When aggression meets compassion

A still from “Sher-E-Punjab: Maharaja Ranjit Singh”  

The recent hotly-contested Legislative Assembly elections once again put into focus the role of governance in everyday life. Also, as we are returning to an era of maximum personalities in political spectrum across the world, it is time to look back at our past and spot rulers who blended aggression with compassion. Life Ok has found one in Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Starting this week, Sher-E-Punjab: Maharaja Ranjit Singhrevolves around the founder of the Sikh Empire, known for bringing Koh-i-Noor back from Afghanistan and for gold-plating the Harminder Sahib. Following his journey, it will bring out different aspects of his personality while depicting the happenings in Punjab when the Great Game was being played between Sikhs, Afghans and British.

“This series is very contextual in today’s political scenario,” observes producer Abhimanyu Singh of Contiloe Pictures. “Today, all politicians want to rule for power and have their own intent and agenda. Here we have Maharaja Ranjit Singh who actually ruled with sewa bhav which is a great teaching of Sikhism. Also the Sikhs were in minority in Punjab then yet he was able to administer the region, expand it from Afghanistan to present day Sutlej, from Kashmir to Balochistan. All this became possible because of his inclusive policy, patience, passion, dedication and great administrative set-up.” He feels the show will make electors realise to choose those who can govern well while inspiring the elected to be serious about governance.

Given the subject, the series attempts to ensure that content and its presentation are authentic. Throwing light on the research done on the story, Singh reveals that a team of four including historian Dr. J. S. Grewal and author Dr. Gurbaksh Singhhave gone through the screenplay thoroughly. “During shooting of important sequences they are present at the sets,” he adds.

Considering that all historical figures are surrounded by controversies, Singh says, keeping in mind the sensitivity of the people they stuck to telling a sanitised version. “We have not delved into contentious issues as our intention is to portray the positives in order to motivate the people specially the youth. Like any mortal even the great people have their own flaws but we want to highlight his sterling qualities. For example, Ranjit Singh’s rule did not have capital punishment because he believed that everyone deserves a second chance and that an eye for an eye does not solve problems. Today death sentence as a deterrent is being discussed globally. Even when he defeated Afghans, he allowed them to administer their regions because he wanted to take local people along with him.”

Besides the content, Singh informs that researchers have done in-depth study of other aspects of that period like costumes, settings, arms and armaments. “This touch of authenticity makes audience get a feel of the era,” explains Singh. Citing examples, he says, “The jewellery of that time was different because of influence of Afghans, British and Mughals. Likewise, weaponry too had undergone a change with muzzle loaded rifles making an appearance.”

Keeping in mind the trend of slick productions, experts like Omung Kumar, set designer of films like Black and Saawariya, costume designers Manoshi Nath and Rushi Sharma of PK, Kick, Dhoom 3 fame and stunt director Allan Amin (Rang De Basanti and Dishoom) have been roped in. “These professionals bring not just authenticity but a sense of grandeur making the show truly a magnum opus,” avers Singh. Stressing that all of them research extensively, he says they mix and match fact with imagination which is impactful.

An eclectic mix

The serial’s cast is a mix of new and veteran actors. While Damanpreet Singh plays young Ranjit Singh, his father’s role is essayed by Shaleen Bhanot. Damanpreet who recently finished Kapil Sharma’s untitled Punjabi film is enthusiastic about his role. “Being from Punjab (Chandigarh), I was thrilled when selected for the role after a strenuous audition. Moreover, I was familiar with stories of Maharaja Ranjit Singh since my grandmother narrated them when I was a child.” Workshops and sittings with director and researchers impressed upon him the need to depict young Ranjit Singh with tremendous confidence and style. “My body language, gait and voice all give the impression of someone who is in charge.” Saying that at times he got carried away, Damanpreet recalls his family and friends made fun of the way he walked and spoke. “As Ranjit Singh was blind in one eye, I wear lens in one eye. To be able emote genuine facial gestures, I practised several hours with the lens on.” For this Class IX student, playing this part has had a positive effect. “My attitude towards life and problems has become more positive.”

Seasoned actor Shaleen Bhanot last seen on TV as Karna in Duryodhana enacts Mahaa Singh. “It is not a fatherly figure but a heroic one that I play, someone who is idealised by Ranjit Singh and is his first point of reference. Even though he dies, Mahaa Singh sets the tone and tenor of the serial which depicts how courage and sensibility helps to rule well.” Bhanot who did not know Punjabi and the mannerisms of Sikhs, was tutored by a language expert for 10 days. “For mannerism, I observed Sikhs, their speech delivery and body movements. Moreover, I pored over all the material provided by the researchers and came up with my own characterisation. Like for imparting a sense of drama, I twirl my moustache in a certain way.”

Bridging the gap

Bhanot is thrilled that historical sagas like Maharana Pratap, Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat, Peshwa Baji Rao and Jodha Akbar are shown on TV. “Nuclear families have disrupted the passing of mythologies and historical stories to children by grandparents. These serials help bridge the gap by making the young know about the past and hopefully motivating them to follow their path.” Agreeing with him, the producer says, “History has a lot to teach and TV shows are perfect medium for messaging while also entertaining.”

(The series begins on March 20, Monday to Friday, 8.30 p.m.)

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Printable version | Jul 22, 2021 10:27:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/when-aggression-meets-compassion/article17535035.ece

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