The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Karishma: plot behind the story
- Sahara’s blockbuster serial positioned to challenge STAR

Calcutta, May 9: Episodes: 260. Stars: Karisma Kapoor, Sanjay Kapoor, Arbaaz Khan, Jugal Hansraj and Arshad Warsi. Locales: New Zealand, Amby Valley, Mumbai. Cost of the queen bee: A rumoured Rs 10 crore. The selling point: A woman of substance.

It was meant to rewrite the small-screen script. Silver-screen stars were to flood living rooms riding soap bubbles, Monday to Thursday, as Karishma: The Miracles of Destiny brought with it Karisma Kapoor and a host of Bollywood actors. The icing on the cable cake was that the big Bollywood stars were coming at no cost — Sahara Manoranjan, where the show was to be launched on May 12, 9.30 pm, is free to air.

Instead, the Sahara serial is facing the fear of meeting its ‘maker’. Not Mumbai-based Sachin Bhowmick, on whose story Karishma is said to be based, but Manhattan-based Barbara Taylor Bradford, suing for “breach of copyright” of A Woman of Substance, her novel, which has sold millions of copies, and has, reportedly, been made into an English series starring Deborah Kerr.

After Calcutta High Court turned the crowning of Karishma as a woman of substance into a crown of thorns for Sahara — by restraining it from broadcasting the show — the channel remained reluctant to speak. On May 13, Sahara must defend its show before the high court. The case is being heard in Calcutta, possibly because the solicitor firm — Fox & Mondal — Taylor Bradford approached in early May is headquartered here, legal sources said.

Judge Pinaki Chandra Ghose will hear the case again next Tuesday, unless Sahara moves court earlier to have the order vacated. The prosecution is likely to push for “massive damages”, added sources, considering the advertisement revenue the channel would have already generated for the ‘maha-serial’, “made by” Sheeba and Abu Shroff of the Cinetek Telefilms banner.

The creative team was headed by Sahara’s creative director, Akasdeep Sabir, and directors Anurag Basu, Sidharth Sengupta and Talat Jani.

The implications of this probable beam block are “enormous”, observe industry watchers, as the summer of ’03 was billed to be the Sahara Manoranjan season.

Mrinal Chatterjee, a representative of Calcutta cable operators in the task force on the conditional access system, feels Sahara’s Bollywood ploy is a masterstroke.

“People who pay to watch faces like Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai at the movies can now catch them every evening in their drawing rooms. This is a huge revolution on the small screen and will make STAR, Sony and Zee sit up and take note. If they thought they can rule the eyeballs on the strength of their current content, where the Tulsis and Parvatis (characters in two STAR Plus serials) rule, they have to think again.”

Even if Karisma’s small screen debut is shelved for the moment, Sahara has more star cards up its sleeve to shake up the reigning king of satellite beam, STAR Plus, as well as competitors Sony and Zee. Amitabh Bachchan has been roped in for his first TV drama series and Sridevi makes a comeback with a 208-episode Lucille Ball-style comedy, Hamari Bahu Malini Iyer.

With the saas-bahu battles ruling prime-time viewership thus far, channels have been wary of trying out a new format. Screen stars like Madhuri Dixit and Govinda have, in the past, failed to impress. Right now, STAR Plus wins the rating race hands down. It has all the top shows on satellite TV with Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki being the current frontrunner.

But the equation was all set to change with the conditional access system being introduced from July 14. The pay channels will be decoded through a set-top box and viewers will pick the channel combination they want. Sahara Manoranjan, free to air, claims to have a reach of “over 73 per cent of the 40 million plus cable and satellite homes in India”.

While STAR claims comfort, hogging the top 50 ratings, Zee-Turner, which claims to be a more versatile bouquet than its competitors, is banking heavily on Cartoon Network. For SET-Discovery, World Cup honeymoon over, the countdown to the next big cricket series has begun.

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