'Direction is about cohesion between creativity and the managing of it' : Rajan Shahi

Rajan Shahi has directed just two serials independently. And already both of them have left a strong mark on the much cluttered idiot box. Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahin came out as a refreshing romantic series at a time when the "saas-bahu" (mother-in-law vs daughter-in-law) conflicts ruled the roost.

Its sensitive treatment caught the attention of Soni Razdan who immediately offered Shahi Hamare Tumhare. With a story that can best be called pathbreaking, Hamare Tumhare is a proving a hit though only into its sixth week of telecast.

Hamare Tumhare is a story that revolves around the families of two sisters who share a bitter past. As a result, these families are also sceptical and tentative in their attitude towards each other. But somehow a situation arises when the kids of these two sisters get to live together. How they cope with this unusual situation is what the story focuses on.

With these twin aces up his sleeves, Shahi is prolific film director Mahesh Bhatt's new blue-eyed boy. Bhatt is reportedly so impressed by Shahi's work that he has already broached the topic of Shahi directing a movie for the Bhatt-promoted Vishesh Films.Thanks to his maternal grandfather's influence on him, the idea of being a part of the entertainment industry fascinated Shahi from a very young age. After schooling from St. Colombus, New Delhi and graduation in English Literature from the prestigious Hindu College, Shahi shifted base to Mumbai.

By this time Shahi was clear in his mind as to what he wanted to do. Direction was what had caught his imagination. After scouting in vain for suitable opportunities to assist someone, Shahi ended up in the production department under Ravi Rai.

Two years in production designing saw Shahi establish himself as one of the the most dependable lieutenants of Ravi Rai. And then one day opportunity struck. When an assistant director didn't turn up, Shahi was asked to handle his responsibilities and his proficient skills at man-management came to the fore. Thereafter, Shahi assisted Ravi Rai in Thoda Hai Thode Ki Zaroorat Hai and Teacher.

However in between his long drawn journey to recognition, Shahi also lost his heart to writer Pearl who he later married. When Pearl wrote Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahin and when the story found a ready taker in producer Hemant Seth, Shahi in his very first project was propelled to the big league. Shahi has also shot the pilots of two other serials- Mera Ek Sapna and Ansh. Also on the anvil are a couple of other projects for Vishesh Films.

Tuhin Amar spent some time with Shahi to get a grasp on what makes him tick.

Excerpts from the interview:

What brought you into direction?

Actually, I was always fascinated by the idea of being a part of the entertainment industry due to my closeness to my maternal grandfather. After completing my education, when I had to decide on my career, I realised I was not cut out to be an actor. The next best option that attracted me was direction.

What are the natural instincts required to be a successful director?

Most importantly, a director should have the ability to skilfully balance all tools - script, screenplay, dialogues, actors etc. - required to tell a story as effectively as possible. He should be able to bring about a cohesion between creativity and the right packaging required to market creativity. A director is like the captain of the ship and more than anything else, he needs to be extremely patient with all his crew members.

What considerations do you have in mind before starting a project?

My first priority is to get the pilot approved. From there I work backwards. I find out what kind of subject and story is likely to find takers.

Mahesh Bhatt & Raja Shahi

How important is it for you to be trusted and given a free hand by the producer?

Very important. I have always believed that the producer is like the father and director the mother of a project. In fact, it is very important for me to constantly interact with the producer on all aspects of the making of a serial. This is the reason why I prefer to work with individual producers rather than the big corporate producers.

Has the budget set by the producer ever imposed any constraint on your creativity?

Fortunately, no. Because of my experience at production designing, I can give my best within the limitations of the budget

Do you adhere to the script or do you try to go beyond it?

Actually, I try to go much, much beyond it. Actually everything happens on the spur of the moment. I make whatever additions I can to ensure that the scene comes out as passionately as possible.

How much do you depend on your actors?

Very much. In fact, I never start a project without being absolutely sure about the script and whether the actors in question will be able to do justice to it.

