EXCLUSIVE: In May, we revealed that Indian studio Applause Entertainment was deep into 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 fill out the project.
Hansal Mehta, who directed the SonyLIV drama Applause Fraud 1992has been appointed director and showrunner of Gandhi (working title) and Siddhartha Basu, who worked with Applause CEO Sameer Nair on the first few seasons of the India version Who wants to be a millionaire? (titled Kaun Banega Crorepat), has joined as historical consultant, factual consultant and creative consultant.
Gandhi will be period drama set during the war for Indian Independence and is described as epic in scale, with multiple characters and locations from the Mahatma’s life. It’s being adapted from books by historian and author Ramachandra Guha 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.
Applause takes a feature film finance style approach to its TV series – working on scripts, hiring cast, crew and creators and filming before selling the production to Indian streaming services. That’s very much the approach here, with Mehta and Basu teaming up with Pratik Gandhi, who bagged the lead role of his devotee two months ago, as we revealed at the time.
Mehta is recognized as one of the leading directors of Hindi cinema and TV, known for films such as Shahid, City lights AND Simran. He will lead creatively Gandhiwhich is scheduled to run for multiple seasons and will detail Gandhi’s life and relationships with friends, colleagues and enemies similar to how crown has explored the British royal family. Notably, Mehta directed Gandhi lead Pratik Gandhi to Fraud 1992which is one of the highest profile streaming hits in India.
Mehta told Deadline that he has been committed to the project throughout its run, having initially contacted Nair to “shamelessly pitch” himself as the director after reading our report on the project.
“There comes a point in your life where you find a story that you want to tell that is something that you realize is going to be part of India’s storytelling history,” he said. “How can I stay away from the greatest figure of modern India – the father of the nation – and Ramanchadra’s books which are so intricately researched with so much rich material? This is my chance to explore the character and his world and tell a deeply personal story.”
“I have to tell the whole story,” he added. “There can be no greater opportunity in a filmmaker’s life and I can’t just tell half the story and let someone else tell the rest.”
“We at Applause are honored to have this opportunity to tell this important story of India and bring alive the rich history of the Indian freedom struggle in a multi-season drama series,” said Nair. “A story of this magnitude needs a director of equal stature and in Hansal we have found our perfect storyteller. Collaborating once again with Hansal and Pratik makes this even more exciting.”
Basu, known locally as the “Father of Quizzes on Indian Television”, has hosted several game shows such as Quiz time, Organizer of India AND University Challenge and was the original director-producer of Kaun Banega Crorepat through its production vehicle BIG Synergy. 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 making of Gandhi it’s going to be an emotional experience, and when it becomes a series of this magnitude and importance, it needs people who really believe in its importance. With Hansal’s directorial vision, Pratik’s nuanced performance and Siddhartha Basu joining the creative process, we are excited to bring the journey of Gandhi and India to a global audience,” said Nair.
The series will move from Gandhi’s earliest days to his actions as a lawyer in South Africa to the struggle for independence in India, telling lesser-known stories of his life that played an important role in his formation in a Mahatma (a respected person in South East Asia). It will also tell the stories of all his countrymen and contemporaries of the freedom movement who played an integral part in shaping what became free and modern India.
The production will be shot in India in several international locations including London and South Africa, it is understood. Local crews and actors will be hired for elements of the overseas production.