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Sudden-death sign on marathon soap

Over five years. More than 1,300 episodes. Janmabhoomi, the longest-running daily soap on our small screen, looks set to suffer a “premature demise”. At least that’s what Team Janmabhoomi, and the last of the die-hard fans fear.

After a no-show on Wednesday and Friday, the marathon run of the serial fast running out of steam looks set to end, officially, next week. Around 1,000 actors and 45-50 technicians have battled the odds to keep the epic serial going on Doordarshan since 1997. And some of them are still struggling to breathe new life into the popular soap that replaced Janani in the 12.30 pm slot and went on to make the coveted evening slot its own.

“We have applied for an extension of 300 episodes,” says Soma Mukherjee, founder-director of Rainbow, producer of the Inder Sen-directed freedom struggle saga underlining the zamindari system and featuring the who’s who of Tollywood.

But there’s no missing the studio buzz that the doors of Doordarshan are shutting fast on the soap’s record run. “The unit is resigned to the fact that the extension will not be granted,” says an insider. “There could be a temporary lull, but we will be back. We are planning a fresh story with the next generation,” says Soma.

For the moment, however, a “weak storyline, falling TRP and a slide in advertisements” have set the stage for Janmabhoomi’s sudden death on August 28. Doordarshan director Biswanath Das said: “I can’t comment till the serial actually goes off the air.”

Janmabhoomi, boasting Mamata Shankar, Santu Mukherjee, Rupa Ganguly and hundreds more, on its credit rolls, did rewrite the rules of the serial game on Calcutta DD. In the pre-Janmabhoomi era, Doordarshan reportedly charged Rs 26,000 for half-hour Bengali serials on prime time. Janmabhoomi’s “phenomenal success” prompted revised rates, which now often touch Rs 3 lakh. “The serial fetched revenue that 12 serials could not manage together,” said an official. But somewhere down the line, it lost its way. Two episodes this week did not make it to the air due to a “technical fault”. Inder Sen, too, is not sure what happens next. “After six years, despite all the ups and downs, we are still like a family,” he says of the team that has seen around five cameramen, three scriptwriters and five assistant directors taking turns.

The Janmabhoomi success saga has left in its wake Cinevista’s Junoon on DD and later, Sony from May 1993 to September 1998; the Marathi serial Damini that nearly touched 1,000 episodes on DD Sahyadri; and Vipul Shah’s Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka on Sony, now inching towards the 1,000-episode mark.

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