Monday, 26 April 2010


CID is the acronym for Crime Investigation Department, which is a department in the police force of most commonwealth countries, consisting of plain-clothed officers who are called upon to investigate complex cases which require special attention. For most urban Indians, CID is the name of a famous television serial showing the adventures of the Mumbai CID team headed by ACP Pradhyuman and his redoubtable team.

CID is a serial I pretty much grew up with. The show was launched in January 1998, a good twelve years ago when I was a teenager not yet in college. Today CID is now the longest running serial in the history of Indian television. In the dozen years between then and now, the serial has won thousands of ardent fans who look forward to their Friday night rendezvous with the CID team that has been nearly unchanged since over a decade now.

What has made this serial so popular? Can it be used as an indicator for other serial/ film makers? I am no authority on this subject, having had no experience whatsoever of anything vaguely resembling filmmaking. Nevertheless, a comparison between CID and some of the most popular TV serials/ movies convinces me that there exists a pattern.

First and foremost comes the script. I remember reading somewhere that the great Alfred Hitchcock used to say that three most essential requirements of a good movie are a good script, a good script and a good script. The one thing common to most CID episodes has been an excellent storyline. In the three years that I have regularly watched the serial (and many more years as an intermittent viewer), I can barely remember two or three episodes that were badly written- and we are talking about two or three out of 200 episodes or so.

Another factor that has worked wonders is the characterisation. We know each and every character as though we were personally acquainted with him. And so ACP Pradhyuman is soft at heart but ultra-committed and ruthless when it comes to duty. Daya is a brilliant observer, fiercely protective of his team members and slap happy when it comes to criminals, but is deep down the quintessential gentle giant. Abhijit is a man with no recollection of his past life and so lonely and single but fiercely committed to the call of duty. Fredricks is the not so bright, goofy officer but a man with a heart of gold and an incredibly brave and obidient officer. There of course is the wisecracking Dr. Salunkhe, whose knowledge of forensic science is unparalelled. All of them are characters we recollect offhand.

Look at some of the cult movies to date and you'll see the pattern. Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade is one character we remember to this day, nearly 70 years after the Maltese Falcon was released, similarly who doesn't remember Orson Welles' Charles Foster Kane from Citizen Kane or talking of more recent times, Kevin Spacey's Keyser Soze from The Usual Suspects? Closer home, we can still remember even the most insignificant characters in movies like Sholay, Lagaan or Munnabhai- all three of them mega hits that have achieved cult status. Has any reader ever managed to forget the character of John Darcy from Pride and Prejudice of or Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights? All the books or movies I've referred to were hugely successful ones remembered long long after they first came out. The one common thread running through all of them is that they had vividly fleshed out characters that we could relate to.

Another key factor has been continuity. The core members of the CID team have been around since 1999 or earlier, which means that the characters and the actors playing them have been around since over a decade now- an astonishing example of continuity in a country where change is not just constant, but even relentless. Just to put things in perspective: back in 1998, the average Indian could not afford to have a mobile phone, Café Coffee Day and Barista were unheard of, there were no multiplexes and a shopping mall was something one had only read of in American novels. And remarkably, a serial that started back then (anyone who's lived in urban India would tell that its a different world today) is still running with the same old faces! Those old faces I saw in my college days are still there, I can still see them every friday night. It almost feels like a reunion with old acquaintances at the end of the week.

Now compare that with the concept of the 'image'. Look at the number of times Amitabh Bachchan played the "angry young man" character or Shah Rukh Khan reprised the romantic Raj/ Rahul role. Continuity was the one plank on which both these legends of Indian cinema built their image. The great Alfred Hitchcock too was typed as the master of suspense. Beethoven too is remembered for his heroic, path-breaking music. Most Beethoven admirers would remember his Symphony No.5 or 9, possibly No.3 or maybe his Emprror Concerto. Seldom does one hear anyone mention his Piano Concerto No.4 or his Symphony No.6, both of which deserve to be remembered as magnificent pieces but did not conform to the popular image.

The characterisation of Daya, Abhijeet, ACP Pradhyuman and Fredricks has been consistent over a decade and more and those characters continue to be played by the same actors who were around at the turn of the century. There also is a pattern in which nearly every story kicks off: a corpse is discovered and the officers arrive in their Qualis (they have been using a white coloured Qualis since at least 3 years now). There follows a detailed investigation until the culprit is unmasked, typically finishing with a slap by Daya that impels the criminal to confess. Indeed, continuity has been one of the hallmarks of CID. My father eagerly looks forward to the slap at the end of every episode. I've heard of people who wait for Freddie's latest mishap or his latest misadventure with his wife. Perhaps it is built around the idea of creating a comfort zone for the viewer.

Perhaps there could be more to it, but these are the three key elements of CID's success: strong storylines, excellent characterisation and continuity. Surely, we have enough examples to fall back upon in substantiating the point. Is it not possible that the same could be true for all cinema? I do not know if anyone has ever made a study on this subject. It might make an interesting topic for research if no one has.

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