"If the storyline is powerful, you can catch your audience and say 'watch it!" : Javed Sayyed

Ever since Javed Sayyed's first directorial venture Heena went on air in 1998, the soap has been one of Sony's key programmes. Heena's success has brought other serials his way. But Javed Sayyed is better known in the Indian film industry for his brilliant and sensitive editing.

An FTII alumnus, Sayyed today has four years of directorial experience and 30 years of editing behind him. A reluctant entrant to the prestigious institute (his parents wouldn't allow studies abroad), Sayyed soon got hooked on to the intricate art of editing. He went on to edit substantial art films like Sayeed Mirza's Salim Langde Peh Mat Roh, Naseem, Suryoday (Marathi) and more recent commercial flicks like Kya Kehna, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani and Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman.

Sayyed was caught in the vortex when the Indian television industry started developing in the mid 1990s. He edited classic television hits like Khandaan, Nukkad, Surabhi, Wagle Ki Duniya and the first-ever Indian sports serial directed by Sameer Awasthe. He has worked with the crme of directors like Girish Karnad, Kundan Shah, Aziz Mirza, Sumitra Bhave and Pradeep Dixit. More recently, he has dabbled in production and produced Rehnuma for Sabe TV. It went off air but Sayyed's spirits are yet high. He is currently directing Heena for Sony and Manzilein Aur Bhi Hai for Sahara.

Indiantelevision's correspondent Harsha Khot met with veteran editor and director Javed Sayyed and to find out what has gone into the making of Heena, and the secret of his success in the trade.


How did you get your first project as director?

Quite by accident. I was editing Manish Goswami's Mr Pintoo, directed by Ravi Tandon, when I got to know his son Rajeev Tandon well and we promised to work together some time.

Nearly after a year, he called me over and related a story. It was a very powerful story concerning a Muslim subject. It was also a touchy topic, based on marriage and the talaaq system. I was taken aback when Rajeev said he was offering me the director's cap, specially since I had no experience of directing, editing being the closest I had been associated with it. Since the subject was interesting, I plunged into it.

What was your reaction to the assignment?

I was apprehensive as well as excited about the project. For nearly 15 years, I had made fun of and passed judgements on the way shots were taken, back in the editing room. I now dreaded giving others the same opportunity.

I had been considered among the top editors in the industry. Directors would listen to my opinion and sometimes even re-shoot on my suggestions. As a director, I was nervous thinking that I should not give others a chance to point out my mistakes. I shot, made the episode, directed and edited it myself. I was apprehensive about how it would turn out and kept the project a secret. But things turned out just fine Heena was cleared at once without any changes or corrections.

Did you ever analyse why they had so much confidence in you?

I did ask Ravi saab once and he said: "Good editors can become good directors. Since I have full confidence in your editing style, I thought of you." I had seen a few examples myself. Hrishida (Hrikesh Mukherjee) was one of the best editors in the Indian film industry and was able to direct a lovely film like Khoobsoorat. I loved that movie and always wanted to adopt a style which had simple narration and simple shot taking. Hrishida's story telling is very powerful and the shot taking very simple, so the audience in engrossed in the story instead of grappling over the style of takings.

How did you prepare yourself for your directorial debut? Which aspects were you consciously careful about?

I believe in a good script. I try and do the scripting in detail and invest a lot of time in it. I refuse to shoot an episode till the script is up to the mark. My scriptwriter Nawab Arzoo doesn't feel bad about rejections, he redoes. Earlier, there was one scriptwriter working with me, and he would get touchy in case the script for a certain scene was rejected. But my instinct tells me this episode will not work. I talk in terms of logic. If you justify the logic behind the scene, only then will I do it.

If you work well on the scripts, the episodes stand out equally well.

Sayyed getting into details on the sets of Rehnuma with actor Parikshit Sahni

I talk in terms of logic. If you justify the logic behind the scene, only then will I do it.

What is your approach in directing a serial? What helps enhance your skills?

If the storyline is powerful, you can catch your audience and say 'watch it!'. This is what I've been doing with Heena. Dialogue delivery, tempo, mood and good lighting are also extremely important.

Sony TV is good in that they immediately inform you if the serial is doing well and even if is not. Ravi saab often calls up and analyses the scene, discusses it and if need be criticizes the approach adopted.

