Bollywood action masters are now scripting multi-million rupee action sequences for TV serials and reality shows. And, it’s not just about the bang bang element, it is about scripting the most daring and audacious stunts to sweep the couch potatoes into an entirely filmy edge-of-the-seat experience. SANGEETA YADAV tells you more
Be it fighting goons in Anil Kapoor’s 24 or Amitabh Bachchan repelling the baddies in Yudh or the massive war scenes in Maharana Pratap or, for that matter, dangerous dancing in Dare 2 Dance, Indian TV has decided it’s time for thrills, frills and action — big-time, big-budget, high-risk action.
Action budgets in the soap dish have sky-rocketed to such an extent that in one serial, the producer did not mind spending Rs 4 crore on just one track.
Take the case of telefilm Yudh’s climax scene. A blow to the head, a punch here and a kick there; breaking a wall and taking a beating and a flying leap to save his daughter — 71-year-old Big B did it all. It was a full nine-minute fight sequence. Blood, gore and Bachchan is what one would expect in a Bollywood movie. But one got to see it on TV too.
And it’s not just the big stars who are churning out blood curdling action on the small screen. TV stars are not to be left behind. Zee TV’s flagship show Jodha Akbar recently doled out heavy duty action and the show immediately earned numero uno status on TRPs. The episode in which Akbar brutally kills Adham Khan helped the show jump to 8.9 points and overtake Diya Aur Bati Hum on Star Plus.
Khan was slashed by a sword, cut open till he bled, thrown from atop a fort several times till all his bones and face smashed.
“Our audience no longer squirms at gore and blood on TV. They want real-like experiences and not the CGI driven effects that our soapdish has been churning out. They want it, we provide it,” says Zee’s programming head Namit Sharma.
“In the bygone era, serials like Mahabharat and Ramayan had the action sequences through technology and camera angles. But aaj ki janata wants more. We have some real hot bods on TV with six packs and all. We are eager for physical duels, sword fights and even a full fledged war sequence,” says Chennai-based Mansi Kandha who is an active participant in many discussion threads online.
This hunger for action has made TV producers rope in specialised action directors from Bollywood. And the outcome has been splendid. “The budget has never been an issue with big production houses but now they are willing to seek out the best action actors even for cameos. Ekta Kapoor wanted to introduce an action track in her serial and asked me to play a monster who tortures his victims real bad. Ekta was adamant I do this role because she wanted the horrifying scenes to come alive on small screen,” Ketan Karande, India’s most popular wrestler who was seen as Khyber in Jodha Akbar, tells you. He adds that special action tracks are included in the serial to give it a boost and directors don’t shy from depicting violence on TV.
If you thought TV actors are the only ones in the midst of this unprecedented action wave, you are forgetting about the dancers and choreographers who have been vying for attention with daredevil stuntgiri surpassing all danger levels.
In upcoming dance reality show Dare 2 Dance (D2D) on Life Ok, the production house has gone all out to ensure that the stunning action dances are shot with extraordinary cameras. D2D, which will be showcasing a fusion of dance and stunts, has been shot by Hollywood action and stunt director Francois Grobbelaar. One will get to see underwater dance acts, aerial dancing with fabric and harness props and even acrobatics on pillars.
“D2D is an exciting format which will do well. Dancing is a part of the Indian culture and when one combines it with stunts it becomes even more exciting. The strategy is to create a link between dancing and daredevilry. I want to make it as dangerous and daring as possible and yet ensure safety of the performers. The biggest challenge is to remove all safety lines and yet keep them safe,” Grobbelaar says from Cape Town where the show has been shot.
The director who has worked in films like Go Goa Gone, Death Race 3, Khatron Ke Khiladi, The Expendables 2 and Dredd to name a few, tells you that D2D was the toughest. “In D2D, there are no body doubles and stuntmen. All the action and the dancing is performed by contestants which makes it a very big deal,” he says.
To shoot one single episode on D2D, the producers spent Rs 4 crore. With such huge budgets being allocated to make TV viewing more exciting, channels and producers are turning their serials into mini-feature films. A source tells us that Rs 3 crore was spent on making a single episode of Yudh. One is also told that Anil Kapoor paid Rs 100 crore to just buy the rights of the original 24, the American drama-series.
Like befitting actors being roped in for action sequences, specialised action directors are also being hired to provide dangerous fight sequences. While action badshah Shyam Kaushal’s expertise was put to good use in Yudh, action director Allan Amin showed what it takes to get beaten and mauled in a special series for Humne Li Hai Shapat on Life OK. Protagonist Aman Verma has been in the thick of action shots from day one.
