Sagar Arts – the school for Hindu mythology in India
Sagar World, founded by erstwhile directors of Sagar Arts, Mr. Prem Sagar and his son Mr. Shiv Sagar, is about to release their first television production, Mahima Shani Dev Ki – season 2, On Dangal Channel.
The venerable Sagar Arts banner which was established by the much-respected Ramanand Sagar and jointly run by various members of the family, is a fond chapter of the past. But, like many old and large production houses, this too was a ‘school’. A school like say, Balaji which has given birth to innumerable directors, writers, producers and actors. Similarly, the Sagar school of mythology, as it is often referred to at ‘channel meetings’, gave rise to many a creative talent. The instances are several and varied. Nikhil Sinha who produced the Mahadev series was a director and a DOP with Sagar Arts for over 15 years; Alind and Nissar who are currently making Aladdin for SAB TV used to work with the Sagars as Creatives; and CL Saini who wrote for the banner is currently co-producing the Vikram and Betal Series for &TV.
It’s a wrench therefore when such an outstanding brand name is disparagingly dismissed or outcasted as outdated with tacky production values. True, the technical quality of mythological and historical shows has improved significantly in recent times. But considering the budgets for TV shows when Ramanand Sagar’s banner was fluttering high, the company regularly delivered extremely successful content with fantastic production values for its time. Sagar Arts could accomplish it because of the infrastructure it had smartly built for itself – the Sagar Film City in Vadodara, Gujarat.
And, to be honest, a lot of the mythology today is a repackaged, rehashed version of staple Sagar Arts fare. Colors made Karmphal Data Shani with Swastik which was a remake of Mahima Shani Dev Ki on NDTV Imagine; Vikram Betal which was made twice by Sagar Arts (in 1985 for Doordarshan and in 2009 for Colors) is now being re-created for &TV. After the success of Hatim on Star Plus and Alif Laila on Doordarshan, a similar show titled Alladin has begun on SAB TV. Though Siya Ke Ram was a take on the Ramayan from Sita’s point of view, it was essentially the re-telling of the Ramayan, the great epic which was made twice by Sagar Arts (in 1987 for Doordarshan and in 2008 for NDTV Imagine with Gurmeet Chowdary and Debina Banerjee). Sankat Mochan Mahabali Hanuman made by Contiloe for Sony was beautifully presented but let’s face it, it drew inspiration from Sagar’s Jai Bajrang Bali on Sahara One. It’s an endless list.
Recently, I had a very strange encounter in London. My friend Sacred Artist Pieter Weltevrede from Holland and I had taken an Uber to the outskirts of London for dinner with an old friend when the driver got talking with us. When he came to know that I was from the Sagar Family, his excitement knew no bounds. He almost jumped out of his seat in disbelief as if I were some Bollywood film star. He knew about each and every mythological and historical show ever made in India, and he spoke knowledgeably about background music and the editing patterns of each show. I was impressed with his great observational skills till it struck me that he was an aspiring filmmaker.
But this Bangladeshi Muslim driver called Usman changed my perspective on the current trend of mythological shows in India. Usman intelligently analysed that Mahadev was the beginning of the end for mythological shows on Indian TV. According to him, today’s shows are no more Indian, the styling is more Greeko-Roman. The content has gone for a walk as the focus is only on six pack abs, a good looking cast and beautifully crafted graphics. Usman pleaded with me and made me promise him that whenever I made a mythological show, I would do it with bhakti (devotion) and focus on the content. Usman said that he had made a genuine attempt to watch all the recent mythological shows but just couldn’t go through with it. He said he missed the Sagar touch, the content and the devotion. This coming from a Muslim living in London jolted me from my bubble.
Hearteningly, the Sagars are back in the business they know so well. Sagar World is a production house that’s been started by the heirs of Dr Ramanand Sagar, namely his son, Prem Sagar and grandson Shiv. The father-son duo has been associated with Mahima Shani Dev Ki on NDTV Imagine which ran for four years and Jai Bajrang Bali on Sahara One which has telecast over 800 episodes. Prem was the marketing director of the erstwhile Sagar Arts company for over 20 years. Shiv recently directed Arasuri Ma Ambe for the Gujarat Government, India’s first mythological feature film in 3D. Shri Amitabh Bachchan gave the voice-over for it.
Sagar World is now poised to begin Mahima Shani Dev Ki – Season 2 on Dangal Channel. Daya Shankar Pandey who played Shani in the previous show on NDTV Imagine has been penciled in to once again play the main role of the mystical God. DSP, as he is popularly called by everybody, is well-known for his work in movies such as Lagaan and Swadesh. Mahima Shani Dev Ki – Season 2 will be shot at Sagar Film City in Vadodara. Meanwhile, the repeat telecast of the 2008 show Mahima Shani Dev Ki on Dangal channel has been delivering excellent ratings of over 0.8 TVR and has raised the GRP of the channel to more than 75, beating Star Plus in the rural areas. It was this success that prompted the channel to go for Mahima Shani Dev Ki – Season 2. Incidentally, when Prem had initially taken the book Greatness of Saturn by Robert Swoboda on which Shani is based, to his father for approval, Dr Ramanand Sagar had rubbished it saying, ‘Who will watch a God like Shani on television?’ That was one time the veteran had got it wrong. For when the show was telecast on NDTV Imagine, it reached a TVR of 2.0. And there was a revival of interest in the Shani God.
Happily, the Sagar saga lives on.