'My intelligence has not been cashed upon to its potential by people I have worked with' : Chitraarth

Chitraarth is one of the first directors to have patronized television in India way back in 1985.

His Wah Janab, which launched Shekhar Suman and Kiran Joneja, was a roaring success back in the days when Doordarshan ruled the airwaves. Over the years, Chitraarth has carved out several successful family dramas and sitcoms-like Daane Anaar Ke, Badalte Rishtey and Tanhaiyaan. Two of his movies, Chand Pardesi (Punjabi) and Shaheed Udham Singh (Punjabi, dubbed in Hindi) won National Awards. Chitraarth strikes one as an intelligent, thinking director, who nonetheless feels that his intelligence has not been cashed fully by his producers. The veteran director is currently scripting a movie based on the Indian freedom struggle in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

Chitraarth feels this movie will finally allow him to come to terms with the kind of work he has always wanted to do. Excerpts of an interview with's correspondent, Amar.

How did you get into film direction?

I have been fascinated by the art right from my childhood. I come from a family that would critically analyse movies and plays among us quite often. Even at the age of six, I had the basic understanding that it's the director who creates good cinema and was aware of personalities like Bimal Roy and Guru Dutt. I guess I always wanted to be a director.

How did you get initiated into the profession - did you train under somebody?

I learnt direction at FTII Pune, from where I graduated in 1975. I assisted Lekh Tandonji on several movies, including the super-hit Dulhan Wahi Jo Piya Man Bhaye.

I have young executive producers telling me to squeeze an episode in a day, saying one master and eight-nine close-up shots is all you need to can one episode.

Which elements did you imbibe from Lekh Tandon?

I feel his handling of actors is the single most admirable quality in Lekhji. I have always admired the way he explains to an actor what is required of him or her in a scene. His reasoning is so comprehensive yet lucid that I feel there is no way an actor can get a scene wrong after that. I have imbibed this quality from him.

What are the essential pre-requisites of a successful director?

A director needs to have very keen observation and an analytical mind. He needs to have a good understanding of human behaviour and emotions. Then, of course, he needs to get along well with people, should be able to coax and cajole people into getting quality work from them. I feel a good understanding of literature/ theatre/cinema is very useful for a person aspiring to get into direction.

Which subjects hold the most appeal for you?

I have enjoyed doing both family dramas and sitcoms. Actually it's difficult to select a subject and say that I find it more appealing than others. What really is important is the gut feel that one is going to thoroughly enjoy directing a given project and that is what really matters for me.

How is directing a serial different today compared to the Wah Janab days?

Actually everything has changed since then. In those days, TV was a new medium and there was a lot of excitement and freshness involved. I would say it was a new idiom that we were in the process of discovering. We were always probing things, learning new methods and applying the trial and error method. In the end, a good episode gave enormous satisfaction that one cannot have today.

In those days, I would shoot an episode in three-four days. Today, if a director cannot can an episode in one and half shifts, he is out of the job. The thrust is so much on cost-reduction that creativity has gone for a toss. That explains why nobody today wants to take up a novel concept like Buniyaad or Tamas. I have young executive producers telling me to squeeze an episode in a day, saying one master and eight-nine close-up shots is all you need to can one episode. But I find it very difficult to reconcile myself to this style of shooting because that undoes what I have learnt and understood of cinema both at FTII and in my early years of directing.

I am planning to concentrate on my movies and am avoiding taking up new TV assignments. But there are times when you have to do things for your daal-roti.

Mir Muneer has said in an interview that story telling is virtually non-existent today and that serials are just a conglomeration of scenes? Do you agree?

Absolutely. Today what matters is how exciting you can make the 20 odd minutes of the current episode. It hardly matters how and whether what you see today relates with the central idea of the story.

Who is to blame for the dearth of effective scriptwriters?

I would blame it on the audience. See, this situation can be equated with a child being addicted to chocolates. Even though it can be harmful for him, he is least bothered. If the audiences didn't like these inane soaps, they would not be churned out the way they're today.

Who are your favourite writers?

I have particularly enjoyed working with Sharad Joshi, who wrote Wah Janab and Daane Anaar Ke, Subhash Sharma who wrote Badalte Rishtey and Brij Katyal, who wrote Tanhaiyaan.

How do you instruct actors - do you personally enact the scenes?

I do it only if it is needed- if the actor is inexperienced and needs to be shown the way. I can do it because I have acted in college plays. I did it in the case of Madhavan and believe me, the performance he gave after that exceeded all my expectations.

Many directors complain that TV is a very limiting medium. Your comments?

I totally agree. The whole attitude of people on TV today is to get things over with as quickly as possible and to reduce costs as much as one can. This approach was not there ten years ago and is very damaging. I am myself planning to concentrate on my movies and am avoiding taking up new TV assignments. But there are times when you have to do things for your daily daal-roti. So you never know, I might just do serials.

Chitraarth receiving the National award from president K R Narayanan

If the audiences didn't like these inane soaps, they would not be churned out the way they're today.


How much of a writer does a director have to be?

It is very important for the director to have a good script sense. I have written the screenplay of two movies - Apradhi and Sangeet, so I know basically what scriptwriting is all about and how a written scene would translate on screen. I have mainly worked with veteran writers who I respect a lot and whose judgement I trust. But at the same time, I feel it is well within the directors' rights to make changes in the script at the time of the shoot if he feels these changes would better a scene.

How important is the producer's involvement in your projects to you?

It is very important for the producer to fully understand the nuances of actually shooting a serial and to ensure that all hurdles are taken care of. Creative freedom, however, should only be the prerogative of the director. Luckily, I have worked with producers like Manish Goswami and Amit Khanna, who have shown complete faith in me.

On hindsight, do you feel the FTII course has been helpful to you?

Yes. Whatever I learnt at FTII may not have practical applications everywhere but has helped me learn my own self as a director. See, somewhere in my subconscious mind, the theories that I've learnt do come into play in varied situations, even though I may not quite be aware of it.

Are you satisfied with your innings as director?

There have been achievements that have given me immense satisfaction but at the same time, I do feel sometimes that my intelligence has not been cashed upon to its potential by people who I have worked with. So, now I am more determined than ever to do what I really want to - at present, it's this movie that I'm scripting.

Which has been the happiest moment of your career?

The two national awards have, no doubt been very euphoric moments. But more than that I feel that an actor exceeding all your expectations and giving an absolutely incredible performance is something I really cherish. It's happened so often- with Madhavan, Mohan Bhandari, Gauri Kaarnik. These moments have personally been very gladdening.

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