Nikul Desai talks about his new show Taare Zameen Par

Produced by Optimystix Entertainment, the show is being filmed in a strict Covid-safe environment

MUMBAI: Nikul Desai is mainly known for directing non-fiction shows like Comedy Circus and Rising Star. Desai began his career under the supervision of his paternal uncle Vipul D Shah, the co-founder of Optimystix Entertainment. Starting off as an assistant director back in 2001, he has worked his way up to head of non-fiction content.

But luck played its part too. Desai got to don the director's hat when the main director of a TV show fell ill – and that was his first break as a full-time television director. Fame quickly followed when he made a splash with the runaway success of Comedy Circus. The show aired for nine years with 18 seasons. Not only this, he brought various comedians like Kapil Sharma, Krushna Abhishek, Bharti Singh, Sudesh Lehri, and many more, into the limelight.

Now, Desai is coming up with yet another singing reality show – Taare Zameen Par. Conceptualised as a platform for kids to showcase their signing talent, the show will be telecast on Star Plus from 2 November at 6.30 pm. The programme will not have judges, but mentors who will groom and train the kids. The makers have roped in Shankar Mahadevan, Tony Kakkar and Jonita Gandhi as mentors while popular comedian Sugandha Mishra and Aakriti Sharma (of Kullfi Kumarr Bajewala fame) will host the show.

Desai revealed that this is the first time that any production house is attempting a non-fiction from a daily point of view. Said he: “Taare Zameen Par is a mammoth show that is keeping me and my team very busy. And then there are other projects in the pipeline, we are in conversation with Star Plus for a few other shows, which should hopefully get cleared by the end of October or November. We are also coming up with an original series, and a movie in partnership with Ashwin Varde.”

Due to the Covid2019 pandemic, production houses have to come up with innovative ways to evolve and upgrade in the new normal. For instance, the studio has cut down on crew size – a measure that has generated its fair share of headaches.

“A big non-fiction show has anywhere between 300 to 400 people, but now the studio is functioning with anywhere between 160 to 200 people while the work remains the same. Consequently, production has become considerably more difficult, and the team has to pre-plan a lot of stuff so there are no last minute requirements and scramble,” said Desai. This is because all the props which are coming from the market need to be sanitized and must be kept aside for 48 hours.

In terms of the restrictions, only cameramen and technicians are allowed to go on the floor, otherwise access to the floor has been completely shut off. Further, there is zero physical contact with judges and hosts. Contact and communication has undergone a sea change.

“Largely, the communication is completely killed from a security point of view, it's either from a pre-production point of view where we do phone calls or Zoom calls. We are shooting every day together, but we haven't really met each other. We are strictly adhering to safety and security protocols,” stated Desai.

Child participants and their guardians, who came from all over India, went through a minimum of 14 days quarantine and it’s only recently that they have been brought out from their hotel rooms for band rehearsals, he added.

Generally, the production control room (PCR) is a small, cluttered space. But this time to maintain social distancing. Optimystix has designed a bigger area for PCR. The studio has created a partition between technicians by putting acrylic sheets so that everybody can watch the monitors while shooting takes place. But only limited people are allowed in the room. For other crew members, the studio has made a viewing room where people who want to just watch the content can actually go to the viewing room and tune in.

“We have given them the Zoom output off the whole master camera, so that they can watch what's happening on the floor at any point of time while sitting at their homes. And they can communicate with us over the call or Zoom chat. So, the way we function has completely changed. Earlier, a lot of people used to be there on standby to help the people present on the set but now 70 per cent of the crew is handling their own work,” Desai elaborated.

The studio has also hired an external Covid2019 compliance company named the Covid Marshal. The set and other equipment are sanitised twice a day. No more than two episodes are shot in a day. Desai further mentioned that due to safety and security measures the productivity has comparatively been hampered.  

Desai shared his view that audiences are now more keen than ever to watch light-hearted programmes, and in the long run non-fiction shows will fare better. 

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