Vikram Aur Betaal started airing in 1985, and soon captured the imagination of the entire nation. The show narrated 25 stories, which were originally written by Mahakavi Somdev Bhatt almost 2,500 years ago, and were called Betaal Pacchisi. In the show, the stories were narrated to King Vikramaditya by a ghost named Betaal, as he carried him piggyback.
In each episode, the manipulative Betaal would tell Vikramaditya a story, and at the end of each, he would trick him into answering a question, before flying away. Arun Govil played the role of Vikramaditya, while late actor Sajjan played Betaal. Arvind Trivedi, Deepika Chikhalia and Vijay Arora, who starred in Ramayan, were part of this show too. Produced by Ramanand Sagar, the show was directed by his son, Prem Sagar. “These stories are classics. The challenge was to make the show appealing for kids,” says Prem.
He also gives credit to the show’s writer Sharad Joshi, who translated Bhatt’s stories, and made them more relevant. “The stories needed to build intrigue, and have interesting dialogues. That is what gripped the audience, and kept them guessing about the endings of the stories,” says Prem.
The show was made on a tight budget. Only about a lakh was spent on every episode. “Due to the low budget, we had to shoot in our bungalow, Sagar Villa. There were no computer effects to create visuals, so we had to do everything physically. We would shoot 18 scenes in one day,” says Prem.
Watch: The first episode of Vikram Aur Betaal
Even in terms of the timings, the makers had to struggle a bit. Doordarshan had allotted a Sunday 4pm slot to air the show, which disappointed the makers, as they felt that was when most kids went out to play. But the show still did well. Sajjan’s portrayal of a ghost, wearing a white wig, yellow highlights under his eyes, blood red lips, a toothless smile and a haunting laugh, was a rage among the kids. “The line that Betaal used to say to Vikram after he answered his question, ‘Tu bola aur main chala,’ became very popular. Arun looked like royalty, and suited the role. His good looks were a major reason behind his casting. I haven’t met anyone as graceful as him,” says Prem, adding that Sajjan was a family friend, and hence, was cast as the ghost. “He delivered a brilliant performance. The show wouldn’t have been possible without him. Even today, people remember him for that role,” he says.
Arun, too, enjoyed his part on the show, but says it wasn’t a cakewalk. “Shooting for the show was tough. I had to carry Sajjanji on my back, and he was very scared that I might drop him. He used to hold me so tight that I used to get bruises on my back. We worked really hard to make the show as presentable and engaging as we could,” he adds.
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