Sikhya Entertainment’s 'The Big Shots: Dosa King' is a new Spotify Original podcast series that began streaming on the platform early this month.

Poster art of the Spotify podcast series Dosa King on Saravana Bhavan founder P Rajagopal
Features Podcast Tuesday, December 22, 2020 - 15:55

What people love more than a good crime story is to get to know the person behind the crime. What were they like as a friend, or a son or a daughter or a husband, a wife… What did they like? What pushed them over the precipice into self-destruction? When the Mindhunter series released on Netflix, it was immediately ranked as one of the best series to have been made in recent times for its exploration of the lives of some of America’s most well-known serial killers. Now, here’s an Indian production that’s tackling its own crime story, on a completely different medium.

Sikhya Entertainment’s The Big Shots: Dosa King is a new Spotify Original podcast series in English that began streaming on the platform early this month. Sikhya is known for producing exceptional films, notable among them are The Lunch Box, Shahid, Visaranai, Soorarai Pottru and more.

The eight-part series explores the life and legacy of south India’s most infamous restaurateur P Rajagopal, founder of the Saravana Bhavan chain of hotels. The eight episodes release weekly every Tuesday, with an interweaving narration, interviews and dramatised scenes, drawing the listener into one of the most sensational crime stories of the 90s.

Rajagopal’s rags-to-riches story is something that’s often told in south India, especially in Chennai, where he established his culinary kingdom. Starting out as a humble grocer, he took the advice of an astrologer to enter the food business, one that was solely dominated by Brahmins at that point. Later on in his life, Rajagopal would yet again allegedly listen to an astrologer’s advice, eventually leading to his downfall.

Annachi, as he was fondly called by his employees, was revered, almost god-like, by them and this would in turn become a strong fortress when his castle came crumbling down. In 2001, he was convicted in the abduction and murder of Prince Santhakumar and was sentenced to serve life, a term he never served while living.

Also read: The rise and fall of Saravana Bhavan Rajagopal: The 'dosa king' with a notorious past

Rajagopal’s relentless pursuit of Jeevajyothi, the daughter of one of his employees, proved to be his death knell but he managed to survive beyond its reverb. When Jeevajyothi married a man of her choice, Rajagopal did all he could to harass the couple.

If Rajagopal’s life was made into a cinema, the end would no doubt be the beginning. The podcast series too begins around here — The Beginning of the End. It starts on a specific date, July 9, 2019, the day when the 72-year-old Rajagopal surrendered himself in front of a judge at the Madras High Court. Less than a week later, he would suffer a major heart attack leading to his death on July 15. A dramatic, unexpected climax to a decade-long story. But this was not entirely out of the blue. The man had been suffering from health issues for a while.

His legacy may have the name Saravana Bhavan etched to it, but there would also be another line to this effect — he did not spend even one day behind bars for his convicted crimes. Jeevajyothi, the woman who had to pay for Rajagopal’s schemes, called it an irremediable wound.

The series is narrated by Vasanthi Hariprakash, with Aliza Khan as its creative producer. Aditya Kelgaonkar has directed this podcast that has been written by Sheena Khalid and Aditya Kelgaonkar aided by Lokpria Vasudevan in research. The edit, sound design and mixing have been done by Himanshu Kamble with music, additional sound design and mixing by Gaurav Chintamani.

Speaking about the series, Aliza Khan says, “We began with the idea to look behind the headlines of the power players and moguls and look at their legacy from both personal and professional space. Rajagopal’s story stood out to us. We then developed Big Shots as a story that could work out at large.” Sikhya has plans of exploring different personalities in the upcoming seasons.

While Sikhya started working on this in August 2020, they were mulling with the idea, earlier than that. “His story has everything. He was at the peak of his career when he got embroiled in a scandal that shook the entire scene back then. We were also very interested in exploring the entire south-Indian vegetarian food industry through this personal story,” Aliza explains.

Sikhya also has a parallel on-going series on Spotify called Mafialand that focuses on different “mafias” that dominate and change lives across India. From cosmetic brand clones to school admissions mafia to sports mafia, the podcast has gripping accounts.

But what were the challenges associated with such a niche subject when it comes to producing the Big Shots? “The major challenge was that we wanted to have a balance between interviews and the cinematic flare in narration. We were keen on making a podcast that didn't just feel like a news story to the listener but that of the story of a man,” Aliza adds.

She continues, “The other challenge was in staying truthful to how it all happened. Everything we’ve said is based on what we read from judgments, interviews and his biography. There are some aspects of the story we’ll never know about because some people have passed, some were inaccessible or impossible to trace. So we’ve let people know in places where we’ve dramatised.”

If that does not sound exciting enough, some of the most thrilling parts in the series come when the police investigators probing Rajagopal and his defence lawyers offer a peek behind the scenes. “It is very gripping to listen to the first-person narrative on how the case and trials were put together. We are not used to hearing such details on high profile cases like this,” she says.

Aliza also talks about how such podcasts hold more scope for filmmakers and visual artists. “People don't think podcasts could be cinematic or challenging with filmmakers on the helm. With Dosa King, we had an art director, writer, and people with strong theatre backgrounds. The sound designer and editor came with extensive experience in video series. It is a testament to how podcasts can be the new way of cinematic storytelling and it is also very unique to the Indian podcasting space,” she adds.

You can stream the show here or search for it on the Spotify app.

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