TO GO WITH INDIA-US-ARTS-TELEVISION-24 by Udita Jhunjhunwala Indian Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor stands beside a vehicle during shooting for the new television show '24' on location on a film set in Mumbai on September 16, 2013. US action hero Jack Bauer is set for an Indian makeover later this week as the hit series "24" undergoes its first foreign adaptation featuring one of Bollywood's biggest stars. Stepping into the shoes of Los Angeles-based anti-terrorism fighter Bauer -- played by Kiefer Sutherland in the original -- is "Slumdog Millionaire" star Anil Kapoor as Indian agent Jai Singh Rathod. AFP PHOTO/ PUNIT PARANJPE Image Credit: AFP

Anil Kapoor’s 24 is a much needed break from the days of Saas-Bahu conflicts shown on the small screen as it brings classy production values and mature performances unknown to Indian television.

The first two episodes, which were aired this weekend, were instant showstoppers. Like the show’s agile energetic anti-terror hero, there is not an ounce of flab in the hour-long playing time of 24.

It simply grabs your attention and refuses to let it go.

First things first. The production values on the show are of a calibre unknown to Indian television. Metropolitan night life was never meant to be like this. Mumbai is caught in a feverish flourish of nighttime bustle turning it into a city of pulsating activity as the serial kicked off with some of the crispest fiction writing.

Rensil D’Silva and Bhavani Iyer’s writing is top notch.

While retaining the looming suspense and the breakneck narrative speed of the original American series, the writers have created space for the very peculiar cultural compulsions of urban India where the householder must balance the demands of job with family obligations.

Milap Jhaveri’s dialogues capture the wry cynicism and the split-second immediacy of anti-terrorists working against the clock. But Jhaveri doesn’t slavishly copy the original dialogues from the American series. None of the “Kya tum sach mein ho?” (literal translation of “Are you for real?”) incongruities.

Kapoor also suprises. His range of performing abilities swing irreconcilably from the nudge-nudge-wink-wink innuendos of Race 2 on the 70mm screen to the mature panther-like agility of a family man coping with a national crisis in 24 on the portable screen. It’s a dream role, and one into which Kapoor sinks his teeth with restrained relish.

Nowhere does he over-do the bravura, even in that intrinsically cocky sequence where he injects glucose into his insufferable senior pretending it would kill the boor in seconds.

Such writing would conventionally be considered wasted on television, a medium that has so far been treated as a lair for leftover talent from cinema. In one brilliant stroke Kapoor shows what can be achieved on that much-abused space in your living room.

24 is so full of anxious characters chasing the opposite of dreams that we watch them not only to gauge their commitment to doing what they are assigned to, but to see where their unrelenting passion for out-witting fate takes them.


A game-changer?

24 certainly is that. And a lot more. What is likeable is the Indianisations that have been teased into the tightly-wound plot simmering with the summer of desi discontent.

Neil Bhoopalam, so far seen in cheesy roles on the big screen in No One Killed Jessica and David, makes a very convincing prime ministerial candidate in the series.

The content is so riveting you wonder if all the brilliant writers are migrating to television leaving cinema to the ‘besharams’ of the written word.

Trust me, it is going to take a lot of persuasive powers from filmmakers to drag viewers out of their homes on Friday and Saturday nights.