Nearly three years after its first season, the Indian version of the American series 24 is back. The television network Colors has blocked the primetime slot reserved thus far for Naagin (which will return in October) for the remake of the Fox series that starred Kiefer Sutherland in the title role. Produced by Anil Kapoor’s Rashvan Films, the second season will go on air in mid-July and will see a number of new faces such as Sakshi Tanwar and Ashish Vidyarthi.
While Indian television has been promising a renaissance for a long time, little by way of content has changed. Family soaps continue to rule the roost, extended year after year on the slimmest of storylines. Production values are the pits and the hunt for television ratings points engenders a race to the lowest common denominator. Two of our most popular shows, Naagin and Sasural Simar Ka, are currently being helmed by a snake and a fly, respectively.
Contrast this with the fare that discerning Indian audiences have access to, from Netflix to Amazon, Game of Thrones to Kingdom, and you can see why the youth is deserting fiction on Indian television in droves. In this scenario, crisp seasons of limited length have long been acknowledged to be the panacea, but few have gone down this road.Amitabh Bachchan tried it with Yudh in 2014, but that show wrapped mid-season. Hampered by an unusually twisted plot, the show had all the makings of success, at least on paper. It was midwifed by Anurag Kashyap and boasted, apart from Bachchan, of heavyweights such as Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Kay Kay Menon. Yet, too many parallel strands, from corporate greed to Naxalism, made the show thick with narrative flux.
For all that, the failure of Yudh was not the last word in limited fiction programming. A year earlier, Anil Kapoor had already tasted success with 24. Kapoor plays Jai Singh Rathod, modelled after the original Jack Bauer, who must defuse a conspiracy to kill the country’s presumptive Prime Minister, a young leader with deep roots in politics. The show’s likeness to India’s real polity bestowed on it the advantage of instant relatability. (It reminded this viewer of another well-produced show called Rajdhani that ran for a brief season in 2000 on Star, and closely mimicked the incestuous goings-on in the corridors of power.)
Taking after the original format, Season 1 of 24 showcased a seemingly never-ending day in the life of Rathod, as he goes about busting the conspiracy, the clock ticking ominously all the time. The series ably captured the tension between the political underpinnings of running an anti-terror squad and the unavoidable bleeding of the professional into the personal.
Season 1 worked for a number of reasons. It derived its narrative tension from the thrilling countdown to an unexpected event, a format that is a universal hit. It got all the right people on board, with consummate performers like Tisca Chopra and Mandira Bedi sharing screen space with stalwarts like Anupam Kher and Shabana Azmi. It ensured high production values, with Rensil D’Silva of Rang De Basanti being a writer on the show.
Most of all, 24 brought Anil Kapoor back in the game. Following his successful stint in Slumdog Millionaire, Kapoor was cast as President Omar Hassan of the fictitious country Kamistan in season eight, which ran in 2010, and also played a lascivious Indian tycoon in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011).
The second season of the Indian series is likely to reprise Season 2 of the original, which has Bauer racing against the clock to prevent a nuclear catastrophe in Los Angeles. Kapoor returns as the titular cop and the action, as in Season 1, will be set in Mumbai. But there are a number of changes otherwise. Anupam Kher’s son Sikandar will play the villain, with Surveen Chawla playing his moll. With Mandira Bedi not returning, both Tabu and Sakshi Tanwar auditioned for her role of Kapoor’s fellow cop (Tanwar bagged it) – a mark of the respect the show commands among Bollywood talent.
Fox is also considering a return of the original American series, which wrapped in 2010 after eight seasons. It seems Kapoor will have plenty of material yet to adapt for Indian audiences. Naysayers may dismiss the lack of original programming in the budding limited fiction genre, but if Kapoor sticks to plan, he might just spark a long-overdue transformation in Indian television.