The web series Taqdeer, released on OTT platform Hoichoi last month, caused a stir among netizens. Chanchal Chowdhury played the role of a corpse carrying freezer van driver in this thriller based on a story that evolved around a memory card.
Watch the trailer of "Taqdeer" here
The series has already been dubbed in Hindi and has been watched by thousands of viewers of that language.
How was such a popular series created? What was the creative process? The Business Standard talked with Syed Ahmed Shawki, the director of Taqdeer, to find out the story behind the making of the series. He started from the beginning.
Anindya Banerjee, the creative head of OTT platform Hoichoi, came to Bangladesh in November-December 2019. He held a session meeting directors in the country and hearing their story pitches. Shawki was one of the directors.
But, at that point, Shawki didn't really have a complete story. He had several stories but they were not exciting enough.
"The stories we had at the time were very general stories. They would be the same whether they were told in Egypt or Italy. But after talking to them, I realised that they are really looking for the true story of Bangladesh. Where Bangladesh can actually be seen," said Shawki.
"They wanted us to reflect the people of our country in our thought, in our story. That was the demand," he added.
Realising their need, several stories came to Shawki's mind. That's when he conceived the character of the corpse carrying freezer van driver who delivers corpses in different parts of the country from Dhaka. On the way back, he carries fish as there is a fridge in his hearse. But, one day, he saw a corpse in the car while unloading fish in Karwan Bazaar. He does not know how this corpse came in his car. That was the basic outline of the story of Taqdeer that Shawki had initially.
He shared the idea with his assistant and a co-writer of this story Neyamat Ullah Masum. But the story got stuck at one point. What they really wanted was to tell a thriller story. How would the story progress?
Shawki said that Anindya Banerjee came to Bangladesh again before releasing a series called Ekattar in Hoichoi. "We met and he wanted to know if we had any new ideas. The next day we showed the incomplete story to Anindya. He liked the story and told us to go ahead."
Meanwhile, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country. In the second week of the lockdown, Shawki joined a zoom meeting with Anindya Banerjee and a few others from Hoichoi. They asked Shawki to complete the story during the lockdown. Shawki talked to some of his teammates and started working to finish the story. There was a constant urge from Hoichoi to complete the story soon. But, at that point, they did not include the character of the journalist, or the issue of the memory card in the story. The plot was still developing.
Hoichoi asked Shawki how many episodes do you want to do? Shawki answered that the number of episodes would be decided according to the demands of the story. Hoichoi asked him to send the first episode of the series. He did as they were told.
They were impressed with the story.
The story was finalised in May last year and they started writing the screenplay in June.
Shawki said from the beginning he had Chanchal Chowdhury in mind as the lead character. But he was not acquainted with him. He contacted Chanchal through the young director Tanim Noor and sent the story. "Chanchal Bhai read the story and agreed. I request him to read the whole story. He read the script again."
"I was acquainted with Manoj, Sanjeeda Preeti, Sohail and others. Partha Barua is a very close person to me. His is the only character in the story that I wrote keeping him in mind. I made the other casting after the story and screenplay were completed," he said, "But, at first, Partha Barua did not want to play the role, but I knew he would agree later."
The shooting of Taqdeer started on September 2, 2020. Shooting was done in 39 locations for 16 days, out of the 40-day schedule. A crew of about 50 people had to tour Dhaka, Gazipur, Narayanganj, Manikganj, Rajbari and Munshiganj. Around 100 artistes acted in the web series. The shooting ended on 10 October.
The director said the most difficult part was shooting on the ferry because there was a problem with adjusting the focus of the camera as the light was flickering due to the problem with the generator. For this reason, shooting had to be done only when the ferry was stopped on both sides. This way, the shooting was done 20-22 times when the ferry was standing at the wharf.
Finally, the project was submitted in the second week of December after editing, music, i.e., post production work.
Shawki said it was difficult to shoot amid the pandemic. "But everyone from my crew was very supportive. That's why I was able to do the job. Besides, Hoichoi gave me creative freedom. They trusted me and made things easier for me."
At the beginning, the title Taqdeer was not decided, he said. It was only the name of the protagonist. At first, they thought of Pulsirat as the title. But later, Hoichoi gave the title Taqdeer from the protagonist's name.
What was the budget of such a successful series? The director avoided the subject.
The Business Standard talked with Shakib R Khan, the marketing head of Hoichoi Bangladesh. "We don't want to disclose that," he said, referring to the issue as "confidential". "There is a prohibition from Hoichoi about this. However, I will say that we did not set a limit on the budget, we were open to it. We have spent as much as we needed."
"The series has increased subscription to Hoichoi not only in Bangladesh but also in many other countries. It is the best and most popular series out of several series made from Bangladesh," said Shakib.
He claimed that the number of subscriptions from Bangladesh to Hoichoi has doubled after the release of Taqdeer.
Taqdeer was made under Film Syndicate and Film Noir production.
"Whatever the budget, everyone likes Taqdeer, that's the big thing," said Shakib. That is why Hoichoi has taken initiatives to make more series and original movies from Bangladesh.