Disney+Hotstar and Ajay Devgn present The Great Indian Murder

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Disney+Hotstar and Ajay Devgn present The Great Indian Murder based on Vikas Swarup’s novel Six Suspects. Photo: Universal Communications

How does an investigation shape when there are new suspects at every step and no way to find the right ones? Will the criminal be brought to justice, or will the detective spin further into a web of lies?

It’s all about a book, 9 Indian cities and two extra characters! The Great Indian Murder, which revolves around the murder of the son of a high-profile minister, is now a thrilling series that will stream on Disney+Hotstar from February 4. A media meet was held via Zoom January 18 to introduce the team behind the series, and the trailer was also shown. The series streams from February 4 in Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Bengali and is based on Vikas Swarup’s celebrated novel, Six Suspects.

The show marks Ajay Devgn’s debut as a web series producer and is co-produced by Priti Vinay Sinha, daughter to the late producer Vinay Sinha of Andaz Apna Apna fame, who was former secretary to the late actor Amjad Khan. Directed by veteran Tigmanshu Dhulia, the series features Richa Chadha and Pratik Gandhi, and has names like Ashutosh Rana, Shashank Arora, Raghubir Yadav, Paoli Dam, Jatin Goswami and others in the cast.

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Gourav Banerjee, Head of Content for the OTT platform, was the first one to speak on the occasion. Gung-ho about OTT and the opportunities it has thrown up, he stated, “Earlier we would be handicapped by mega-stars that led to reduced opportunities for a large number of actors. Now the digital Indian market is so strong and we as well as others are streaming series that are similar in scale to movies and of incredible variety. There is a lot more work, a lot more money. A different level of quality is demanded, and so makers have upped the game.”

He added, “We at Disney+Hotstar give a lot of importance to writing, and that is why we have selected this book. Good quality writing and cinema were being separated, but now, the OTT fare is about quality writing, great technicians and amazing actors.”

Director Tigmanshu Dhulia spoke of his long association with the Star team, the most recent being Criminal Justice for the web. This will be his third directorial with Hotstar Specials after the resounding success of the popular and award-winning legal drama, Criminal Justice and Out of Love. He said, “My first mental exercise, so to speak, is to pick up something different when I want to make a film, but that does not usually happen. This time, it did. I also got a little greedy as Vikas and I both hail from Allahabad. I also have a long history of collaboration with Star Bestsellers, the TV series of short stories. On OTT, the advantage is that while we have the same kind of money and discipline, we also get good actors, old and new, but the new breed is much more disciplined.”

He went on, “On OTT, we can expand a story, and there is no need to be contrived, like having a kind of cliffhanger at interval point, because only our films have an intermission! We can work on new stories, go out of the box, use new technology, and above all make the world our stage. In that sense, even the economics are better!”

Priti Sinha enthused on how she first approached family friend Ajay Devgn and he took a mere five minutes to green-light the series as partner in production. “With shooting across nine cities and a 500-member unit, it was really exciting,” she said.

Richa Chadha (as DCP Sudha Bharadwaj) and Pratik Gandhi (as CBI officer Suraj Yadav) are add-on characters who are not a part of the original book, and Pratik stated it was fascinating to see how these two new characters moved the story forward. Endorsing this move, Vikas stated that the series needed two narrators. He explained, “A series must move from A to B, then to C and D, and so on to Z. As a novelist, I can move from A to Z and then move back to L, then B!”

Richa agreed that the “material” was too much for a film, but a series allowed the makers to explore better. “The book was a page-turner of a thriller, which you could not put down, and I was curious to see how the script converted it into a series,” she said.

Pratik Gandhi smiled when he was told that unlike in his debut series Scam 1992, where the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was after his character, this time, he was a part of that organization! “My character is truly interesting in the way it is written into the story,” he stated. “He is someone who represents the law but never shies away from breaking it or bending it to ease his way. This grey layer and his easy transition between the dark and light sides make him special and very human.”

Ashutosh Rana, who plays the murder victim’s father, raved about his director and the author. “As an actor, I always see the role, script and director before accepting a film, but with Tigmanshu, his presence is enough to take a project on. There are very few directors like him. And while other storywriters write about the plot and characters, Vikas writes on their manastithi (frame of mind).”

Vikas added, “It took a while for me to accept Priti’s offer to buy the book rights. This was because the rights traveled from UK to China before coming to me, where they belonged! Hats off to the team, for pulling off the scale without any compromise in the way the story moves from Kashmir to Chennai. When a book is made for the screen, something is always lost, but here, from what I can judge, something was also gained!”

Producer Ajay Devgn had the last word. Stating that the book was fascinating enough for him to see the story on the screen, he added, “As an ardent fan of thrillers, I am looking forward to The Great Indian Murder as it intricately deals with a common subject like class divide and revenge, but with a lot of glamour. Collaborating with Tigmanshu Dhulia to
bring alive this exhilarating thriller on screen was an obvious choice, given his phenomenal creation of some of the best thrillers in India. Disney+ Hotstar and I share a strong relationship and I relate to their  creative ambition and ability to think big. I am now planning several big things for the web!”

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