Kamdhenu Studios is an unremarkable building nestled between two skyscrapers in suburban Mumbai. Its weathered appearance and stained exterior lie in a kind of stasis when compared to the modern developments emerging around it. Kamdhenu is aptly suited to the purpose it is used for. For the past 18 years, CID, one of Indian television’s most iconic and longest running series, has been shot here.

On the first floor of the building, the two prominent indoor locations of the show are separated by a narrow corridor lined with innumerable snake-like wires. The forensic laboratory, the setting for many epiphanies by ACP Pradyuman (Shivaji Satam), is to the right. Even though it lacks a human presence, save for a mangled plastic skeleton, and the only sign of use are the innumerable footprints on its white floor, there is a sense of eeriness. A smell of sulphur hangs in the air.

In one corner next to dark glass bottles marked “Danger” and “Acid” sit jars containing specimens from past cases, a decaying tongue and a worn out nose. Another wall lists the many achievements of Dr Tarike (Shraddha Musale) and Dr Salunke (Narendra Gupta), the show’s resident forensic experts. The room is crammed with so many objects that the makers of CID could easily branch out into selling merchandise if they so desired.

Image credit: Venkataraghavan Rajagopalan.
Image credit: Venkataraghavan Rajagopalan.

Created by BP Singh, who has previously worked on the true-crime Marathi TV show Ek Shunya Shunya and Aahat, CID introduced many viewers to the unsavoury world of crime. The premise was simple: “Seven cops and one dead body,” Singh told Forbes. “All our episodes are based around this fact.”

Given Singh’s insistence on making the show without “any blood, or violence against women and children”, CID quickly become compulsive family viewing. All these years later, even after American crimes shows like CSI and its many spin-offs have ended, CID continues to soldier on. All the three Khans – Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir – have popped in to promote their latest films. In all, 1,390 episodes have been aired.

The show has gained viral infamy for the over-exaggerated nature of the acting, the outlandish plots and perceived obviousness of the CID team’s deductions. Both Dayanand Shetty, who plays Senior Inspector Daya, and Satam have mentioned that they are fans of the plethora of CID-related content. “People will share jokes about you so widely only when you become famous,” Shetty told the Times of India when asked about the phenomenon. “Rajinikanth is one of the biggest superstars in this country and there are innumerable online jokes about him. In fact, I feel proud when I read the online jokes about my show because it shows the kind of popularity that we enjoy.”

Even Amitabh Bachchan referenced what has been anointed as the show’s de facto catchphrase, “Daya, darwaza tod do” when the show’s four primary cast members, Satam, Aditya Srivastava (Senior Inspector Abhijeet), Shetty and Dinesh Phadnis (Inspector Fredricks) appeared on Kaun Banega Crorepati.

Lately, there have been a few niggles in the production. In May 2016, the show took a break for the first time since it began production in 1998. Rumours suggested that it was to give the then newly-launched Kapil Sharma Show more air time. CID was back by June minus a few cast members, and the air time shifted to the weekend.

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‘CID’.

On the set for the bureau, the atmosphere is relaxed. Four scenes have to be shot by the end of the day, but most of the key crew members are old hands. While the makers do not have a large bank of episodes, on most occasions they easily make the production schedule. Today, they are shooting for an episode which will air two weeks from now.

The crew members are evasive when asked what it feels like to be working on a show like CID. “It’s great that it’s gone on for so long, it’s our daily bread,” one of them finally adds.

In contrast to the constant activity that is associated with most daily productions, the CID shoot seems to work like a well-oiled machine. There are scarcely any signs of chaos or bother. Even when all the cast members finally arrive on set, the atmosphere of bonhomie continues.

In between takes, where a latest crime involving a high quantity of explosives is analysed, the leads diffuse the tension by making jokes. The camera operator seems to be the most stressed-out crew member. He has to constantly adjust the positions of the cast so all of them can fit into a single frame and at the same time maintain focus on Satam’s expressive face.

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ACP Pradyuman gets ready for his closeup. Video by Venkataraghavan Rajagopalan.

There is only one member of the crew who seems really stumped by the proceedings. He can be seen going from place to place holding a plastic skeleton. He finally rests the prop in the studio lot and stares at it long and hard. At the same time, he is furiously sketching out a design on a piece of paper in front of him. He has been part of the props department since 1998, but an issue vexes him. How will he create an organ that can hold a bullet at a particular angle long enough for it be pulled out by the cast members during the shoot? But it’s not worrying him too much. It used to be much more difficult when the show began, he says. “Now, we have Google.”

On the day of the visit, the three leads, who have been around since the show’s inception, are not in the mood to talk about their experiences of working on the show. Perhaps, after spending nearly two decades explaining to the incredulous why CID is successful or how they keep it fresh, the trio are tired. Some things endure. Fans get it. Non-believers don’t.

Image credit: Venkataraghavan Rajagopalan.
Image credit: Venkataraghavan Rajagopalan.