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Makers of Indian "24" series plot a TV show revolution

Cast member Anil Kapoor poses at the party for the television series finale of "24" in Los Angeles April 30, 2010. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Cast member Anil Kapoor poses at the party for the television series finale of "24" in Los Angeles April 30, 2010. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

By Shilpa Jamkhandikar

MUMBAI (Reuters) - In a street next to Mumbai's biggest mall, in a suburb teeming with people even at midnight, is a building that at first glance looks like an abandoned warehouse.

The decrepit exterior hides the set of what may be one of India's most ambitious TV shows yet - the domestic version of the U.S. television hit action series "24", which its makers hope will revolutionize Indian TV.

The Indian "24" is a novel concept in an industry where daily soaps reign. It will be the first seasonal fiction show on TV, one of the most expensive TV shows ever produced and the first to have a Bollywood star in the lead.

Anil Kapoor, 53 and best known for his turn as the talk show host in Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning film "Slumdog Millionaire", will be the Indian counterpart of Jack Bauer, the suave police officer who is part of an elite anti-terrorism unit. Kiefer Sutherland starred in the original.

It is with this mix of Bollywood stardom and the terrorism theme that the show's makers are hoping to woo Indian audiences.

"We are giving them their star that they love and we are giving them subject matter which is close to them, which is India, patriotism, terrorism, crime, thriller and family emotions," said director Abhinay Deo. "Where can this go wrong?"

Kapoor, who is also the show's producer, played a Middle Eastern leader in the eighth season of the American series in 2010 and was convinced he had to bring the "discipline and professionalism" of U.S. television into India.

Aware that they are venturing into untested waters, the show's makers are paying great attention to detail. The main set or the CTU (counter-terrorism unit) is a replica of the one in the U.S. series, complete with newspaper clippings, Venn diagrams on softboards and huge monitoring screens.

On a recent day, director Deo and his assistants were debating how one of the characters should grip a syringe, attempting several different shots until they were satisfied.

This is unusual for an Indian television show, where the pressure of producing daily episodes often means little thought is given to characters or storylines.

"An international format is only a starting point, the key is how it is adapted to India," said Shailesh Kapoor, CEO of media insights firm Ormax Media.

If it does work, Indian television may be tempted to follow the West's lead, sticking to seasonal formats and focusing on smart writing and better production values, they said.

"When ‘24' becomes a hit, be assured that every CEO of every broadcasting company will be on a flight to L.A. to pick up formats," said Raj Nayak, CEO of the Colors channel which will air the series later this year, perhaps as early as August.

But it is not going to be easy. Nine of the top 10 fiction shows on Indian television are daily soaps with a crime thriller sneaking in at only number ten, according to a recent report by consultancy KPMG.

"My audience is the masses - the Hindi heartland," says Nayak. "They haven't seen this, for them it'll be a novelty and something new."

Still, it's a gamble, and the show's makers know they have to get it right the first time. Bollywood star Kapoor, who has starred in more than 100 films in three decades, may not get another chance to prove himself on TV, and chances of a second season are slim if the first doesn't make the cut.

"You stick your neck out and I have stuck my neck out," says Kapoor. "I am not playing it safe, I am playing the lead. And I'm a movie star."

(Editing by Tony Tharakan and Elaine Lies)

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