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The Making of Ramayan: The Television revolution
Master and his beginning
Born in Lahore, Ramanand Sagar was named Chandramauli Chopra, a name for Lord Shiva, who is named so as the lord holds the crescent moon on the forehead. Ramanand Sagar’s father Lala Dinanath Chopra was the landlord and held a zamindari of ~500 acres of land, perhaps an asset which passed down from generation to generation from their ancestors who were the Nagar Seth of Srinagar during the rule of Maharaja Gulab Singh.
The Rescue Act
From being an heir apparent to a large piece/s of large real estate in Kashmir to being a director, producer in Bombay, the journey was not without its share of anecdotes, one such now-famous incident happened during 1947, when Ramanand Sagar amongst several others had to be airlifted as a fallout of the Indo Pak war for control of J&K, many people had to leave their belongings behind while being evacuated and so too had Ramanand Sagar, but he took along one of his belongings, a big trunk, the pilot of that airlift objected to it thinking that he is carring some extra luggage with and asked him to leave it behind before getting in the Aircraft. However Ramanand Sagar would not let go off it, the two entered into a verbal spat ending in enraging the pilot who threw open the trunk because of which its contents came out, upon seeing what was inside the trunk the pilot suddenly recognized Ramanand Sagar, the man who was already famous by then for write-ups such as Maut Ke Bistar Se or Diary Of A TB Patient for a Lahore daily, because the trunk which the pilot had thrown away had contained several pages of the yet to be published novel Aur Insaan Mar Gaya. All Indian Air Force Pilots are capable and well-read and educated, however, to identify a visionary person such as Ramanand Sagar during adversity perhaps only could be done by another visionary as the Pilot who later went out to be the Chief Minister of Orrisa, for the pilot of that Airlift was none other than Biju Patnaik.
The Origin Story
An idea which dawned upon him one day when he was stunned to see colour on TV while watching a french movie at a Cafe in France while shooting for the movie Charas in 1976, he decided TV would be the future and serials would be the way forward for him.
For a man who was associated with Films in a big way and whose journey in the Indian Film industry started with association with none less than Prithvi theaters, for them he wrote two plays Gaura and Kalakar, and between 1949 and 1985, he worked in 29 films as producer, director, or writer for films such as Basraat, Charas, Rajkumar, some of them which was launchpad of some great stars of Bollywood including Lata Mangeshkar, raising amount was still not easy, as a trip he sent his son on for fundraising all around the globe to meet friends and prospective sponsors yielded nothing, he even refused to settle for a below-par offer from one of the co-founder of Emami as he was offered one lakh rupees against the requirement of 9 lakh rupees per episode.eventually he was backed by Mafatlal who backed the Sagars and funds were secured.
Ramanand Sagar became a man who shot 2,000 hours of television content tasted with success in his first mythological tv series itself which was not Ramayan but Vikram Aur Betaal. The actors Arun Govil, Deepika Chikhalia, Dara Singh, and Arvind Trivedi were the cast of Vikram Aur Betaal who was again cast in Ramayan.
However, this did not end all troubles, the I&B minister V N Gadgill would not give the go-ahead to broadcast it, only after a change of minister and Shah Bano controversy which got Rajiv Gandhi to get I&B telecast Ramayana on DD. Little did the then Congress government knew that such would be the success of Ramayan that even Ravan of that show – Arvind Trivedi along with Sita – Deepika Chikhalia would go on to become elected MPs from BJP. Ironically Ram who was played by Arun Govil campaigned for Sunil Shastry, the son of Lal Bahadur Shastri a Congress candidate at the time and pulled a lot of people to the campaign and Shastri lost the election.
All this was not without the struggles in obtaining the subsequent approvals, there were hurdles and arrangements were to be completed, although the sought approval to telecast Ramayan was received the bureaucracy posed its own problems, IAS officer Bhaskar Ghose father of Sagarika Ghose headed DD at the time did not relent to the request of Ramanand Sagar for extending the show by 26 weeks, which as per Sagar was needed as he could not condense the show further, with much discussion Bhasakar Ghose relented. While on the other hand, only 9 days were available to get the set ready in time for the shoot to be started. Ramanand Sagar roped in Hirabhai Patel, who in flat 9 days readied the set at Patel’s abandoned sprawling Vrindavan Studios in Umargaon, Gujarat. The requirement of the sets such as pillar, moulded palaces were already available perhaps as a leftover of the work Patel did for Wadia Studios. Bombay to Umargaon was a bus trip that Ramayan’s crew undertook for the next few months every day, for the shoot it is said that Dara Singh put in 4 -5 hours to get the look of lord Hanuma this and with everyone’s effort Ramayan was for the first time telecasted on 25th January 1987.