22 Nov 2017
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Why Siddharth Kumar Tewary is excited about ‘Porus’ and his 10-year journey as a TV content producer

MUMBAI: Mythologicals and historicals have always captured viewers’ fantasies, be it HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ or SS Rajamouli’s ‘Baahubali’. Cashing in on the growing trend, Indian television is getting crowded with mythological and historical shows. In the past few years, the space has seen several high-budget series such as ‘Aarambh’, ‘Shani’, ‘Hanuman’, ‘Peshwa Bajirao’, ‘Mahakali’ and ‘Vighnaharta Ganesh’.

While several producers are trying their hands at this genre, Siddharth Kumar Tewary of Swastik Productions has been ruling this space for quite some years. The production house has successfully offered some popular shows like ‘Mahabharata’, ‘Razia Sultan’, ‘Suryaputra Karn’, ‘Shani’ and ‘Mahakali’.

Swastik Productions has now attracted the attention of viewers with the teaser of its upcoming mega series ‘Porus’. The first look of the series, created for Sony Entertainment Television (SET), has assured its viewers that it will be a visual treat, as the producer has tried to recreate 350 BC, which was known as the Golden Age of India.

This is the first time that the producer will retain the IP of the show and not the Hindi general entertainment channel. As per the deal, the private satellite broadcaster will hold the rights for a three-year period. The production house will have control over the digital and syndication rights, which means they can sub-license the show to digital or international players, who can air the episodes after three hours of its original airing on SET.

Swastik Productions is in talks with various digital players nationally and internationally for sub-licensing the rights.

Tewary states, “Since we own the IP of this series, it also makes us more accountable for the quality of the content. I hope that works for all of us so that we will be able to deliver creatively good content. I believe that, besides dealing with the challenge of making such a great show, if one also ties up with the broadcaster, the quality of content will improve. Viewers will get better content because whoever is creating the story wants to own the content and give it some more shelf life.”

Since the production house owns the IP for the show, it has to focus on marketing part of the show as well. The producer is in talks with several national and international OTT platforms for the show. They are also in talks with some people in South East Asia.

The plan, as Tewary reveals, is to showcase ‘Porus’ at Mipcom and the Cannes Film Festival along with other big international film festivals.

“Since ‘Porus’ is an Indian series for a global audience, we are going all out to market it internationally. We are taking it to the biggest festivals. We have taken a stall at Cannes this time specifically for ‘Porus’ and we will be showcasing ‘Porus’ over there,” Tewary adds.

The making of ‘Porus’

Tewary says that owning the IP of the show also means investing lot of money in the making of the show. The show has been in the making for almost two years.

The concept of creating ‘Porus’ came about when SET EVP and business head Danish Khan discussed with Tewary his idea of creating a story around the Golden Age of India.

Based on Khan’s brief, Tewary thought of ‘Porus’ as he had read about it during his school days. Further exploration revealed that there wasn’t much written material about ‘Porus’.

“When I started reading, there wasn’t much available in detail, but the core though was very strong. It was the story of a country which had lot of wealth, which people had looted for centuries. Alexander The Great set his sight on India’s wealth and there was only one guy Porus who stopped Alexander from entering India. I felt that it was a very beautiful conflict of a known yet unknown hero who existed at the time of our glorious days fighting against mightiest of them all. So, that is what excited me and we got involved into other areas of making this serial,” he added.

The story of ‘Porus’ has been written and directed by Tewary himself. The story revolves around King Porus, who fought against Alexander the Great in the battle of the Hydaspes and was the biggest obstacle to Alexander’s ambition to conquer the Indian subcontinent.

The makers have shot some episodes in the bank, but are not yet ready for the launch as their schedule got disrupted due to rains. They have finished the first schedule of shooting, which had started in May in Thailand, and are now shooting in Umargaon.

Tewary’s company has built different worlds for this grand saga—the Persian world, the Indian world, the two provinces of Takshashila and Gururashtra. Amit Singh, who is the production designer for the show, has created the sets.