“I was signed up to shoot the fight scene for Yudh with Amitabh Bachchan. My primary concern was to choreograph an action sequence that would not be a challenge for Big B considering his age. But Mr Bachchan told me not to go easy with the action. The difference between directing for Bollywood and TV is the availability of time to choreograph and shoot the stunts creatively and the money for hi-end camera and techniques,” Kaushal tells you.
He started his career as a stuntman with TV shows Chanakya and Shaktiman and went on to direct action for films like Hundred-foot Journey, Phantom, PK and a host of others. For the Yudh climax scene, Kaushal was given three days to wrap up and he did so in style.
To shoot these scenes, Red Epic cameras which shoot in 5k resolution and have High Dynamic Range technology to capture the details in shadows are used. Red Epic can go up to 300 frames per second (fps) whereas ordinary cameras go up to 150 fps. The best part is that the Red Epic footage requires lesser storage space and one can shoot more without increasing the cost.
Although the desire to do something violent and fancy is there, it is always not possible for TV producers to allocate the budget and time required to do something on a big scale. This is when action directors use camera tricks and technology to give it a grand feeling.
“Time is money in this industry. We sometimes only get two hours to direct an action sequence. In such cases, we use camera tricks like wide angle shots. Sometimes, we shoot on chroma to give special VFX effect. For movies you get several days to choreograph and shoot an action sequence,” Rinku Bachchan, action-director of CID and Shapat, says.
The reason Bollywood action directors are in demand is because they have the wherewithal to give you the wow factor. The level rises if a Bollywood celebrity is part of the serial. The call to hire an action director is usually taken by channel heads if they want to shoot a scene in tune with what one gets to see in movies. If a show’s budget is huge, Bollywood directors are hired for special scenes.
For Aushtosh Gowariker’s much awaited adventure show Everest, Bollywood stunt director Amar Shetty who has worked in Om Shani Om and upcoming Hollywood Film Gandhi of the Month, has been brought in to co-ordinate stunts performed on snow.
Everest, slated for October, is the story of a young Army officer’s daughter determined to scale Mount Everest. Gowariker, known as a perfectionist, has teamed up with Nehru Institute Of Mountaineering (NIM) in Uttarakhand and the institute’s mountaineers have trained the lead actors in climbing.
Then there is this issue of getting stunt equipment and materials which is a big issue since India is not into manufacturing these. “Everything has to be imported from Bangkok or other countries. This increases the production cost,” Bachchan says.
To direct a complete action track based for a show, the action director should always work in tandem with the episode director. Queries like how long the shot will be? How to shoot the scene? How many stunt men will be required? What equipment will be needed?, has to be planned much in advance.
“Only after all this is sorted out that the design line-up — where the shoot will take place, who will do the stunt, the actor himself or a body double — is outlined,” Bachchan tells you.
- India’s Movie Stunt Artist Association plays an important role in deciding the wages of its members. For eight hours of shoot, stunt assistant director earns up to Rs 5,000, stunt artists get Rs 4,000, stuntmen get around Rs 3,000 and stunt doubles get Rs 8,000, excluding a daily allowance.
- If the TV show requires dangerous stunts like we get to see in action films, they have to pay extra to stunt experts. In high-budget action-packed shows, stunt artists can earn over and above the perks.
- Not just the well-structured pay-scale but a lot of perks are attached to members. When the salary slip is issued, a copy of it goes to the producers and the stunt artists’ association. If the producer doesn’t pay the wages on time, the association bans the production house. Also, a small percentage of their income goes to relief and retirement fund which is paid when they face health problems, have a marriage in the family or when they retire.
- Since there is no insurance company that extends its services to stuntmen, there are corporate financers who help out in some way or the other. Sometimes the producer bears the expenses if any mishap hits a stuntman.
- It is the dream of every stuntman to land a plumb role in a TV show. Directors hire these stuntmen and give them a life changing opportunity. In Shapath, Allan Amin introduced stunt artist Vicky Arora as an actor. With his six-pack abs and good acting skills, he managed to impress other casting directors as well. Arora is now acting in Ek Hasina Thi.
- Way back in 1990s, in Dacoit and others action films, actresses refused to do the stunt or even ride a horse. Stuntmen were used as body doubles for those actresses since there were no stuntwomen in the industry. But now there are a few that have been trained to do stunts on a car, helicopter or even under water. At present, there are no women stunt directors in the industry.
- Getting the stunt equipment and materials is the biggest issue since India is not into manufacturing them. Everything has to be imported from Bangkok or other countries which comes at a very high cost.