Soni Razdan, Rajan Shahi & Akshay Anand

How much of an actor does a director have to be?

Well, rather than being an actor himself, a director needs to know what exactly he wants from an actor. He needs to be a good communicator with the actors.

Which method do you actually employ with actors? Do you act out a scene like Subhash (Ghai the film director) does and ask your actors to follow?

No, No ( laughs). If I did that it would be a major disaster. I just talk a lot with my actors. I believe it is very important for a director to enjoy the trust and confidence of the actors. Sometimes, keeping in mind the strengths and weaknesses of the actor, I even ensure that the script is actor-oriented so that he/she does not have a problem in bringing out the right emotions.

Does a personal rapport with the actors help in extracting better performances from them?

Absolutely. In fact most of the actors I have worked with are my personal friends now.

Have you ever had to face tantrums from an actor?

Touchwood, no. Not till now.

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

Basically, a director needs to have a very good sense of the story. He should be able to instinctively know whether a story will work or not. In my case, it is not so important for me to write because my wife Pearl is a writer and I can consult her on the story whenever I need to.

But doesn't not being the writer impose certain constraints on the actual portrayal or depiction of the story on screen?

None that I have faced so far. As far as DHKMN was concerned, we worked effortlessly. I would sort out most of my doubts, queries concerning the story at home (with Pearl) and there was no room for confusion on the sets. In the case of Hamare Tumhare , Soniji, the writer Gajra and I have worked in close co-ordination on the story.

Any particular that story idea appeals to you?

I would love to explore the relationship between a grandfather and a grandson in a situation where the grandfather and son don't get along well. Somehow, this idea has been there in my mind for sometime. In fact, I have shot the pilot for Mera Ek Sapna which will be an episodic series exploring the grandfather-grandson relationship.

How do you ensure a sensitive portrayal? Swapna Joshi says she actually speaks to her characters to gauge their reactions? Do you do something similar?

No. I just step into the skin of the character. I like to feel for myself all that the character is expected to feel in a scene. I feel my sensitivity and imagination help me in doing this.

Television is said to be very demanding. How do you cope with the pressure of meeting endless deadlines?

Yes, doing a serial is like having a premiere every week. It does tend to get very tedious at times. But because I enjoy it, I can cope with it without complaining.

Does it affect your family life?

Not really. Sometimes Pearl and I do fight on the issue of misplaced sense of responsibilities. But being in the same industry, she understands the demands imposed by the profession.

Do you feel the amount of work that is happening today does take its toll on individual performances?

Yes, it does. Today, the parameter by which you define success is the volume of work you are doing rather than the quality of work. And when that happens, the quality of your work is bound to suffer.

How do you unwind?

By talking to my wife and listening to music.

Are you a good reader?

I used to be one. But for the last three to four years, I have been so occupied in work, that I have had no time to read.

Does reading help in understanding characters better?

Probably it does. But when you work with a person like Mahesh Bhatt, who is a book in himself, you don't feel the disadvantages of not reading (laughs).

Who do you rate among the best actors on television?

Renuka Shahane, Alok Nath and Pallavi Joshi. In fact, somehow I can't describe it in words but just watching Renuka Shahane has helped me in my direction. She is too good.

Who are your favourite directors?

Subash Ghai for the way he mounts everything and makes everything appear larger than life with such effortless ease. Yash Chopra for the sheer passion he brings about on screen. Mahesh Bhatt, for his approach to direction which revolves around the idea of telling a story.

There are rumours that you would be doing a movie for Vishesh Films. What do you have to say on this?

Yes, there is a possibility. But ideally, for the next couple of years I would like to concentrate on television and create a niche for myself.

Which has been the happiest moment of your career?

When I saw the first episode of Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahin. I knew I had done a good job from my end but I did not know how good it was till I saw the first episode. It was, no doubt, the most satisfying moment of my career.

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