Tewary explains that, in order to create the world, they had to look at what was available at that time, finally ending up with Ajanta Ellora, which has the oldest murals. Hence, they took that as a reference to the Golden Age. For depicting Alexander’s world, the makers are planning to shoot at Greece.

Casting

‘Porus’ being an expensive saga, the casting has played an important part. The show will feature Laksh Lalwani as Porus, Rohit Purohit as King Alexander, Suhani Dhanki as Porus’ love interest, Rati Pandey as Queen Anasuya (Porus’ mother), Aditya Redij as King Bamni (Porus’ Father), Praneet Bhat as Darius, Mohit Abrol as Prince Hasti and Chirag Madhukant Jani as Dasyu King.

The actors followed a process that took around six to eight months for them to get into character. They had to go through character development which required them to take training in diction, body language, action rehearsals, horse riding, acting workshops, etc. The actors were trained in rowing and underwater swimming for underwater sequences. Rati Pandey was the first person who was cast in the show.

Balancing fiction with history

When it comes to history, especially when there is not much documentation to base your story on, the challenge lies in balancing the fiction and history. “I believe that when you are creating a historical, you need to be true to the grain of the series, and then you do the research surrounding the world. For example, you might not have a lot of India in 350 BC, but if you look at Ajanta Ellora you get impressions of that world. Whatever we show is based on the data of that world. Whether a certain thing existed at that time or not is debatable, but what is important is if the story is coming across and inspiring the viewers. We are very clear that we are not making a documentary, so there will be some fiction in the story, but it is balanced with the history,” said Tewary.

Completing a decade in the industry

This year seems to be extra special for Swastik Productions, as they are not only working on one of the costliest projects but are also celebrating their 10th anniversary. The production house came into existence on 24 September 2007. The first series produced by the company was ‘Ambar Dhara’, which was the story of conjoined twins.

Tewary never thought he would be producing TV shows, though his dream was to tell stories. The idea of ‘Ambar Dhara’ came when Tewary was handling content programming at Sony. “I met one of the most important persons in my life, NP Singh, and told him I wanted to make this story. He said, ‘If you want to do a story like everyone else does, I will give you a window, but for that you have to leave your job and you have to pitch us like everyone else does.’ I said, ‘Sir, I want to tell a story and the rest I will figure out.’ So, I quit my job, and after lot of effort at convincing NP Singh and Kunal Das Gupta, the then CEO, I made a pilot of ‘Ambar Dhara’ and showed it to the channel.”

Looking through the 10-year journey, Tewary feels that the television business has evolved a lot, especially on the content front. Now there is much more experimentation. “I feel that right now we are in a scenario where there is no point in playing safe because the viewers who have been consuming content for past 20 years are expecting something new. They have seen all the twists and turns that you have to offer in a story; they need something different now. So, I think we have to push ourselves because if you give them the same thing, they won’t be there. It is critical for show-makers to create something new for the industry and set a new example.”

Tewary also feels that, though new players are coming in, the biggest challenge lies in making historical or mythological stories. To offer the best viewing experience, Swastik Productions has also put in place a VFX team. One Life Studioz, which was launched last year along with ‘Shani’, is a separate entity primarily catering to VFX requirements.

One Life studios will also have all shows whose IPs are owned by Swastik Productions. It will look into different aspects of storytelling including short format. “We are a content company and we will always be on the lookout for good content. We are also working on shorter format. We are looking into creating content and whoever wants to buy the shorter format or any other content it works for us—television or digital, we are ready to be part of any platform,” he added.

Going forward, the producer wants to work more on daily life stories and make them more realistic. “I think there is a different type of audience on television, and right now we are making stories for particular viewers, so I think there are viewers who want to see the realistic way saying the same drama which we can watch in Pakistani series where we get to see content in much more realistic way. I think that is something interesting,” Tewary concludes.