I feel good that such a reputed director is calling and discussing the scene with me.This sort of communication keeps the morale high, besides it also becomes a guideline. My writing team of Nawab Arzoo and Nadeem Ehjaas have been doing a good job on the script and dialogue, while S R K Murthy has been handling the production side well. Except for the cameraman, the team has been the same right from the initial episodes.

Why does the serial keep on replacing cameramen?

Some were not able to meet the channel's requirement, with some we did not vibe well. Sometimes, they were unable to keep up with the tempo that I work, and at times could not match my style. The style that I looked for was not being executed properly. Fortunately, if I go to the producer with a certain problem, it is usually left to me to take a decision.

How, according to you, should the script be?

It should be crisp. It should narrate the story in those 22 minutes. It should give you the right feel and keep the viewer glued. These days, the remote controls the programme. If something does not appeal to the viewer, he will switch to another channel.

Heena is being aired on Sony for more than 3 years now. What is it that has kept the viewers glued to the serial?

Emotions appeal to the Indian audience. We Indians are very sensitive. When editing, I would keep suggesting directors to emphasise on emotions. For instance, that one tear of Heena is still there for the last three years. The tear speaks for the turmoil in her mind. She isn't the type who tells her parents what she is going through, but that one tear running down her cheek speaks for her pathos.

When I do the scripting, it is the director as well as the editor who are working on it - which scene should be shorter, which scene will hold on screen. I shoot very precisely, unlike many others who shoot from all angles and then decide on one of them.

Heena aired on Sony Entertainment Television

As a director, I was nervous thinking that I should not give others a chance to point out my mistakes. I shot, made the episode, directed and edited it myself.

You say editing built your foundation. In what way did it help in direction?

What an editor does on an editing table, I try and execute a certain aspect of that during the shoot itself. Sometimes, I face a problem back in the editing room when it is found that we have fallen short of material or the artiste has gone slightly off, or possibly a jerk in the camera takings. There you feel the crunch, it really pinches and makes me wish why hadn't I taken a little extra taking, So, the knowledge of editing helps a lot.

What does directing mean to you?

Directing essentially brings together things that are at times not put together in a logical manner and the editor does that. He puts it together in a logical sequence. I compare directing in terms of constructing a building. All the bare essentials are brought together by the director, but their essence is brought out by the editor. Both are interdependent.

Editing is timing and the spacing of shots. There are certain guidelines for editing but no rigid rules. You have to play with the material given you. Aghat was really made out of nothing. The director just went on shooting, he did not have a proper script with him. And when it was brought to the editing table everything was haywire. The producer was very upset and we had to rework the screenplay, throw out a few scenes, bring in others, re-shoot a few. It worked wonders. The film was nominated for the Maharashtra state awards, where it won all the awards, except the one for editing!

If you know editing, you know the shot breakdown, camera angles, colour and the feel to be brought into the screen. An editor sees the rough draft of the film with the sharpest and the keenest eye one can have.

What makes you decide on taking up a serial?

I listen carefully to the storyline. If I am interested enough to hear the story in one go, I take up the subject. Then I graph it and think whether I am giving message through. If there is no message, usually I don't do it.

When I do the scripting, it is the director as well as the editor who are working on it - which scene should be shorter, which scene will hold on screen. I shoot very precisely, unlike many others who shoot from all angles and then decide on one of them.
Sayyed with cast on the sets of Manzilein Aur Bhi Hain

Why is the message component so important?A nikaah (marriage) is not that simple and talaaq (divorce) is no simpler, bound as it by certain principles. People think Muslim talaaqs are simple and have had made a mockery of it. In Heena, I used real life experiences with a backdrop of a contemporary Muslim family. I have often seen daughters in a family being given more freedom than the daughter in law. I have used these experiences in the serial. Hence, the compassionate treatment of Neena Kulkarni who treats her daughter in law Heena, as she would treat her own daughter.

How did you go about Manzilein Aur Bhi Hai?

This serial is all about the personal life of army men, and not a single war is shown. It is mostly about sacrifice. After hearing the story from Mayah Balse, both I and Sawan Kumar Tak decided to go ahead with the project. It's all about the army personnel's lives when they return home after a war, the decisions that they have to take.

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