Ravi Rai should ideally rank among the most successful TV writers-directors-producers in India.
The maker of hugely successful soaps - Sailaab, Thoda Hai Thode Ki Zaroorat Hai, Sparsh and Teacher is, however, disappointed today with the quality of drama that is being churned out in soaps. Rai feels that they are replete with unjustified negativity. Critics on the other hand, have been ruthless, saying that Rai's style of story-telling has become redundant today. As if to give a fitting reply, Rai has re-invented his style to create a thriller- Parchhaiyaan, a daily soap on Sahara TV.
The master craftsman however remains firm on not joining the rat race and becoming a me-too producer. He has instead decided to live life on his own terms, spending a lot of his time reading and writing a collection of short stories. In a tete-a tete with indiantelevision.com correspondent, Amar, Rai talks about the present programming scenario vis-à-vis his own preferences. Excerpts-
Almost all your serials were based on relationships. What makes you re-invent your style and venture into unexplored territory now with a thriller?
Well, that's a difficult question, but I believe there are two reasons that prompted this change. One, times are changing and today the narrative needs to move a lot quicker. Thrillers are in great demand. At the same time, I'm told that my kind of story-telling no longer works, which I personally would not agree with. But then, because we have to cater to what the channel demands, I have no choice but to re-invent myself.
But what is the basic difference between the serials that are working today and your super- hits- 'Sailaab', 'Thoda Hai Thode Ki Zaroorat Hai'?
The basic difference is that today all these soaps thrive on negativity. A family soap has become synonymous with two bitchy sisters-in-law, a monstrous mother-in -law and a lecherous male member. There is so much bitchiness and so many inane skirmishes that I could never relate with. In my serials, all characters were positive and yet the drama was engrossing. In Sailaab, for instance, when the male protagonist decides to go with the other woman, all sides and viewpoints were presented with such conviction that the audience actually did not know whether to side with the husband or the wife. The same sensitivity is not there today.
"Even though I don't have the same passion in me for Parchaiyaan that I had for a Sailaab or Sparsh, I don't mind writing it if this is the kind of programme that the channels and the viewers want"
But what is the result of this change?
Unfortunately, producers have no say as far as the programming initiatives are concerned and channels have this arrogance about them, which makes them thrust their concepts on the producers. Today, marketing considerations have overtaken programming needs. Today, a family drama has to depict so much agony and infighting that I would much rather watch the coverage of a natural calamity or an air crash on BBC than one of these soaps.
How was 'Parchaiyyan' conceived?
Well, the concept came to us from a writer called Anusha. We presented it to several channels. Sahara liked it but wanted it as a daily.
But isn't the story too linear for a daily soap? Viewers feel that the story has hardly moved in the last few weeks.
I agree it's not the ideal subject for a daily soap but that is what makes it all the more challenging. I personally would not agree with the observation that the story has not moved. There is a method and a progression in the protagonist's madness (played by Achint Kaur) till the time she becomes a killer on the prowl.
Do you personally relate with 'Parchaiyaan' as a writer?
See, very early in my career I achieved phenomenal success and won several awards. After that I needed a strong stimulant to spur me on but by then, my kind of programmes were totally out. The creative person in me did not want to be an also ran and do what was thrust upon me, but at the same time my practical self realized that I had to do something for my survival.
So, even though I don't have the same passion in me for Parchaiyaan that I had for a Sailaab or Sparsh, I don't mind writing it if this is the kind of programme that the channels and the viewers want. The basic difference between writing my earlier serials and Parchhaiyaan is that, for those serials the motivation would come from within and no other thought or consideration would be there in my mind except that I should bring out the story with utmost honesty and sincerity. However, for Parchaiyaan, the approach is different. I have to do a lot of structuring. I have to follow the mix and match approach as far as plot movements and creation of scenes between the key characters are concerned. This has been a new experience for me.
'Parchaiyaan' saw a huge promotion being undertaken by Sahara. Was it the channel's initiative or did you play a part in it?
No, the promotions were entirely Sahara's initiative. In fact, they have been very supportive throughout and I'm happy that Parchhaiyaan is being treated as one of the channel drivers.
Which genres personally appeal to you?
Personally, I have no preference for genres. I would have loved to do a comedy or murder mystery but then nobody allowed me to do one because the moment my earlier serials became successful, I got slotted in the 'relationships' genre. I would love to venture into different genres but whatever I do will have its own individuality, a style which is my own.
"I would have loved to do a comedy or murder mystery but then nobody allowed me to do one because the moment my earlier serials became successful, I got slotted in the 'relationships' genre "
You have been one of the very few successful writers-directors-producers. How do you balance these different responsibilities?
Well, the last time I produced, wrote and directed a serial must have been three years ago. Yes, even though I was very successful, my schedules were chaotic. I would wake up at five, do some writing, then leave for my shoots and end my day around midnight. Gradually, I realised that I was losing out on so many things in life. So, in the last few months, I have completely re organised my life. Since I'm essentially a writer, I'm writing but in the future I would not direct a serial unless the subject really excites me. I also spend a lot of time reading.
Last year, your soap 'Ateet' which was one of the new soaps that Zee came up with in its overhauling turned out to be a complete washout. What went wrong?
The channel's interference. Ateet was one project of mine where I hardly had any say because everything -right from the story tracks to the way a shot had to be taken, was being dictated by the channel. Once you lose your conviction in something, it invariably hampers your product.
Your office is full of pictures of your idol, Mahesh Bhatt. What are the things you have imbibed from him?
Well, I have assisted Bhattsaab for five years. More than as director, I've learnt a lot from him as a writer. The ability to improvise on your real life experiences and adapt them into fiction without compromising on the essence of a happening is what I have imbibed from him. I also admire him for his honesty, his fearlessness and the fact that he will always stand by what he believes in.
In hindsight, is there any project you are unhappy with?
Yes, Sparsh. Sparsh actually got mixed responses. Some people liked it, yet others felt it should have been more engrossing. Personally, it was a bit of a letdown for me because it came after Sailaab, which I rate as my best piece of work. I wanted to improve on Sailaab, but beyond a stage my thought process just got zapped and I had problems bringing it out the way I had conceived it. And of course I hate to think of Ateet.
But did you never plan to grow into a big production house a la Balaji or UTV?
No, I produced serials only because I felt that much more attached and inspired to bring out what I wrote with all passion. Producing a serial gave me the opportunity to have complete control over things. But if I ventured into too many soaps, my personal touch would have gone. I would ideally produce only those programmes which I can personally nurture and be involved with creatively.
What do you see yourself doing in the near future?
Well, very soon, Satyamev Jayate, a soap that we are producing, will come on air. Personally, I want to lead a peaceful life and pursue many interests that I have lost out on in the last few years. So, apart from writing for TV, I'll be bringing out a book which will be a collection of short stories written by me.