Prolific Indian content studio Applause Entertainment, led by Sameer Nair, and acclaimed filmmaker Vikramaditya Motwane’s Andolan Films are teaming to produce two politically-charged series.
“Black Warrant” is based on the bestselling book “Black Warrant: Confessions Of A Tihar Jailer,” by prison officer Sunil Gupta and Sunetra Choudhury, a journalist with vast experience of chronicling India’s prison system. Delhi’s Tihar is India’s best-known prison.
A black warrant is a jailer’s authorization to carry out the execution of a convicted criminal. The series will benefit from Gupta’s insider knowledge of the prison. He spent close to four decades working there during which time he oversaw prisoners including businessman Rajan Pillai, the perpetrators of the 2012 Delhi rape case, Charles Sobhraj (aka ‘Bikini Killer’ and ‘The Serpent’), kidnappers Kuljeet Singh (alias Ranga Khus) and Jasbir Singh (alias Billa) and Afzal Guru, the terrorist who was convicted for his role in the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.
Motwane, who last made hit Prime Video series “Jubilee,” a fictitious account of the golden years of Bollywood, told Variety: “It’s a slice of contemporary history. When you talk about prison drama, here’s one of the first ones, which is the jailer’s perspective of his life, coming into Tihar as a young jailer, the first high profile prisoners who are in the jail, and it’s 35 years of his life, which spans from 1980 to 2015.”
“There’s a range of cases, it’s also India changing through his eyes in that period of time that I thought was very interesting because of the personal touch to it, because it’s all from his point of view. And because it’s about him wanting to also change, in a sense, himself. He also wants to change Tihar in a sense,” Motwane added. “It’s a really interesting microcosm.”
The series will be a dramatized verson of events with all real-life names being retained.
“A lot of the prison dramas that get made are mostly fictional, but have a certain take on how it works,” Nair told Variety. “The thing with ‘Black Warrant’ is that because it’s a true life story, based on true life incidents, when we say fictionalize, we mean, dramatize, in the sense that the characters are all pretty real.”
“It’s also in a way, a very young adult story. It’s a coming of age for him as a young person, coming in contact with a whole range of what are loosely known as hardened criminals and coping and living, telling the history of India via the people who ended up in Tihar, through that period,” Nair added.
“Black Warrant,” which will begin production in November, is set up as a multi-season show and the first season will end in 1984 when Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards, including Satwant Singh who was executed in Tihar jail.
“Indi(r) a’s Emergency” is a three-part documentary series focusing on one of the most controversial periods of post-Independence Indian history from 1975 to 1977 when Indira Gandhi declared a nationwide state of emergency. During that time civil liberties and press freedom were curtailed and elections were canceled.
“There is an entire generation that has no clue about the Emergency. So the approach to this was to make it in a way which is accessible and can also be an informative piece about what actually happened back there,” Motwane said. He says the series is a deep dive that works on two levels: new insights details and nuggets of information that will inform viewers who know about the events; while, for a new audience, it’s “a completely interesting take on a very weird and interesting and stark period of modern history.”
The series will feature archival footage from India’s Films Division, the BBC, British Pathe, AP and Getty. Sequences for which there is no available footage will be presented using animation.
Gandhi’s Indian National Congress is currently the main opposition party in India and is the ruling party in a few states. Despite that, Nair sees no trouble brewing down the line. “[The series is] built out of all documentary footage, it’s not fictionalizing. In that sense, it’s as it happened, it’s just a manner of telling that story,” Nair said. “It’s a really informative piece of history, which is important.”
“Indi(r) a’s Emergency,” which is currently in post, is also being edited as a 90-minute feature with an eye on the global festival circuit.
Both series will be completed and then licensed to platforms, in line with Applause’s standard practice.
Motwane also has thriller film “Control” in post and is developing Season 2 of “Jubilee.”
Applause has Season 2 of hit SonyLIV series “Scam” coming up. Also in the works are several other shows including one on Mahatma Gandhi and Season 2 of “Fauda” Indian adaptation “Tanaav.”