the sets of Pradhan Mantri
'Pradhan Mantri': life imitates art
Kay Menon plays the prime minister (Inset: director Ketan
seventh episode of Zee Telefilm's new political drama Pradhan
Mantri (prime minister) is in progress. There is pin drop
silence. Suddenly the noise of paper ruffling in the wind disturbs
the silence. "Cut," shouts director Ketan Mehta, yelling for
somebody to take care of the noise that was interfering with
the take. The shot is redone.
Open to a scene of Mansi, the PM's wife (played by Malavika
Tiwari of Kashish fame), entering the drawing room where a familiar
voice is in animated conversation with her children. Mansi is
surprised to see her brother (played by Sandeep Kulkarni) has
dropped by at home. During the conversation her face turns pale
as she realises her opportunist bother has come to take advantage
of her husband's position as the newly elected PM.
Anirudh Prakash with wife Mansi (Malavika
elegantly in a dark green saree, Tiwari's resemblance to Sonia
Gandhi, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's wife, is the first
thing that strikes you. "The appearance is the only thing similar
between Tiwari and Sonia Gandhi, nothing beyond that," emphasises
Her role as Mansi marks Tiwari's return to the small screen
after a six-year break. "And also the last," she reveals. "I
am much more comfortable being my own character. Playing someone
else doesn't appeal to me anymore," says the Delhi-based Tiwari,
who is now fully involved with her stain glass painting business.
She is content anchoring talk shows if they come her way, says
the former model. Before you can get any more questions across,
she is ushered away. Somebody seems to have called a halt to
further questions. "The scene has to be shot before 6 pm, otherwise
it will hamper the shoot. Malavika has to catch a flight back
to Delhi," pleads a harried looking unit member.
crew in a brainstorming session.
cast gets together around a central table discussing the details
of the forthcoming scene. After a bit of brainstorming, improvisation
and discussion with Mehta, they are set for the next scene.
With just two episodes as a bank and the fourth episode already
being aired, the unit is fighting against time. The shoot for
the seventh episode is going on round-the-clock to meet the
deadline. "We are working with our backs to the wall with time
against us but we are all engrossed in the shoot," says Mehta.
Cut to the scene. PM Anirudh Prakash (played by Kay Kay Menon)
enters the mansion and is surprised to see his brother-in-law
waiting in the drawing room for him. While exchanging notes
with his brother he asks him to stay back, looking at Mansi
as if asking if it is okay and his wife signals no. At that
moment her brother turns round and she puts on a smile. The
interplay of emotions are quite complex and Tiwari appears unnerved
with the first take. Mehta immediately gives some words of encouragement:
"I know you can handle this shot so go for it." And after sometime
she manages to get the appropriate expression. Everyone's pleased
hat the shot went well.
Behind the scenes, unit hands, while discussing amongst themselves,
seem pretty impressed with the way Kulkarni plays his character.
Apparently Malavika, Kulkarni, and Menon where selected after
a lot of screenings.
The team behind the innovative tele-series is a talented one
to say the least. The script has been conceptualised by editor
of the Asian Age newspaper MJ Akbar. There are a team of four
scriptwriters working on Pradhan Mantri with inputs from
both Akbar and Mehta.
Queried whether the story had any link to the recent expose
on political corruption by the "news and views based" website
tehelka.com, Mehta gives an emphatic "no". The serial is very
different and is not at all influenced by the Tehelka expose,
the director clarifies. "PM is absolutely original. In fact
the airing of the series was delayed since we had to scrap the
initial episodes," he maintains.
The concept about political big-wigs getting caught on camera
taking bribes was supposed to be the series' first episode and
was conceived much before Tehelka came into the spotlight, Mehta
maintains. "We were already in the middle of a shoot for the
first episode when Akbar called from Delhi and said only half
in jest that the episode would have to be shelved unless one
wanted to get the production unit into trouble. He asked me
to switch on the television and find out for myself what the
situation was," Mehta goes on to explain.
"It really was rather funny. We had anticipated something like
this throwing the nation's politics out of gear in the near
future. We wanted to project this through our serial. But events
overtook us by a long way," points out Mehta. "It really surprised
us to see it happen right in front of us on television," he
PM's mansion built on the sets at Esselworld
on sets constructed at the Zee-owned Esselworld in Mumbai's
northern outpost of Madh Island, extensive use has been made
of footage of Delhi city, its main roads and crucial landmarks,
to give a typical bureaucratic appeal as well as realistic ambiance.
But it's not political issues alone that the serial touches
upon. In later episodes it explores the family life where the
focus is shared between the prime minister and his wife. 'Mansi'
eventually takes an active interest in the basic living conditions
faced by the people at the grassroots level. "You look after
the country while I'll look after the people is what 'Mansi'
tells her husband," says the Ashish Jalal, executive producer
of Mehta's Maya Entertainment Ltd.
With names like Mehta and Akbar attached to the script, the
serial has had a very short gestation period and was approved
without shooting a pilot. Everything moved swiftly from there.
The, sets designed by Nitin Desai, sprang up within three weeks.
The set covers the prime minister's office, his house and a
lush garden. Though no one was willing to discuss production
costs, a unit hand said: "He (Desai) charges a bomb but his
work is equally good."
designer Payal Saluja
Much attention has been paid to the kind of clothes staff wear
as well as the protocol that is maintained at the prime minister's
residence, says costume designer Payal Saluja, who also helps
on the sets.
THE STORY: The drama unfolds with the country facing a major
political crisis. And it is in this climate of instability that
a new prime minister is sworn in. "He is aware that he is living
on borrowed time and can be shunted out at any time. Feeling
he has nothing to lose, he decides that while he occupies the
PM's chair, he will steer the country in the right direction,"
Coincidentally or otherwise, Pradhan Mantri has gone
on air at about the same time that Star introduced Ji Mantriji,
a BBC produced version of the celebrated British political satire
Yes Minister. Mehta points out that Pradhan Mantri
is very different in that it is a contemporary and original
story about a proactive prime minister, the kind that every
citizen of Indian desires.
Maya Entertainment Ltd.
Kay Kay Menon
Shri Vallabh Vyas