Ramdev wants the world to know that his meteoric rise from a yoga practitioner to billionaire businessman has been riddled with obstacles. Many, many obstacles.
So much so that his entire life can be called a sangharsh, a struggle, according to a new television show about the Patanjali Group founder.
Discovery Jeet, the general entertainment channel from Discovery Communications, entered India’s crowded television space on February 12, its hopes riding on Swami Ramdev: Ek Sangharsh. The 85-episode biopic on the titular guru has been co-produced by Ajay Devgn and made on an alleged budget of Rs 80 crore . The show purports to offer viewers an objective and tell-all account of Ramdev’s life.
The show opens in 1965 in Haryana’s Said Alipur, where a child is born with a curse on his head in a bitterly divided society. After a poor Yadav family draws the wrath of the head priest Gowardhan Maharaj (Tej Sapru) by accidentally transgressing the watertight divisions between the upper and lower castes in the village, the mother is given a curse: the child in her womb will be the undoing of the entire hamlet. Ramkishan (the young Ramdev, played by Naman Jain) comes to be hated by his village even before he is born, setting the stage for an endless chain of difficulties.
The first week of the show chronicles, in painstaking and painful detail, how unfair society has been to the protagonist for daring to challenge the status quo. In every episode, he or his family are the target of vicious verbal and physical attacks over minor offences on the boy’s part, such as daring to sneak into a school by night to educate himself, or touch an idol of Krishna on Janmashtami.
If oppression and discrimination are shared experiences for those considered low-caste in this community, it is not shown. The narrative is singularly focused on the junior Ramdev. Thus the high production values and above-average performances may do little to change the fact that this show is unlikely to engage anybody who isn’t in awe of its central character – enough to overlook the predictability of all that transpires.
Much of the source material comes from Ramdev himself, with whom a Discovery Jeet team spent long hours gleaning details of his life, which was then ostensibly verified and supplemented through independent research. Indeed, there isn’t much information about the yoga guru and entrepreneur in the public domain. A book that attempted to shed light on lesser known aspects of his life was shut down last year, after Ramdev moved court against it.
Perhaps because of this, the show is built on polarities. Gowardhan Maharaj is evil incarnate, while Ramdev and his mother are unequivocally good. If there was any opportunity to explore nuanced characters and complex social realities, that is not evident so far.
Despite this, the televised Ramkishan is a likable character, in part because of Jain’s depiction of him as a child wise beyond his years who is unassailable in the face of all the abuse.
Undoubtedly, the coming episodes will show him rising from his flood of troubles as he leaves his village, dedicates himself to spiritual learning in a gurukul and eventually goes on to become a successful entrepreneur who poses upside down on magazine covers one minute and manages a sprawling herbal products empire the next.
And what of all the controversy he has generated along the way? Swami Ramdev: Ek Sangharsh has only just started, but hopes are slim that the series will be anything but a paean to the spiritual leader, made with his blessings.