EXCLUSIVE: In May, we revealed Indian studio Applause Entertainment was deep in development on a big-budget drama series about independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, and the studio has now turned to a pair of familiar faces to supercharge the project.
Hansal Mehta, who helmed Applause’s SonyLIV drama Scam 1992, has been named director and showrunner of Gandhi (working title) and Siddhartha Basu, who worked with Applause CEO Sameer Nair on the first seasons of India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (titled Kaun Banega Crorepat), has joined as historical consultant, factual advisor and creative consultant.
Gandhi will be period drama set during the Indian Independence struggle and is billed as epic in scale, with multiple characters and locations from the Mahatma’s life featured. It is being adapted from historian and author Ramachandra Guha’s books Gandhi Before India and Gandhi — The Years That Changed the World — a pair of biographies that are among the most complete ever written about the iconic freedom fighter.
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Applause takes a feature film finance-style approach to its TV series — working up scripts, hiring cast, crew and creatives and shooting before selling the production to Indian streaming services. That’s very much the approach here, with Mehta and Basu joining Pratik Gandhi, who landed the lead role of his namesake two months ago, as we revealed at the time.
Mehta is known as one of Hindi cinema and TV’s leading directors, known for films such as Shahid, City Lights and Simran. He will creatively lead Gandhi, which is planned to run for multiple seasons and will detail Gandhi’s life and relationships with friends, colleagues and enemies akin to how The Crown has explored the British royal family. Notably, Mehta directed Gandhi lead Pratik Gandhi in Scam 1992, which is one of India’s highest-profile streaming hits.
Mehta told Deadline he has committed to the project for its whole run, having initially contacted Nair to “shamelessly pitch” himself as director upon reading our report on the project.
“There comes a time in your life where you find a story that you want to tell that is something you realize will be a part of India’s storytelling history,” he said. “How could I stay away from the greatest character of modern India — the father of the nation — and Ramanchadra’s books that are so intricately researched with so much rich material? This my chance to explore the character and his world and tell a deep, personal story.”
“I have to tell the entire story,” he added. “There can be no greater opportunity in a filmmaker’s life and I cannot just tell half the story and let somebody else tell the rest.”
Basu, known locally as ‘the Father of Indian television quizzing,’ has hosted several gameshow such as Quiz Time, Mastermind India and University Challenge and was the original director-producer of Kaun Banega Crorepat through his BIG Synergy production vehicle. He is reuniting with Nair after 22 years — the Applause CEO commissioned the series in 2000 when he was program director at Star India.
‘An emotional experience’
The series will move from from Gandhi’s earliest days to his actions as a lawyer in South Africa to the independence struggle in India, telling the lesser known stories of his life that played an important role in shaping him into a Mahatma (a revered person in South East Asia). It will also tell the stories of all his compatriots and contemporaries of the freedom movement, who played integral parts in shaping what became free and modern India.
The production will shoot in India several international locations, including London and South Africa, it is understood. Local crews and actors will be employed for the overseas elements of production.
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