Weekend Exclusive | We have immortalized Shaktimaan: Mukesh Khanna
Shaktimaan, the first and the most popular Indian Superhero is back with a bang in a new animated avatar on kids channel Sonic and Nickelodeon. When telecast in 1990, it went on for more than 450 episodes and was dubbed in several languages and telecast by a host of channels. Mukesh Khanna, the actor and producer of Shaktimaan had a huge fan following. Today in the new Shaktimaan animated series too, he plays a significant role in bringing to the audiences a high quality product of international standards. Adgully spoke to the actor-producer on his journey as Shaktimaan and experiences that are a part of folklore now. Following are the excerpts from the interaction.
Adgully (AG): We already know the old Shaktimaan as we have grown up watching it. How is the new Shaktimaan different and what are the new concept changes done in the animated series?
Mukesh Khanna (MK): Shaktimaan has been telecast on various channels since 1997. The new animations series is something I had dreamt of within two years of the launch of original Shaktimaan. The animated series therefore is a first superhero series for the modern kids of today. I feel this has happened at the right time when kids all over the world are into cartoon characters. So we have added new dimensions to make Shaktimaan immortal as animated characters like Mickey Mouse are immortal and have been successful around the globe in numerous languages since decades. This world class innovation is an answer that India can make quality animation that appeals to the sensibilities of the kids of today. We have extended the life of the Indian superhero by making it animated. We have immortalized Shaktimaan. The only change we made is Gangadhar's character that is into information technology (IT).
AG: During the mid-1990’ working patterns and trends were more simple then they are today. What changes do you see between then and now in serial making?
MK: In the last 15-20 years everything has changed from cricket test matches to Twenty20. A time will come when captains will just go out and toss and decide the winner. So today nobody has time. People do not have time now. In every part of life things have become faster. As far as serials and television is concerned; not only has the technology evolved, but the content has also undergone tremendous changes.
AG: Can you tell us what was your thought process when you decided on the new animated Shaktimaan? When did the thought first came to you?
MK: I had nurtured this dream since a very long time. I met Ashish Kulkarni 10 years ago and he also proposed that Shaktimaan should be made into an animated series. I liked and appreciated his work. Gradually Reliance Animation acquired the rights to make this series. We also decided that there has to be an Indian look and feel to the product, and today we have made it possible and I feel proud.
AG: In the earlier time Kids could relate to your portrayal of Shaktimaan. How do the modern kids relate to your portrayal of Shaktimaan today?
MK: I will tell you an incident of the power that Shaktimaan wields as a brand. In Raipur, there is a school called Dolphin International which made Shaktimaan its brand and had put posters all over the city. In three years they opened 44 schools within a radius of 100 kms using the brand Shaktimaan. Whenever I went there to promote the brand, kids would run behind my vehicle. They have all seen Shaktimaan on various channels and in various languages. The new generation loves it. In all the political campaigns that I have attended in 10 years, at every location of the meeting/rallies; the first 10 rows would be occupied by kids who were not to vote. So as a brand Shaktimaan is strong even today and the new series is an addition to the modern kids who are computer savvy.
AG: Can you comment on the mannerisms of the characters and what changes you have made to it?
MK: We have retained the mannerisms like the poses of Shaktimaan etc because that is the identity of the series. Except for the character of Gangadhar which has been changed, all other characters and their mannerisms are there. Mannerisms have been retained with a modern touch in order to appeal to the international market.
AG: How the viewership pattern was then and how is it now?
MK: Rating agencies just cover or visit 2000 homes and judge the viewership. I have seen changes in real viewership of Shaktimaan. I remember at an event in Chennai a few years ago, close to one lakh kids thronged to a stadium from morning to evening just to get photographed with Shaktimaan in his poses. The scene was unbelievable and the city police commissioner said, had he known this response, he would have not allowed this event. I have seen a similar response in every part of India numerous times, first during Mahabharata and then for Shaktimaan. I do not know about TRPs because the sample is just 2000 households. I feel it is wrong. In reality, they cannot approach all the households. So for a popular serial of today, they really do not know how popular it is , but still TRPs are the in thing.
AG: What is your advice to the production houses who want to make children’s films and to those who create content for kids?
MK: I would say do not shy away from creating quality content for kids for if kids like it, they are opinion makers and strong influencers, the parents will also come along with them. We still shy away from making good content for kids, nobody has budgets to spend on kids. In the near future, I would want to make quality films to which children can relate to. We need to think differently. Production houses and channels are insecure today and rising TRPs is the only concern. If there is a low TRP for a programme, they will change the serial in terms of modifying the story or the role of character. There should be a change in this thought process.