Back in the ’80s, while on their morning walk, writer-producer-director Ramanand Sagar and his son Prem Sagar came across Puneet Issar exercising on Juhu beach. Impressed with his physique and martial arts skills, the filmmakers signed him for an episode of their fantasy mythological Vikram Betaal, which aired every Sunday on DD National in 1985 and ’86, and was re-telecast two years later after the mega success of Sagar Arts’ Ramayan.
The hugely popular television series had the ghost narrating a story every night to King Vikramaditya at the end of which Betaal would pose a query. The catch was that if the king knew the answer and didn’t respond, his head would shatter into a thousand pieces. And if he did speak, he would break his vow of silence and the ghost would fly back to the tree with the result that the king would have to return and repeat the process another night to fulfil his vow.
One of the stories was about a thief who comes across a girl trying to pluck raw mangoes from the tree. He offers to help her and wins her heart by using his teeth to get the kairis for her. She doesn’t realize that he is a chor till he is caught and brought before her father, the richest man in the city and its custodian of law, who sentences him to death. “While he is being led to the gallows, the girl confesses to her father that she loves the thief and begs for his life. The father saves him, but has to pay a heavy price,” recounts Prem Sagar.
Puneet was cast as the thief and went on to become a household name as Duryodhan in BR Chopra’s Mahabharat.
Over three decades later, Puneet’s son, Siddhant, has been cast as Ram in Prem Sagar and son Shiv’s upcoming mythological, Jai Mata Vaishno Devi Ki. He plays Ram with Ishita Ganguly as the goddess.
Dipika Chikhlia, who played Sita in Ramayan Sagar’s Ramayan, has been cast as Maharani Vijaya, the mother of Vaishnavi revered today as Vaishno Devi. Interestingly, she also appeared in an episode of Vikram Betaal. “She was one of the frontrunners to play the part of Sita then. Vikram Betaal was a kind of test marketing plan to see if she would be accepted. The show was a superhit and she was cast in Ramayan,” informs Prem Sagar who had produced Ramayan and Shri Krishna.
The 11-episode series produced by Sagar World and shot during the on-going pandemic, traces the journey of Mata Vaishno Devi and her devotion to Ram through three Yugas as she waits in her shrine in the mountains of Jammu for him to return to earth in his Kalki avatar in Kali Yuga and take her as his wife. “Nitin Shankar who was the rhythm arranger of Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay, Yash Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Veer Zaara, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Black, Devdas and Bajirao Mastani, Shah Rukh Khan’s Chennai Express and Salman Khan’s Dabanng 3 has composed eight-nine songs… dohas really… inspiration for some coming while on the set. Mata’s blessings are with us,” Prem Sagar concludes.