'Producers churning out old wine in new bottles' : Arun Frank

The next time you happen to see a star-studded soap on TV, with the story revolving around some high-society family drama, there is a strong possibility the serial will have been directed by Arun Frank - the person who pioneered this concept on satellite TV.

Seven years after Andaz, Arun Frank's enthusiasm is still evident in that he already has two soaps on B4U - Anupamaa and Rishta Kacche Dhaago Ka and is working on two others - Aanch and Aaj.

But if there is one common thread running through these projects it's the starcast, the larger than life portrayal, the filmi style and often the art of playing to the galleries.

It was the bigness, the dreaminess associated with cinema that created such a strong attraction towards such canvasses for young Arun Frank. Such was the determination to be a part of this industry that after school Frank left studies and started assisting Sohanlal Kanwar in films like Beimaan, Paapi Pet Ka Sawaal Hai and Paisa Yeh Paisa. From there he moved on to assist Basu Chatterjee and later made a few ad films.

Andaz, one of the most successful weekly soaps on Zee, marked Arun Frank's debut on TV, and from there, there has been no looking back for him.

But if there is one thing that comes through in conversations is, like his name, his frankness. Frank has no pretensions about creating something classy. He revels in commercial themes and has created a niche not just for himself but for these serials as well. In a way it can be said that Frank has made available on TV what audiences often crave for in commercial Hindi cinema.

Amar caught up with the man in a 'frank' t?te-?-t?te.

What brought you to direction?

Well, the creativity aspect involved in filmmaking always attracted me as a schoolboy. At that age, I didn't specifically know I wanted to be a director, but yes, I wanted to be involved in filmmaking. So after school I assisted Sohanlal Kanwar in direction and gradually realised that that was what I wanted to do in life.

How do you look back to the Andaz days?

Andaz was special for me due to several reasons. It was my first project as director after a very long period of struggle. Secondly, it was a path-breaking and trend-setting serial because, till then TV was a closed medium. With Andaz, so many new things were introduced. We were very clear in our minds that we wanted to create something absolutely larger than life, extremely glamorous, very 'filmi' - something people had not seen on TV before. Even technically, we explored a lot of camera movements - something that had not been done previously.

But somehow, thereafter you got stuck in doing similar high society dramas.

Yeah, Andaz was so successful that producers wanted me to do something similar every time. And I didn't mind it because I liked the bigness, the lavishness associated with these projects. Besides all these serials did well.

It is often seen that in these soaps the story often does not move and the entire focus is on sub plots.

See. After a serial has had a run of six to eight months, a time is bound to come when the story begins to sag. This happens with all soaps. It is then that the channels do their own analysis and survey and often tell us what is likely to click with the viewers. But again the sub plots have to be executed intelligently and woven into the main story.

What are the factors you take into consideration before starting a project?

A rich star cast for one. Ideally one that has not had much exposure on TV. The script and the possibility of shooting at unused locations.

You've always worked with popular stars. How much do you depend on your actors?

Well, for me a good star cast is very important because I have always liked doing things on a lavish scale. Having popular names ensures audience interest and this makes my task simpler. Besides, experienced actors know what is expected of them and they deliver on these expectations.

But haven't any of these big names insisted on doing things his or her way?

See, I always have an open mind and am open to all suggestions. As long as it does not change the context of a scene what an actor does is fine by me.

Tell us about your experience of working with Shabana Azmi.

To be frank, initially I was apprehensive about working with her because she belongs to a totally different medium of cinema and I didn't know how she would adjust to the ways of TV. But once we started working, my apprehensions were soon allayed. It's been very enjoyable and enriching working with her.

How do you instruct your actors? Do you act out a scene and advise them to follow suit?

No, no. I'm a poor actor. I just instruct them on the emotions that I want and the movements.

Okay, lets take a specific case. Navneet Nishan in Andaz who played the vamp to the hilt. What were your instructions to her?

I just asked her to go wild and berserk. I told her to forget what is right or wrong, what is logical or illogical, just portray something absolutely alien, unseen on TV, so far. Initially she found it difficult to convince herself about the character but eventually it came through very well.

Has the budget of the producer ever imposed constraints on your creativity?

Always. In fact from time to time I get calls from producers asking me to take over the direction of their ongoing projects. When I ask them why their director has quit, invariably it is because he has overshot the budget. So, it's a problem I've got used to.

What do you feel of the trend of daily soaps? Hasn't it created a monopolistic situation wherein a few big production houses are dominating the prime time slots?

See, everything on TV is a passing phase and sooner than later it has to wear out. But yes, at present it has created a monopolistic situation wherein a lot of producers who don't have the resources to produce a daily are not left with any time slot. But things are not that good for producers who are producing dailies either. I know of channels who have approved up to 16 dailies. But do you think they have that many time slots? Ultimately, four to five dailies will get to be on air, the rest will be nowhere.

With yesteryears superstar Rajesh Khanna and cast on the sets of the pilot of a yet untitled series.

Today, would you direct a daily soap yourself?

At present, I already have three offers to direct dailies but I'm sceptical. Ideally, I wouldn't mind directing a daily soap if we can have a storyline ready for 200 to 250 episodes before starting work and a bank of 100 ready episodes before the telecast begins.

Most of your projects are with Zee. Any specific reasons for this?

No, its sheer coincidence that most of my projects have been with Zee. It's just that they got approved fairly easily. But now, I'm working with B4U and am also negotiating a forthcoming project with Sony and Sahara.

How different is the quality of production-thematically and technically vis-a vis the Andaz days?

Technically, its much improved now. There is more polishing to the end product because of the channel wars. But thematically there has hardly been any difference. Producers keep churning out old wine in new bottles.

What has been the happiest moment in your career?

The telecast of the first episode of Andaz. It was a dream come true.

Who are your favourite actors on TV?

Kanwaljeet, Kiran Kumar, Farida Jalal, Kartikarani Devi and Bhagyashree.

And your favourite director?

At one point of time it used to be Ramesh Sippy. Now it's the duo of Abbas Mastan. They've proved that they can do a good job out of any plot.

Sudesh Beri (left) on the sets of Andaz

Any project which is close to your heart and which you would like to do in future?

I would love to make an action serial. Again the first of its kind on TV.

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