Twenty-five years ago, a jobless man shot seven episodes of a thriller for television. At 4.5 lakhs an episode, he struggled to find a broadcaster. Back then India only had Doordarshan and Zee TV. The struggling individual was Bijendra Pal Singh, popularly known as BP Singh. A Film and Television Institute of India graduate, Singh had produced the popular Marathi show based on crime diaries, Ek Shunya Shunya (Dial 100). The success of one show did not help him much. Unable to find a job elsewhere, he eventually started working as a cameraperson for Doordarshan.
His dream finally came true in 1998 when Sony decided to commission the project. Thus was born the crime investigation show CID. It is now the longest running fiction show on TV (in terms of time not episodes) in India.
"I got a call from Ravina (Raj Kohli), who was heading Sony's programming back then. I was hesitant, but she called me to her office saying, 'Ek Baar Aao Toh Sahi'. I went to her office and saw that she had the tape of CID episodes that I had made earlier on her table and she said, 'We are putting it on air'," recalls Singh, producer of CID and founder, Fireworks Productions.
According to sources Sony agreed to pay Rs 2.25 Lakh per episode, which Singh accepted. It's not the fact that it ran for 20 long years which makes CID unique. There are other aspects. The show has retained its core characters since Day One. Shivaji Satam, who plays ACP Pradyuman has stayed ACP for 20 long years. Aditya Srivastava, (senior inspector Abhijeet), Dayanand Shetty (senior inspector Daya) and Dinesh Phadnis (as inspector Fredericks or Freddy) have also stuck on. The show became more of a family commitment than a professional exercise. Some of the characters' names also came out of the CID family.
"Abhijeet is Shivaji's son's name," says Singh. Characters such as Aditya, Daya and Freddy married, had kids and brought them up while being a part of the show. "I do not have any official contract with any of the actors. The channel has a contract with Shivaji, but that's about it," reveals Singh.
Long Term Assets
When Ek Shunya Shunya (which had Satam in the lead) ended, the show had become hugely popular - as had Satam. He was a theatre artist and was in and out of the cinema scene. When Singh conceptualised the show, he had Satam at the heart of it. In 1993, Satam was a Central Bank employee who used to act on the side; but by 1998, he became very popular and his dates were a big issue. While Satam was an automatic choice, Singh had to look for someone else to fill in the other roles. That's when he found Ashutosh Gowariker, whose film career had not yet taken off. "Apprehensive in the beginning, he eventually agreed," says Singh. Gowariker became a part of the show as inspector Virendra.
A year into the show Srivastava appeared. He too had done a couple of films when Singh approached him because Gowariker was leaving to direct Lagaan, the Aamir Khan starrer. "Going from films to TV was considered as a big demotion and Aditya was clear he wanted to do films. It was very difficult to convince him. Aditya agreed to the show for a brief period," smiles Singh. That brief period has stretched into two decades.
Daya, Freddy, the doctors Salunke and Taarika, who appeared in the very first year, stayed on. What kept the unit together? "They all looked to each other and kept growing with time. Also, I never stopped them from working elsewhere, so they got the freedom and we got their commitment," adds Singh.
The Early Days
Singh's inspiration for investigative thrillers came from the books he devoured on forensic science. That made the show intriguing, but touched many raw nerves. "When we got to know that kids were watching the show, we immediately changed our approach," remembers Singh.
Though CID started with a hardcore crime investigation story, Singh removed terms like rape, kidnapping and other explicit words from the script after feedback from viewers. He took to a subtler way of telling the story without losing its essence. Another feedback that the producers received was that CID was becoming too serious and that a section of people might just lose interest.
Singh and his team started to inject humour. "Dinesh (Freddy), for instance, never had any dialogues. One day he came to me and started saying 'Log Mujhe Goonga Bolte Hai Mazak Banate Hain (people think that I am playing a mute character), I also want to do dialogues'. A few days later, when we got that feedback, I thought of turning Freddy into a humorous character. He agreed and there was a point when Freddy was more popular than even ACP Pradyuman," Singh adds.
Having such a cooperative cast helped CID negotiate the initial challenges. "I made them do deadly stunts outdoors; they never came to me asking for a duplicate," says Singh.
CID is all about creating a mystery and solving it. The number of stories CID needs to supply week after week, is a huge challenge. "We heavily relied on real life forensic insights to write our stories and, thankfully, we had a great pool of writers back then and we still continue to have them," adds Singh.
Shridhar Raghavan was one of the first writers. He was also the creative producer of the show, "He is the backbone of CID. In those days, I used to direct myself and I could see through the viewfinder, what he was trying to achieve. He is back with us and that's very good news for the show," says Singh.
Shridhar started his career with CID and then went on to write Khakee in 2004, Dum Maaro Dum in 2011 and was involved in many other feature films. Shridhar's brother, Sriram, also has a similar story. The writer and director of blockbusters like Agent Vinod, Badlapur and Jhonny Gaddar, started with writing episodes for CID.
