'I try to go beyond the script' : Swapna Waghmare Joshi

Passionate about directing ever since her college years, director Swapna Waghmare Joshi has come a long way. She first came to the limelight with Balaji Telefilms' special effects series Captain House, a spooky yet funny serial which revolved around a haunted house that became quite popular on national broadcaster Doordarshan. She has directed serious drama based on real life and real people. Karam for one is influenced by a real life story. In certain sects, as a part of tradition, a girl goes to stay over at her in-laws place before marriage to get to know the family better. In Karam, the story is about women raped by her fiancé and how she deals with it.

Main was about an egoistic actor. As a struggler he despises the way actors become arrogant once they have reached the top. Ironically the protagonist too becomes arrogant as he gains fame, ignoring those close to him. After being told that he is suffering from a fatal disease and has very little time left to live, he shows remorse and goes into deep bouts of depression while contemplating his life.

"Main's story was conceived keeping Shekhar Suman in mind. He showed an interest in working with me and popped the suggestion that we work together," informs Joshi, who developed and conceived the story line. Production of the serial followed very soon. However, things went wrong somewhere along the line and Joshi, who was the writer-director of Main, was dropped from the serial midway. "I have no clue in fact. We were in our 15th episode and I received calls from fellow directors asking why I wasn't doing the serial," she says. She would rather put this episode behind her and concentrate on two projects she is doing for Balaji. As is the tradition with Balaji, 'K' spells success and the serials have been titled Kalash and Karam respectively.

A double graduate, she has done her bachelors in English literature and dramatics simultaneously. "I did English as I like languages but my focus was more on the degree Bachelor in Performing Arts with specialisation in Dramatics. I always wanted to do theatre," says the multi-faceted actor, director and writer. Apart from directing and writing she has performed in nearly 40 plays so far.

When Indiantelevision's correspondent Harsha Khot met Swapna Joshi it took a little time to adjust to the director in actor's shoes. Joshi looked quite different with her make-up on and was dressed to shoot for Bappa Sawant's Gujarati serial Shree Lekha where she plays a cameo role. In the serial she plays a negative character "Bindu", a women who lures men into gambling and other vices wrecking their households. A character quite opposite to the "real" Swapna, who creates a lively environment on the sets teasing and pulling everyone's leg. Compared to the dishevelled director tottering around the sets of Karam getting things co-ordinated for shooting a dramatic scene, here was an actor with her make-up on at 5:00 pm ready for a shoot, only to find out that the shot was going take place only towards the end of the day. Excerpts from the conversation.

When did you realise you had an inclination towards directing?

I don't quite remember exactly when but its most likely while majoring in dramatics where as an assignment we were asked to direct three plays. One of the plays was well received and the rest as they say is history.

How do you perceive directing? What is it like?

Directing is creating everything. While in acting I think of the character. I consider where the character stays, what kind of the socio-economic background does she come from, where and how is she born and brought up, why is she reacting the way she is in the given situation. It is creating one character. Similarly while in the director's chair I think of every character that is there. Their state of mind at the given moment, to what and why are they reacting, and other such factors. Directing is like giving birth to many babies at the same time.

What kind of storyline appeals to you?

The script should not make me think, it should touch my heart without my mind interfering to analyse the story. If it touches my heart then it is the script for me. If I analysis what are the good points and the bad points maybe it will be technically good, but maybe I am not the right person to do it. There should be some idea or concept that appeals to me be it of any genre, a fantasy, a tragedy, comedy, thriller … The only thing is that it should hit me.

What do you do to get the best out of your team?

I keep a very relaxed and happy mood on the sets. I like to keep a very light atmosphere so no one feels tense. I interact with my actors. I don't do "ji, ji" to them. At the same time I don't spoil them. I know how to discipline them. Once in a while I scold them, but I feel they don't mind that and take it in their stride. Fortunately, so far I've never had trouble with any actor. I listen to what they have to say, try and understand their ways of working. Like for instance one of my light men has written a script and has approached to read it and I will.

Do you lose you temper on the sets?

That happens. It is inevitable if things don't work according to plan and if we are running late, I loose my cool.

How do you manage it ?

I just let myself go. I scream at them at times, but at the same moment they are all aware that I appreciate their efforts. But again, sometimes a person can't help such situations from happening. For instance, a good actor who is known to learn two pages dialogue in one take messes up and can't even say two lines in 15 takes. At such times screaming is not going to help in any way, that is the time you have to encourage the person. But of course if someone is fooling around and not concentrating then I am not patient with them.

What constraint do you generally face while directing?

We compromise a lot of the time. If I've got three days and 15 scenes to do, then I have to finish it in that span.

Which of your works are you closest to?

The Gujarati serial Runanubandhan and Hindi serial Ahankaar, since they formed my first experience as director. All my raw energy went into those projects. In my later works I went on to refine those skills. That early dawns has a touch of purity to it and that's the reason they are close to me. Maybe technically I was not so sound then but the emotions were pure. Even now I get very nostalgic while watching them. It leaves my eyes moist.

That was from a personal perspective. Which works are you proud of professionally?

Professionally I am very proud of understanding the character. I have tremendous empathy and sympathy for the character, be it positive or negative. Many times while writing the script for Main, Ahankaar and Karam, I would converse with my character. It may sound weird, but I talk to them, pamper them, speak to them, asking them to tell me what do they want to do next. I am aware it's all imaginary, yet very real.

You feel very close to the character, so how do you get the actor to play the character that has been sketched out. Does it bother you when the actor is unable to bring out the character?

