Junior Ramdev jumps through one wall. Then, a youngish clean-shaven Ramdev jumps through another wall. Then a white-robed Christ lookalike Ramdev jumps through yet another wall. Finally, a saffron-robed bearded Samson-esque Ramdev jumps through a final wall. And we have the trailer of Swami Ramdev: Ek Sangharsh. The cornerstone of fine television programming on the newly-launched Hindi general entertainment channel from the stable of Discovery, called Discovery Jeet.
For the past week, a slew of articles have been published on the launch of Discovery Jeet. According to a press release disguised as an article, much like a sadhu can disguise himself as a salwar-clad woman: “Slated to launch on 12 February 2018, Jeet’s differentiated content philosophy has enabled the channel to get various brands on board as advertisers and achieve its pre-launch inventory sales targets.” The channel will show “purpose driven content”, with five hours of daily programming of which “three hours will be bespoke, ground-up original programming built on the thesis of an underdog winning”. No, despite spending 10 years in Public Relations with many TV channels as my clients, I do not understand what that last sentence means.
To understand the magnitude of this show, let me tell you about the launch event for it which was held at New Delhi’s Chhatrasal stadium and was attended by various ministers, including Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah and Union Minister of Law Ravi Shankar Prasad to name a few. It began with a yagna as Ramdev, Shah and Balkrishna poured ghee on a holy fire to the sound of chants. Because why should the BJP president not conduct a puja before the launch of a Hindi entertainment programme? People did yoga, speeches were made, an episode or two was shown. For a show which had the blessings of both Ramdev and the ruling party, which was in attendance, one would expect that the show itself would live up to the hype.
Which is why I sat down to watch 9 entire episodes of it—all for the greater good of the TV-watching public of India.
I can’t say I was offended by any aspect of the show. Or found any part ludicrous. But neither can I say that I was engrossed by it. The title of the show essentially implies that we will learn about the great trials and tribulations of Ramdev’s life. And the show does a pretty good job at playing Twister with the facts of Ramdev’s life and painting a version which is far more dramatic, even if not based in truth at all. It is after all fiction and entertainment programming.
The first episode is set in Pre-Ramdev Era, just before he is born, which confused me greatly because the entire first episode showed one child – who I thought was Ramdev, only to find out at the end of 30 minutes that he wasn’t. The one connection to truth is that Ramdev is shown as being born to a Yadav family in Haryana’s Said Alipur.
A very underdeveloped village of India, Said Alipur falls under the Backward Regions Grant Fund Scheme today. During a religious festival, Ramdev’s brother steps into an area where lower castes are not allowed and upsets the light-eyed and bald priest Gowardhan Maharaj (Tej Sapru), who curses Ramdev’s mother’s unborn child i.e. the man who would be a tycoon, Ramdev.
Ramdev who is called Ramkishan (Naman Jain) ends up being born with slight facial paralysis and spends the next 8 episodes trying to fight for his own right as a lower caste boy, while continuously getting his parents ridiculed, beaten up and finally ostracised by the other villagers—including other Yadavs. His mother is sweet and her shirt is sparklingly white, his father is taciturn and his brother is loving. To give the cast their due, everyone acts well and there is no hamming.
The good part about the series is that if indeed the whole of India is watching Swami Ramdev: Ek Sangharsh, the way Discovery Jeet claims they are, more and more people will learn how caste is still used to persecute people in villages and why casteism needs to be stopped.
This is the fight of the good lower caste Ramkishan against the evil Brahmin Maharaj, who does everything from demeaning Ramkishan repeatedly in public to having bricks thrown on his father’s head. The main factor which made these episodes watchable is Jain’s acting. He looks and plays the persecuted part to perfection.
Sadly though, for a biopic, none of these events seem to be based in reality. But as we all know, only fools let facts get in the way of a good story. The book, God to Tycoon: The Untold Story Of Baba Ramdev which was restrained from being sold by a district court, had narrated a very different version of events based on interviews with Ramdev’s teacher, his older brother, his uncle and his teacher.
Instead of just one older brother, Ramdev had two other siblings as well. He did indeed go to school but did not need to fight to do so—unlike in this programme which shows that he was the only Yadav in his school. He, in fact, ran away at the age of 16, because of continuous beatings by his father and because of the abject poverty they lived in. And he finally went and stayed and studied in Gurukul Kalwa, which is where he met his BFF, Balkrishna.While his actual life seems to have been difficult as well, it’s nothing compared to this fight against the village high priest and this soon-to-be-bendy David and evil Goliath version of events. And I suppose if I was asked for permission to create a programme on my life, which would be beamed into homes across the country, even I might be given to a slight dressing up of events.
Going by the first nine episodes of the show and comparing it to Godman To Tycoon and to Ramdev’s “official” biography, Swami Ramdev: Ek Yogi, Ek Yodha by journalist Sandeep Dev, the facts in this show are as flexible as Ramdev is. Will the show improve and find some footing in reality? I’d have to watch another 10 episodes to find out, and frankly, I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do so.
You can watch this work of fiction on Discovery Jeet at 8.30pm from Monday to Friday.