'My job is to convey the script to the viewer' : Anil Vishwa Karma

Sincerity, keen interest about work and dogged determination have earned Anil Vishwa Karma the opportunity to direct Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, one of the most watched daily soaps in Indian television. An achievement beyond imagination for an SSC pass student who started his first job in the line of production as just another spot boy on sets of Filmistan Studio nearly a decade ago.

Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki a social drama which airs on Star Plus has many ardent viewers. The soap revolves around the Hindu "united" family drama and toys with the idea of the games blood relatives tend to play.

Born and brought up in India's northern Bihar state, Karma spent his childhood in the state's capital Patna. But directing never was on the cards, it came about by default and he took full advantage of it he says. "I would often bunk school to watch movies but never even once did it occur to me that some day I'd become a director," he recollects.

By the time Karma finished his matriculation, he was also training under a watchmaker picking up skills to repair watches. Unsatisfied, Karma abandoned studies and left in search of work that would provide a better lifestyle.Earning a living wasn't easy. Right from selling tea on Delhi's railway platforms, serving food at a dhaba (roadside eatery) on the Lucknow-Kanpur highway (cities in northern India's Utter Pradesh state), to selling belts in Mumbai locals, he has done it all. Mumbai's horrific riots of '92-'93 changed life for him but for the better. With the atmosphere in the city tense, Karma sneaked into Film City through the unguarded back area to seek refuge from the communal violence.

In Film City, its unorganised ways of functioning turned out to be a boon for him. "Unlike the pay card that you get in an organised production house, a few contractors generally hire people outside the film studios where people are willing to do the job for Rs 50 a day, a remuneration way below what is actually to be paid. Generally an employee should be paid Rs 150. But since it is unaccountable the difference is pocketed," he reveals. Nevertheless, the job of a spot boy not only got him a living, it also marked a step into the world of light, camera and action.

Nearly seven years later at 25, Karma is directing what is among Balaji Telefilms Limited's most prized serials: Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki and the soon to be released Kusum.

Indiantelevision's correspondent Harsha Khot caught up with Anil Vishwa Karma at the shoot of the eagerly awaited forthcoming daily soap Kusum that is going to be on air towards the end of April on Sony Entertainment Television.

Excerpts from the interview:

From a mere spot-boy to directing of one of most talked about daily soaps. What has made this possible?

Director Raman Kumar and Vinta Nanda (scriptwriter) of Tara and my own sincerity and keen interest. Raman Kumar sparked the hope in me by suggesting the possibility of me becoming a director some day at a time when I was just his personal assistant and Vintaji Nanda who guided me towards making it a possibility.

What was the turning point that got you on the road to directing?

It happened while working as a personal assistant to Raman Kumar. He was searching for a script of a particular scene that had got mixed up among many others. Though I wasn't in any way involved with the production of the serial, I had a slight idea about what the next scene would be and that helped me locate the script that Ramanji was looking for. Impressed with my alertness and involvement, even though I wasn't directly involved with the production, he encouraged me, saying: "If you keep doing good work maybe you'll assist me in directing someday. Those words did it. Then onwards nothing came second to directing. I would observe the camera movement, lighting, actors, the way Ramanji directed very closely. Many times I would get extremely engrossed observing the production process and even wander off the sets itself forgetting all about Ramanji's personal work. Fed up with my wandering off the sets, one day he finally asked me to assist him (smiles).

After pre-production preparation, what kind of things, what thoughts cross your mind while proceeding for the shoot at the beginning of the day?

Before shooting, during the script discussion sessions, the outline of the character is clearly sketched out. I have an idea about what kind of scenes are to be captured on camera, the graph that has to be attained from the shoot of the episode. I have an outline for the forthcoming episodes. That clarifies a lot of things. Which actor is going to be there for the shoot, the general outline. Which scene is going to be shot and how we'll be going about it. The only thing that remains unknown is how the day would go.

Camera man Anil Mishra & Anil Vishwa Karma on sets of Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki

How is your approach? Are your directing techniques different from other directors?

I wouldn't want to differentiate my work from others. My only aim is to convey the script to the viewer in the best way I can. All I do is try to capture what the producer and the writers have etched out in the script, and I try to convey that across to the viewer.

Talking about conveying the character, how do you go about sketching the character? If the actor is unable to convey it the way you want then how do you approach the situation?

In fact, the actors themselves know how the character is. We sit and go into the details of the role beforehand. While discussing the characters with the actors they come up with suggestions, since they often have done variations of the character, say as a sister or mother for instance, they share their thoughts on the character that they have etched out. Once the shoot begins the actor and the production crew gets accustomed to the script character and know it well, only initially does it take time to get accustomed to the character. Yes, there are times when the actors bring in a touch to the character maybe from other projects that they are working on. Since I literally play with these characters throughout the month, the minute they go off track a bit I notice and make sure they get it right before the take is okayed.

