Indian television

On the sets of ‘Naagin 2’, Mouni Roy, a few trees and imaginary snakes

The superhit Colors TV show is in its second season.

Illusion is everything in show business, and it is needed now more than ever before to believe that a handful of trees and burning frankincense represent a jungle.

At a studio lot in suburban Mumbai, beyond air-conditioned vanity vans and to the right of a garbage heap, the shoot for an episode of the highly popular television series Naagin is underway. Produced by Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Telefilms for the Colors television channel, Naagin is in its second season. In the first season, Mouni Roy played the shape-shifting Shivanya, who encountered various obstacles during her quest to hunt down the killers of her parents. In the second season, Roy is back as Shivangi, the daughter of the original character. Dressed in a gold costume and with brown contact lenses to emphasise her reptilian connection, Roy is the picture of poise and professionalism.

Photo by Venkataraghavan Rajagopalan.
Photo by Venkataraghavan Rajagopalan.

The visual effects in Naagin 2 are added later, and before the eyes are scenes stripped of their true impact. White canvases are held up to balance the light, while frankincense is constantly burnt to create a misty effect. Beyond the set lies a typical bustling Mumbai street, and were the camera to move a bit to the left, it would capture mounds of plastic and trash.

Photo by Venkataraghavan Rajagopalan.
Photo by Venkataraghavan Rajagopalan.

There have been several films and television shows on snakes in human form, and Roy counts Sridevi’s performance in the 1986 blockbuster movie Nagina as one of her favourites. Roy attributes the TV show’s success to its snappy narrative and promise of a finite number of episodes, unlike other competitors that drone on until eternity. “You feel good when a show is so successful, and you feel a sense of responsibility that makes you want to act better and do your scenes better,” Roy told Scroll.in.

Photo by Venkataraghavan Rajagopalan.
Photo by Venkataraghavan Rajagopalan.

Naagin and Naagin 2 meet the demand for fantasy fiction in India in the same way as Game of Thrones and Twilight do in the West, Roy added. “Each episode is pacy, and the show is not stagnant and starts and ends on a different note,” she said. “When I read an episode, I want to know that happens next.”

Roy has become a major star after the show, and she describes it as a milestone in her career. Are the movie offers rolling in? “I am okay with being where I am – I am not very ambitious, and while I would want to do different roles and projects, they have to be really good and substantial,” she said.

Naagin is aired on weekends, and everybody in the crew puts in 12-hour shifts to wrap up the week’s offerings. Roy’s life resembles the video game Temple Run, she said.

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Mouni Roy talks to Scroll.in.

As the shoot rolls on, actor Kinshuk Mahajan, who is perspiring in a patterned cape and a velvet dhoti the colour of stage curtains, patiently performs retakes of a scene in which he has to lie unconscious as Shivangi attends to him. Mahajan plays Rudra, a snake in male form who teams up with Shivangi to protect themselves against evildoers who want to grab a powerful stone.

The drama in Naagin 2 is combined with visual effects, which have been criticised for their tackiness. But series co-director Rakesh Malhotra points out that it is impossible to create magic on such tight shooting schedules. “We run two episodes of an hour each every week, and we barely manage to finish shooting them,” said Malhotra, who has been with the series from the beginning. “For better special effects, you need time. Hollywood films take months for pre-production.”

Kinshuk Mahajan. Photo by Venkataraghavan Rajagopalan.
Kinshuk Mahajan. Photo by Venkataraghavan Rajagopalan.

Viewers don’t seem to mind the ’80s-era visual effects. There are other elements in Naagin that provide distraction: the glamorous cast, the heavy costumes (by Anuradha Khurana), and the fast-paced narrative and numerous twists. “Ekta Kapoor wanted the episodes to be fast to hook audiences – if you show them something for too long, they can figure out the gimmicks,” Malhotra said. “With Naagin, we can experiment unlike in a daily soap – we have romance, drama and a thriller element too. And there are snakes involved.”

Photo by Venkataraghavan Rajagopalan.
Photo by Venkataraghavan Rajagopalan.

All the snakes have been created on computers, alongside other creatures, such as mongooses and peacocks. This season, the snakes have acquired colours. “They are orange and blue – something different,” Malhotra said.

Photo by Venkataraghavan Rajagopalan.
Photo by Venkataraghavan Rajagopalan.
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.