Mohnish Bahl: Wish we could have bound scripts
Mohnish Bahl discusses the changes he would like to see in the TV industry as he fronts Sanjivani 2 with Surbhi Chandna
It is easy to see the mutual fondness between Mohnish Bahl and Surbhi Chandna. While Chandna describes her Sanjivani co-star as a "pro" in the medical field owing to his multiple turns as a doctor on screen, Bahl returns the compliment by praising her craft. Their playful banter aside, the duo mean serious business as they sit down for a chat with mid-day, on the set of the daily soap, and discuss the workings of the television industry.
Edited excerpts from the interview.
What was your first reaction when the show was offered to you?
Chandna: Siddharth Malhotra [producer] had pitched it to me last November. It's a huge responsibility to be associated with a brand like Sanjivani. The show is synonymous with Mohnish Bahl and Gurdeep Kohli. So, I knew that the responsibility of garnering high TRP was not resting on my shoulders.
Bahl: After Sanjivani had a four-year run [in 2005], we were told that it is going off air because it had run out of steam. I believed the show had a lot of potential even then. So, we teamed up with the public and told Star that they shouldn't pull the plug. It took them 18 years to respond to
our request. I never thought I'd revisit [the character of] Shashank Gupta.
In the early 2000s, Sanjivani was one of the first shows to discuss AIDS on national television. Does it continue to be a pioneer this time around?
Chandna: The cases so far have been fascinating. We've dealt with phantom pregnancy and trichophagia [a condition where patients eat hair]. Such cases strike a chord with the audience.
How different is the atmosphere on the set as compared to 17 years ago?
Bahl: Sanjivani was my first TV project. The concept of getting a script only when you arrive on set was alien to me. While shooting films, you get the script well in advance and have ample time to prep. Compared to back then, kids are so well-prepared these days. It's tougher for them today because [their every action] is [being scrutinised] on social media. Despite the pressure, they are more in command [of their craft] than we were at a similar stage in our career.
International shows like Grey's Anatomy run for years. What should we do to buck up?
Chandna: I've not watched Grey's Anatomy but have heard of it. I believe Indian viewers like watching dramatic offerings and costume dramas. My friend played Naagin in the series, and people enjoy that kind of content.
Bahl: The beauty of Indian entertainment is that it is varied. A platform offers a [fantasy] show like Naagin, and a [real-life series] like Sanjivani. I only wish the execution was different. Internationally, creators shoot the entire season. While it goes on air, the team is discussing the next season. Here, we develop content as we go. It boils down to economics. International shows are watched worldwide, and hence, their budgets are 10 times more than ours. I wish we could have bound scripts and tackle the show in seasons. That way, we would all have 10-hour shifts. More importantly, it would give the creative team time to develop [better material] and correct errors, if any.
A chat about Sanjivani is incomplete without mentioning actor Sanjeet Bedi aka Dr Omi who passed away in 2015.
Bahl: He was always smiling, no matter what went on in his personal life. He went through a lot in his life. It is sad, and we miss him.
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