Much before Eros International registered the rights to Corona Pyaar Hai, a plan to adapt the COVID – 19 pandemic into a romantic plot was already brewing inside the Kahaan Hum Kahaan Tum writers' room. An episode of the Star Plus show, which aired on March 2, depicts the hero catching the 'Supervirus' – an infection that kills people within 48 hours. He realizes that the kidnapped heroine's rare blood type (which is "laakhon mein ek") contains antibodies that can fight off any infection and begins the search for her so he can be saved. Meanwhile, the virus travels quickly, infecting thousands in the city.
When tweets drawing parallels between the show (currently streaming on Hotstar) and real-life events first started popping up, they seemed a little too far-fetched.
Surely the plot was just a well-timed coincidence? Creative producer Sandiip Sikcand and screenplay writer Ritu Goel, however, confirmed that they wrote the episode with an eye on the Coronavirus back in January and spoke about what they would've done differently if the 198-episode show didn't have to end just 11 episodes after this track was introduced:
Is this a crazy coincidence or did you specifically adapt the pandemic to the plot of this show?
Ritu Goel: Why would it be a crazy coincidence? When we were writing this plot, the virus had already broken out in Wuhan. The people who write daily soaps try to use topical references so viewers watching at home can connect to it. We're always looking for a specific track through which the hero and heroine face problems. That could be an epidemic, a health issue, a natural disaster. Almost 90% of our plots are taken from real life. The only thing we're conscious of is that we don't give out a negative message.
Sandiip Sikcand: We'd very consciously written it like that. I think it's important that our TV shows seem relevant to the ongoing times. I always try to make television as realistic as possible, to pick up things that are actually happening around us. It was important for us to show this because a lot of people watch the show so it becomes educational. Daily soaps can't exist in a space different from real life.
What are some other tracks you've adapted from real-life incidents?
Ritu Goel: In Yeh Mohabattein, we had an earthquake plot inspired by the Japan earthquake. It had just happened and was fresh in our minds. We turned that into a, 'Dilli mein earthquake ho gaya' line but the reference was Japan. We showed the lead characters falling into a crevice, which was inspired by the children in Thailand who got trapped in those caves. We're always looking for things that could provide a dramatic setting. The only thing we're careful of is that we don't make any irresponsible comments on the issue. We make sure that we're not making light of any issue or making fun of it. We never take a regressive stance on any issue.
How did you figure how much of it was going to be real and based on research, and how much of it would be dramatized?
Sandiip Sikcand: A lot of it has to be dramatized because you have to tell viewers that no matter how hopeless the situation is, you will eventually emerge victorious. When we were writing this, we never knew things would get so bad and there would be a shutdown. At that time, it hadn't hit India, so we were just looking at what was happening in China. I watched Quarantine (2008) and Outbreak (1995) and read all the news I could find online. The plot had to be entertaining, but at the same time, give viewers the hope that things would get better.
If the show was still on air, we would've included tracks of things being shut down. I would've shown my hero-heroine under house quarantine. It would've made for interesting television – your main protagonists are stuck in the house, now what do they do? What happens when you do this is the audience connects to the show, they go: Oh, the protagonists are feeling the same things we are. Nowhere have we taken the real name of the virus because that's a guideline we have to follow. But the references and situations make it clear to the audience.
The heroine saves him with a blood transfusion though – was there any fear that it could be a source of misinformation and the public would think blood transfusions cure Coronavirus?
Ritu Goel: This is a work of fiction and not a documentary. That's why there's a disclaimer in the middle. We show many things in serials and movies, not all of them are 100% accurate. There's something called 'creative liberty'. Obviously if we've put the hero in trouble, we have to cure him also. It just happened that Coronavirus spread so far – we didn't even know at the time that it would come to India. We wrote this episode two months ago. The show's shooting wrapped up a month ago.
Sandiip Sikcand: We had to end the show so we wrapped it up fast. If we didn't have to end it fast, then we would've shown exactly what's happening now and we would've shown it in the right manner. We named it the 'Supervirus' so people wouldn't think transfusions cure Coronavirus.
Tell me about the feedback you've been getting to this track. Has anyone else picked up on the Coronavirus parallels?
Sandiip Sikcand: On Instagram, a lot of people have (noticed this) and complimented us but they know it's a fictional track. There are messages like – It's so relatable and Congrats on making the show so topical. One person also said that it reflects the reality of the world we live in.