What do you do when you face a situation on the sets where, for whatever reasons, the shot has not quite come up to scratch?

We continue with whatever is present, and try and cover it up during the editing process. I wouldn't call that a drawback, since given all the things required for the shoot of the serial, anybody can do it. The real challenge and skill is doing the work despite all the drawbacks.

Isn't there a budget restriction that you have to adhere to?

For the two serials I am doing, the budget is not the problem, time is. With Balaji, the budget isn't problem in either KGGK or Kusum. And since the latter is close to Ekta Kapoor, she has advised us go about the project like one would approach the shoot of a weekly serial. Initially we did that but eventually it will be time that is the restriction. Once the serial goes on air, we will have to complete an episode in a day's time and we will have to more particular about time then.

But while directing Kaun for Doordarshan there were budget restrictions, but it also gave an opportunity to explore my creative skills. Working for Doordharshan gives you an opportunity to explore talent but doesn't give sufficient publicity.

While shooting, what is your approach to getting work done on the sets?

I try and keep an amiable atmosphere on the sets. It so happens that if you lose your cool then it tends to affect the work indirectly. For instance the person could be affected and it might hinder how soon the take is completed. There are chances that it would affect the actor, which may be noticeable for those who watch the serial closely

What do you prefer? A director's actor or actor's actor?

I am always open to suggestions. If they come out with something better nothing like it. There are actors with a wealth of experience behind them whose opinions on how a role should be delineated I respect. Ultimately the effort is to etch the character as convincingly as possible.

With cast of Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki

Pallavi, Chaya & Parvati

In Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, many feel that characterisations are monotonous and extreme. How come the younger daughter-in-law gets away with her antics while the elder one is always victimised?

It is a part of the script. In between even I felt that the characters were getting extreme but now we've worked it out.

How important is acting in being able to direct?

It's quite essential. Even while sketching out an outline of the character I put myself in the actor's shoes and ponder how it could be enacted. During the shoot I myself act and show what is required for the scene, to give an idea about what is required for the shot.

What are the factors that you don't compromise on?

Lighting, camera, taking of the shot. That is what my job is.

Don't you think that there are too many daily social soaps playing around the theme "allrounder bahu" and that includes Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki?

Yes, but the TRP's indicate that is precisely the kind of programmes that people want to watch, even when there are other genres of serials being telecast.

Has lack of sufficient knowledge in scriptwriting ever been a hindrance?

It can be a disadvantage at times. More knowledge would have certainly helped, but I don't let that come in my way.

How do you overcome that?

I don't hesitate to research a particular topic. If I want to know how a managing director of a company would be, to find out about it I spoke to the managing director of the Balaji Production House. I observe their ways of walking, talking, approaching different situations and don't hesitate to ask them if I feel the need to know a certain thing, however stupid it may sound..

What about Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki and Kusum appealed to you and made you sign up?

Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki is a social drama about a joint family. The whole concept gave me good vibes. Basically this serial is in line with the Ramayana. Where the Dhasharata (a character in the epic who had a number of wives) of the serial is Babuji who has two children from his first marriage. He remarries after his wife dies. And Kusum is a story about an ordinary girl residing in a chawl. She works and travels back and forth by bus and locals and at the same time she has to cook, mops floors, washes vessels and looks after her family. A story which every third working woman living in the city can relate to and that is what appealed me.

What went into making the person you are today?

My mentor Ramanji. After him, I picked up the nitty-gritty of technical aspects while working under Rakesh Sarang of Umeed and Shataranj fame. Later on I worked with Kushal Nandi for Thriller at 10 , and Saturday Suspense . While doing Mr Gayab a serial based on the character in the movie Mr India, I gained confidence where I got to direct a scene independently for the first time.

And Vintaji, she took me along with her to restaurants, shopping. Made me watch plays, act in a few of them. Even though I was working in her office at that time she schedule the work in a manner where I could proceed developing acting and directing skills.

Apart from directing what do you enjoy doing?

I like to cook. In fact Ramanji and his friend love the way I cook "dal" (lentils). Even today whenever possible I explore culinary skills.

On the sets of Kahani Ghar Ghar ki

What inspires you?

Teamwork and total involvement. If the work is heading in the right direction everybody on the sets gets completely involved. In fact the whole team keeps track of every little thing. If its good they enjoy themselves and there's an air of camaraderie on the sets which for me indirectly indicates that the viewer too will enjoy the experience. Otherwise, imagine if my own crew doesn't enjoy what they are doing then how will the viewer? (Smiles)

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