As Olympias gives birth to Alexander III of Macedon in Ancient Greece in the dead of the night, miles away, Paurava prince Porus is born under the sun. “One came into the light in the East, while the other rose to become an eclipse in the West,” says a voiceover as both the newborns are held towards the sky, in Baahubali fashion, in the promo for Sony Entertainment Television’s new historical drama Porus.
Tracing the events leading up to the confrontation between Porus and Alexander the Great of Macedonia in the Battle of the Hydaspes in 326 BCE, Porus aims to mesh entertainment with grandeur. Directed and produced by Siddharth Kumar Tewary of Swastik Productions, the 260-episode show is billed to be one of the most expensive Indian television productions ever, combining opulent sets and visual effects. Porus will be aired from November 27.
The show stars Laksh Lalwani as Porus, Rohit Purohit as Alexander, Rati Pandey as Porus’s mother Anusuya, and Aditya Redij as King Bamni of the Pauravas. While the show is titled after Porus, it will cover Alexander’s journey as well, Tewary told Scroll.in.
“The audiences today are exposed to international content,” Tewari said. “I wanted to make the show in a larger-than-life manner to show the golden age of India, the way it should be shown. The show is not just about Porus, but also about Alexander’s story and what made him come to India from Macedonia.”
Swastik Productions has produced a number of mythological shows, including Mahakali (2017), Karmphal Data Shani (2016), Mahabharat (2013) and Razia Sultan (2015). Porus was written over two years, and promotes the idea that there existed a mythical golden age of India before the entry of foreign conquerors. Porus is described by the publicity material as “the greatest defender of India” who “resisted the first attack on the Indian soil by Alexander”.
“When Danish Khan, the head of Sony, came to me with a brief, I immediately remembered reading about Porus in my school textbook,” Tewary said. “At that point in time, we [India] were not rich just culturally, but we were also rich, which basically triggered most of our invasions. The biggest and the great Alexander wanted to invade our land and Porus wanted to stop him. He lost the battle, but won the war. So I wanted to look at the inspiring story of Porus.”
A celebrated opponent of Alexander, Porus put up a fight against the Greek conqueror during their encounter at the banks of what is now known as River Jhelum. According to folklore, Porus lost the battle but won Alexander’s heart with his strength and courage, so much so that the Macedonian king asked him to stay on and govern his erstwhile kingdom.
Preparations for the show combined research with an imaginative retelling of the ancient past. “We got to know about how they live, what they look like and small details like the significance of the water routes at that point in time,” the director explained. “There is more data on Porus available internationally than in India. He was called Porus by the Greeks and the Persians, and in India he was called Purushottam. Since the show is set in 350 BC, I took a lot of references from around that era.”
The big-budget production was shot across various locations in India and Thailand, including Khao Sok National Park and Pattaya. Five sets were constructed over nine acres at the Vrindavan studio in Umbergaon in Gujarat, which is known in the television industry as the “mytho-hub” for the number of mythological shows that have been shot here. The sets include recreations of the kingdoms of Macedonia and the Pauravas in the Punjab region, Persia, Taxila and three ports.
The show also boasts of “an intriguing dance sequence with 400 dancers” and has been shot by Hindi film cinematographer Kabir Lal.
“This is the first series in India where we [Swastik Productions] own the complete intellectual property of the show instead of the broadcaster,” Tewary said. “We have invested a lot of money in creating these worlds and we really wanted to do this well. We want this content to travel across the world. We have definitely gone out and created something to the best of our abilities.” There are plans to sell the series to several countries.
The rising popularity of fantasy epics such as HBO’s Game of Thrones in India means that comparisons will be inevitable, but this does not worry Tewary. “We are making content for the Indian mass audience, while shows like Game of Thrones is a respected $10 million-an-episode series,” Tewary said. “We cannot really compete with that. But from an Indian point of view, we are upping our content.”
His attempt with Porus is to bring to the small screen the kind of production values that are mostly seen in big-budget movies. “Indian television is still quite nascent compared to the West, who are way ahead of us,” Tewary said. “We are still maturing. With all the kind of technical advancements, we are trying to blur the lines between television and films.”