Television

"Actors have their individual creativity, the essence of which should be absorbed in the shoot" : Sameer Kulkarni

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The tag of a comedy serial director is hard to shrug off. Sameer Kulkarni should know. Successes like Family No. 1, Shakalaka Boom Boom, Hip Hip Hurray, Shriman Shreemati and All The Best have kept the young director on his toes, churning out slapstick after farce.

Sameer now wants to break out of the genre and explore newer pastures. UTV's Shakalaka Boom Boom on Doordarshan got short-listed in the children's programme category for the Asian Television Awards this year and Sameer has been approached to make a daily out of the series by a private satellite channel. His current assignments also include a Hindi feature film.

His career in television however, was not a planned progress. Family circumstances forced him to suppress his creative instincts and study commerce in college. But it was at the N M College in suburban Mumbai that he got involved in theatre and later graduated to television. Indiantelevision.com's correspondent Harsha Khot met up with the director who is now keen to put behind sour memories of Deewane To Deewane Hai that was knocked off air, and is looking forward to his first 70mm directorial experience.

Excerpts from the interview:

What brought you to the entertainment industry?

The decision to join the entertainment industry wasn't a conscious one. In college, I belonged to an amateur drama group called 'Mancch Goregoan', which came up with an idea of doing a Marathi serial called Ghar. I was assigned to assist the director, but I was in the first year of college and had no clue about how things functioned. The serial's director did not have much faith in me, but Rajan Waghdhare who was the editor, was confident that I would deliver.

I was completely engrossed in the making of the serial, doing everything from putting up the sets to acting in the episodes. After that venture, I approached Waghdhare who was just venturing into independent production. He took me on and I ended up working for a lot of Marathi serials. Philips Top 10 was the first series I directed independently. It was initially aired on Zee TV in 1995 and later moved to DD Metro as All The Best.

How did you hone your directorial skills?

I worked with Waghdhare for nearly four years, helping in direction and editing. I learned a lot under him. At that time, we used hi-band editing - this combination of editing and directing formed a base for polishing my directorial skills. While editing, I began understanding terms like wasted footage and okayed footage. My acting experience helped too. Whenever my actors can't absorb my ideas, I can always act out the scene for them.

Family No. 1 is my favourite, because it had variations of loud and subtle comedy, included all the moods and range of comedy, blended with emotions and relationship.
The cast of Zee's hit series Family No. 1

Which serial did you enjoy directing the most?

Family No. 1 is my favourite, because it had variations of loud and subtle comedy, included all the moods and range of comedy, blended with emotions and relationship. I enjoy this treatment because it allows you to explore without getting tired of the subject or getting out of focus. The series is basically about what happens when two families from different cultures live together under one roof, the questions that are thrown up and the possible answers.

Which factors do you consider while taking up a project?

I usually look at the potential of the serial in terms of its theme, its supporting track, the duration of its telecast and the approach it requires. The team is of utmost importance to me, for I have to constantly interact with it for a year or two. Over the years, I have developed such a rapport with my team that often merely a look is enough for my cameraman or light man to understand what I am trying to convey.

How do you schedule your shoots?

I draw up a rough sketch for the number of episodes that have to be covered over a period of around five days. Planning each day's schedule is not feasible, since the most unpredictable things can happen on the sets. It's best to go with an open mind and tackle situations as they arise. It is a question of tackling unforeseen situations and doing your best with the available resources during the shoots.

I believe that every serial and subject has its own approach; me having a particular way of approaching every subject with my own style will not help.

__________________

How do you convey your ideas to the team, especially to your actors?

I usually just explain the situation and what needs to be conveyed to the viewers. I believe actors have their individual creativity, the essence of which should be absorbed in the shoot. However, I don't let them change the dialogues given in the script as per their convenience. The scriptwriters have obviously put some thought into the dialogues, so unless there are some logical reasons for an actor to have the script altered, I don't do it.

What does direction mean to you?

Direction to me means getting a project done well from the entire crew, in a way viewers would like to watch.

(smiles) I just reflected and realised that almost everything is given in the script, and that the whole team does the job together. I just see to it that things translate on screen as per the script. I even joke at times that my only job is to say the two words 'camera roll' and 'cut' on the set.

Actually I let my crew do what they feel is appropriate. I keep a close eye only on things that stray from the script. I intervene only if things go awry. Every person on the set has his or her own creative approach and I believe it should be applied and used, so long as it doesn't digress from what is essential. To me, a cameraman is not just an operative cameraman, he is also a bit of a cinematographer. I also believe that every serial and subject has its own approach; me having a particular way of approaching every subject with my own style will not help.

What approach did you adopt for Shakalaka Boom Boom?

Shakalaka Boom Boom was shot keeping the masses in mind, as it was being shown on DD1. The boy who plays Vishal was a good horse rider, so we incorporated his talent in the serial. Also, viewer interests dictated that we include the element of a 'Zorro' like image for the protagonist. The serial was taken off air in June 2001, because the producer found the national broadcaster's policies unviable.

Sameer Kulkarni on the set of Shakalaka Boom Boom
It's best to go with an open mind and tackle situations as they arise. It is a question of tackling unforeseen situations and doing your best with the available resources during the shoots.

Have you ever compromised on your principles in direction?

I did compromise once, when the producer asked me to hire a different cameraman, who would understand the feel of the channel. I gave in after resisting for a while, but later realised that my instincts had been right.

In another case, I was told to shoot an episode with the protagonist interviewing a television director. I made it clear that I was uncomfortable shooting another director from television and asked that someone else direct that particular episode. Sometimes, one has to draw a limit somewhere.

Why was Deewane To Deewane Hai on Zee pulled off air?

Things did not fall into place right from its inception. Beside the 7:30 pm slot is hardly one where you find teenagers at home glued to the TV. That naturally took a toll on ratings.

Who are your favourite directors?

Rakesh Sarang and Sachin Pilgaonkar. I like their approach, and specially admired Sachin's Tu Tu Main Main.

What are your forthcoming projects?

I am eager to work on a project that's humour based but high on emotions and relations. I have this tag of doing only comedies, but I think I am going to be good on serials that are high on emotions. I am to direct a Hindi movie tentatively titled Kehni Thi Tumse Batein Pyar Ki. The script is nearly complete and shooting should begin by mid December.

Sameer Kulkarni with the All The Best cast - Satish Shah (left), Swaroop Sampat and Laxmikant Berde
Every person on the set has his or her own creative approach and I believe it should be applied and used, so long as it doesn't digress from what is essential.

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