he used to finish an episode in a day. Even today, he will be coordinating the episodes with Randeep from Mumbai. The Sagars have done the casting and the script. Even the VFX will be done in-house.”
Prem Sagar remembers the days when his family stayed at Sajjan’s house, who later played Betaal. He says they couldn’t have found a better Betaal than him. “Everyone had warned papaji to not get into TV. But he was headstrong. We not only got into it, we registered the highest ratings ever in the history of TV.”
The Sagars, Shiv says, could remake the show because they have the rights. This time, there will be more stories added than what’s there in Betaal Pachhisi.
Hopes are high
According to him, the national network never kept the rights with them. So they could approach Colors with it and remake the show for a younger audience. The contract for the show right now is only for a year but the Sagars are hopeful it will go on for longer.
At a time when remakes don’t seem to work on TV, Shiv Sagar is positive his Vikram aur Betaal will work. He says, “Had Ekta Kapoor not tampered with the look and flow of the story, her Mahabharat would also have worked.”
Meanwhile, the rest of the younger tellyworld is quite upbeat about the show. Angad Hasija, who plays the lead Alekh in
Sapnaa Babul Ka Bidaai on Star Plus, says that he remembers watching Vikram carrying Betaal on his shoulders. “I was too young when the show came but I still remember this.”
Rajev Paul, Madan of Mere Ghar Aayi Ek Nanhi Pari on Colors, apart from watching the show, remembers reading the series in Amar Chitra Katha and Chandamama comics.
Barkha Bisht, who plays Anupama in Doli Saja Ke on Sahara One, says that she loved the way Betaal flew back to the tree whenever Vikram spoke.
She still remembers the spooky laughter of Betaal and a lot of neeti seekh given with every episode of the show. “That’s how our generation is more cultured and grounded,” she smiles.
Gurdeep Kohli, who played Bani in Kasamh Se, says that not only did she and her sister like the show, they even tried the flying stunt at home. “Thankfully no one was injured but we had a lot of fun. We would wonder how that skinny man flew all the time,” she chuckles.
Prachi Desai, who also played Bani in Kasamh Se on Zee TV its, says that she would want to relive childhood memories. She watched the show sitting in her grandmother’s lap. “In one of the episodes, they show a man marrying a man. I want to watch that story to get my context right,” she states.
For Badrul Islam and Tarun Khanna, Betaal and Vikram this time around, this is a big show because it’s their first as a lead. Khanna says, “We’re not competing with the original, it’s our benchmark. We have to get there and then maybe do better. Arun Govil and Sajjan are too difficult to even think about competing with.”
The actors, nostalgically remember that the show would be on air every Sunday at 4 pm. Islam says, “I learnt to respect my elders. So many of those neetis have gone into making me into a sabhya guy.” Khanna states that he learnt to speak the truth always.
However the two admit that they chose not to follow certain things which were said in the show. Islam confesses that he used to hide and watch TV for this show because he wasn’t allowed to watch TV as a kid.
Whereas Khanna says that he often fought with his mother, which he thinks was wrong. What if the two were miscast? Islam laughs, “Instead of ordering him around, I would be pleading him. Instead of carrying him on my back, I would be dragging him on the floor.”
Khanna adds, “The reason this man landed the role was because he was light. If I was to be Betaal, I would have to lose whatever weight I have to look old.”
Quiz the actors if they feel a show like theirs would appeal to children, who watch Splitsvilla, Roadies and Shin Chan, they say that these shows, especially the first two are not our culture.
Khanna asserts, “Parents will encourage children to watch our show because it has Indian culture. That’s where our show will score.”