Writer/director Atul Sabharwal on why the critically acclaimed Powder failed to get TRPs

Atul Sabharwal talks about Powder and how it was conceptualised.
UPDATED ON JAN 09, 2016 08:19 PM IST

How was Powder conceptualised?

Powder actually came to me as a writing assignment in 2001, for which I interviewed officers from the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) at length. Around the same time, a major political news magazine had a story titled ‘Dons of Terror’, with a terrorist, Aftab Ansari, on the cover. Although the piece was not about narcotics, he still cut an impressive and enigmatic figure and I hung on to it; that’s how Naved Ansari’s character was born. Usmaan Ali was inspired from the-then Superintendent of NCB, Keith Sanchis. Also, there have been good shows on drug abuse, like Subah and Chunauti on DD, and they were good points of reference.

Powder aired in 2010, years after you first had the idea. What led to the delay?

In 2002, the script was rejected by Star Plus, who deemed it too “steeped in research”. I refused to rewrite the show as per the norms prevalent then – even now in fact – for a GEC show. When YRF TV came along in 2007, Powder was commissioned. YRF TV’s aim was to elevate the level of television programming in India. They were not under any pressure to please any channel. The benchmark was to hit the ball out of the stadium. No data or statistics on viewing habits were thrown into the writing process. We believed that there was an audience out there, who like us, wanted good, mature Indian shows.

The show was critically lauded, and got you an award for screenplay writing. But it failed to rake in the TRPs.

There was euphoria with the YRF TV shows, a feeling of being part of something that was being done for the first time. But it vaporised in the second week of telecast - we still had 90 days of shooting left - because the ratings were a brutal revelation. The television landscape is pretty much what it was after Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. Soaps rule the country, while the urban niche gets their fill from HBO and torrents.

While the arrival of Amazon, Netflix and other web channels in India may give us that mature content, no cultivation of writing talent for television, specifically, has happened in the last 15 years. If film writers or directors turn to television as a one-off experiment or because they are not left with other options, it’s not going to bring about a vast change

From HT Brunch, January 10, 2016

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