It happens sometimes that I am not contented when the acting does not justify the character. To justify the character, I push the actors to their edge to get the character right. At times I discourage them from using glycerin, and urge them get into the character. As in understand the situation in the scene. Why is the character reacting in a certain way to the given situation. Give them an idea about the kind of emotion I am looking for. I keep telling them 'no this is not enough'. I drive them mad. Fortunately, in Karam I have good actors, and they have moulded into what I want.

Are you particular about getting 'real' emotions, for instance tears instead of glycerin?

Nope. The only thing that matters is that the emotions should be conveyed to the audience. It doesn't matter whether the tears are real or one has used glycerin All that I look for is that it should look real. There are some actors who emote real tears, but it doesn't touch you at all so the essence is lost. Either way, any technique is fine as long it touches the audience.

You are directing Karam as well as writing the script? How do you handle that?

I love the characters and feel very close to them, mind you not the actors, but the characters the actors play. I speak to them, converse with them in my thoughts and dreams. They are my friends and confidantes. There is no specific time when I write the script and when I write, it just flows. I don't think just write. While writing I don't know what my second sentence is going to be.

Some actors feel that scripts generally are not ready on time? How important is it to you as a director, writer?

First of all there are very few good scriptwriters. And most of them have their hands full with many projects, hence the scripts are generally not written in advance. Besides there are very few actors who have showed interest in getting the script in advance to rehearse it. If it were so, I would have made special arrangements to make that available to the actor.

Most serials appear to be churned out on similar lines. What do you do to try and bring out that something different through your serials?

My characters are very strong. For instance in Karam when the girl confides to her parent about being raped by her fiancée and that she is pregnant, her father don't just simply hush up the whole thing and ask her to forget the incident. He empathises with her situation and supports her and even suggests to her that since marriage is on the cards anyway, she might as well get married to the guy and later on leave if she feels she needs to. This way the child will at least have the name of the father. Isn't that a smart move? Generally it wouldn't have been that way. For instance in the 70s it would have been shown that the girl commits suicide. Shocked by the incident, the father gets a heart attack and dies. That is precisely what would have been shown believe me. I am fortunate to have a strong father. He has stood by me through whatever the given circumstances were. In fact that is exactly how ideally a contemporary father should have reacted, then why should I not show this perspective.

What kind of serials you would be averse to directing?

Horror. My four-year daughter dotes on all the series that I do and I would not feel easy exposing her to the gore in a horror serial. At no point would I want to her to associate me with horror serials. The uneasy emotion that one feels while watching gruesome scenes is something I am not very comfortable with.

How particular are you about your work schedules?

Quite particular. I work on only two serials at a time, and maximum 20 days in a month. I try and avoid late night shoots as much as possible and work toward winding up by 9 pm to 10 pm not any later. I really don't mind starting the day even at 7 am as long as we don't have to work till late at night. The other days in the month, I do other things. Say keep a track of development in editing, scripting, meeting and then just stay at home with my family.

How do you unwind?

I read a book, surf the net. Be with my daughter, and watch the programmes she wants me to watch. I surf a lot. I have good net friends. In fact my net friends have given me tremendous strength and support. I am in a field where people are generally drawn towards me because of the title director, unlike my net friends. The net friends would stand by me even if I were just anybody. Say a housewife.

What about your husband?

Oh, he is generally out of the picture busy with his work so we decided that one of us has to stay at home.

What books do you like to read?

All sorts of books. Right from Richard Bach to Mill and Boons. On a rainy day you could catch me sitting by the window reading a Mills and Boon, while other times it could be anything from Archies comics to gossip magazines, novels, books by Ayn Rand to Sidney Sheldon. Anything that interests me. I used to read lot of Danielle Steel but that appeal is fading. I like Fountain Head by Ayn Rand while my consistent favourite has been Sidney Sheldon. His books read like a screen play with a dramatic beginning, lots of twists and turns and a dramatic end. The Other Side of Midnight, If Tomorrow Comes, they are gripping and make interesting reading.

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

I try to go beyond the script. But at the same time adhere to it as well. For instance in one of my serials Shalini and Parmeet who are in the eyes of the law married to each other. They both know she is pregnant with his (Parmeet) friend's child. In a scene where the girl has to leave for America where she would give birth to this child, they have mutually decided they would tell others that the birth was a premature one. However, the situation is such that over the period of staying together, they have grown fond of each other and are going to miss each other when they separate, but our idea was convey this message with the emphasis on emotion. That is where I try and go beyond the script.

What was your reaction to the tremendous response that the character Mihir got in Balaji Telefilms Kyun Ki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi when he died. Many felt that move was indirectly playing with the audience's minds?

To put it bluntly, we are not here to take care of people's minds. We are here for entertainment and mainly TRPs. I don't see anything wrong with that move. In fact it was a brilliant one.

Is all that heavy make-up really necessary?

Like I said we are in the entertainment business, even if I have to show slums I would make them look good. People want to be entertained. If showing reality was the idea I would have taken up documentaries. The very word 'make-up' implies making up for the things one lack. For instance if the actor has dark circles then those would be covered with a touch of make-up.

According to you who are the good directors?

Gulzar, Raj Kapoor, V. Shantaram and Guru Datt. In movies by Raj Kapoor, his scenes were spot on. If someone prolongs the takes then one gets a feeling that something is amiss. He made movies in such a way that the audience did not sit back and think but just flowed with the movies and at the end liked it. I cannot say I having watched a lot of movies. About Gulzar, his work touches me. Maybe its how he manages to say the right words that touches my heart. When I was a child, my father used to let us watch select movies and that's when I got to see movies by V. Shantaram and I liked it a lot.

What gives you a sense of achievement?

Personally the smile on my daughter's face, professionally TRPs.

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