Another writer who started his career and then went on to write super-hit films is Rajat Arora. The 'Once Upon a Time in Mumbai' and 'The Dirty Picture' writer used to write CID episodes in the early 2000s. "I used to disagree a lot, but at the end of the day, I always conceded to the writers, which I think helped us to get great stories and them to express whatever they wanted to," Singh adds.
Going back, what made Sony's then programming head, Kohli, sign CID? Back then, Sony, which was just three years old in India, was in search of an identity. Kohli's mandate was simple - find and build that. She commissioned a spree of shows, from daily soaps like Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka, in prime time, to reality shows like Boogie Woogie. The list was long and one such name on the list was CI.D. So, what clicked?
"We wanted Sony to be more metro-sexual, five years younger, a cleaner, better presented channel than Zee because we knew that we could not match Zee's distribution. Crime, cops and mystery are things that a younger audience would enjoy and those appealed to me about CID," remembers Kohli.
Sony was also in the process of developing Raghav Bahl's docu-drama Bhawar, based on crime stories and court cases. "I wanted entertainment to go from light, in early prime time, to heavy, as the night progressed. Shows like CID helped us to achieve that. The only brief I gave them was to add shine to crime and make it sexy," Kohli adds.
While Bhawar emerged as a niche show, CID started garnering popularity. "Shivaji Satam and CID made the channel popular in the North-West market. It was an instant hit on TV," recalls Kohli. Kohli believes that it is the simplicity of the show, the cast and the producers' ability to evolve with time that has kept it going this long.
"We must respect shows that have emerged as brands and add value to the channel. We should back the show even if it is not doing well. People have forgotten that relationships on TV are long term. CID is an example of what happens when you back a show throughout," adds Kohli.
The GEC ecosystem has witnessed many changes with TAM going out, BARC coming in, the universe expanding, and significant rural representation. "The ecosystem changes every two years. Nothing has survived the sea of change like the way CID and its cast has and that is what has always intrigued me," says Danish Khan, EVP and business head, Sony.
He believes there are three reasons behind CID's success - one, the actors who play the non-filmy characters; two, its simplicity; and three, the show's ability to adapt to changes.
The measurement universe has also changed dramatically in the last couple of years. Earlier, Mumbai and Maharashtra's representation were way higher than what it is now and that has reflected in CID's ratings. The show which garnered around 3 (TRP) earlier, saw the number drop to 1. "The wider rural representation and FTA growth is the reason behind the drop," adds Khan.
GECs are always skewed towards female audiences but CID broke the clutter. "It gives brands an option to reach out to the male audience through a GEC and that works well for us in terms of getting advertisers on board," opines Khan.
The channel now plans to make CID big on the digital platform. "This year, we will launch a mobile game called CID that will help us interact with the audience in the digital world," says Khan. He believes that the biggest challenge, when it comes to CID, is to keep the team together and motivated.
Though Khan is upbeat about CID, sources in the channel believe it's not so smooth. They say that the channel and production house are often poles apart with their thought processes. "It went as far as Sony discussing other options to produce the show. Sony believes in CID as a concept, but its faith in the production company is reducing by the day," the source adds.
However, things seem better now as a team of 250 people works in two units for CID and shoots are going on as usual. The budget is estimated to be around 10 lakh per episode. Singh denies any such tiff. He says, "We have a very good working relationship with Sony."
Channel interventions are "quite normal" according to him. He believes that the channel and the production house need to work together as a team for a show to taste success. "CID became CID and is still relevant after 20 years because we had a great relationship with Sony."
This story was first published on February 15, 2018 in afaqs! Reporter.
A Note From the Editor
Little over four years back, we interviewed actor Shivaji Satam who plays ACP Pradyuman on Sony's CID, arguably the most simple and most loved crime thriller on Indian television. I remember discussing the questions with the reporter back then; I almost told her to ask Shivaji whether he shows any symptoms of dissociative identity disorder - where does Shivaji the actor end and his character ACP Pradyuman begin? No, it's not that weird a question! I'd forgive an actor for getting a bit confused if he's been playing a role for 16 years.
Cut to the present. The show is now 20 years old. In terms of sheer passage of time, CID is the longest running fiction show on TV in India. On the occasion, we decided to chronicle the show's journey from inception to date. With a serendipitous beginning, its share of ups and downs along the road, and a work-in-progress card at its gate, the story of how CID became such a huge hit is no less intriguing than prime-time fiction itself.
And guess what - the original cast of the show is still there! Shivaji still plays ACP Pradyuman, Aditya Srivastava plays Inspector Abhijeet, Dayanand Shetty plays Inspector Daya (a penny for each time I heard someone repeat ACP's door-crashing "Daya, darwaaza todo!" instruction to him would make me really rich), and Dinesh Phadnis plays Inspector Fredricks. Except for Shivaji, the rest of the cast isn't even bound by contract; they've stayed on of their own volition. That's loyalty.
The show is a brand, no doubt. This issue, we take a hard look at how the show was born, what makes its makers tick, the challenges 2018 brings for the team, and how they plan to combat them.
This year, the makers plan to launch a mobile game called 'CID' to interact with its audience that dwells in the digital world for a large part of the day.Ashwini Gangal