"A director should understand sensitive situations without being prejudiced or judgmental " : 'Saaya' director Sanjay Upadhyay

He forayed into television with Kavita Chaudhary's path breaking Udaan. Sanjay Upadhyay's career flight, which took off with directing Saaya, Aatish, Tum Pukar Lo and Hum Pardesi Ho Gaye, among others, hit a trough with the recession in the television industry.

Talent like Upadhyay's is hard to put down, though. Scouting for greener pastures, this former protégé of acclaimed director Govind Nihalani is now working on a couple of movie scripts.

He does have a serial up his sleeve - Chinar, the pilot of which has been shot and which is being marketed to channels. Excerpts of an interview he gave to correspondent, Amar.

How and when did you decide to take to direction?

I was always deeply fascinated by the medium of cinema and wanted to be involved with it since childhood. With time, this fascination only grew and I took up assisting in direction to Sudesh Aiyyer. Even though I soon realized that ultimately I would want to direct movies, my tenure as assistant to Sudesh firmly got me into the medium and since then there has been no looking back.

Have you trained formally in film direction?

No, but I assisted Govind Nihalani for nearly eight years.

"Writing in India as a profession is not given due respect and most writers are phased-in writers waiting to turn directors or to venture into something else"


What are the stylistic elements you have imbibed from him?

First and foremost, it's the execution of mis en scenes. These are single shot scenes but shot so comprehensively, even with simultaneous choreography that one is not able to make out that it is shot in one go. These scenes are extensively rehearsed before the shoot and the results are far superior. Secondly, I've been deeply impressed by the way he analyses all his characters. I too try to get deep into the mind of my characters because then the emotions are a lot more real.

Apart from Govind Nihalani, who are the other directors you admire?

Raj Kapoor, Vijay Anand and Rajkumar Santoshi are some of the names that I can instantly think of.

What is the basic quality required of an effective director?

The ability to observe and understand various sensitive situations without being prejudiced or judgmental.

 It is often said that TV is a writer's medium. What do you think of this?

Not just TV, but even films are a writer's medium. A good story is the basic starting point and unless the foundation is strong, a good product cannot emerge. It is really unfortunate that in India, writing as a profession is not given due respect and most writers are phased-in writers waiting to turn directors or to venture into something else. But having said that, let me add that it is the responsibility of the director to take the script beyond the written stage and enhance it cinematically.

Do you also write the projects you direct?

Who are your favourite writers? No, the concepts could be mine but I don't write. Among the older generation of writers, I have immense respect for Manohar Shyam Joshi. Mir Muneer too is an excellent writer. He shows a rare excitement for minor details in the script, which I feel is really admirable coming from someone who has been in the medium for nearly three decades.

"I'm notorious for making significant changes in the dialogues while shooting. If an actor is not comfortable with certain lines or if a given situation or scene appears uncomfortable on him, there is no point in pressing on with it"

Which subjects appeal the most to you?

I would love to work on as many disparate subjects as I can. Personally, I have no favourites, as I feel that would limit me as a director.

What are the factors you never compromise on as director? Performances. See, whatever a director wants to say, has to be said through his actors and unless the director's vision is supplemented with good quality performances from his actors, the right impact will just not be there.

Do you improvise on the script while shooting?

Oh, yes. In fact I'm notorious for making significant changes in the dialogues while shooting. See, ultimately if an actor is not comfortable with certain lines or if a given situation or scene appears uncomfortable on him, there is no point in pressing on with it, because over here things cannot be imposed. They have to come naturally from within. As far as I am concerned, improvising on a scene is a very normal exercise I almost invariably carry out.

On hindsight, do you regret not having done a formal course in film direction?

No, not really. Hands-on training with a quality director is quite effective. The only thing I regret is not getting to see certain films one gets to see as part of a film appreciation exercise. I feel that would definitely have helped.

What factors would you consider before taking someone under your wing?

Basically, the contender should be extremely hardworking and should be able to understand and relate with my way of working. He should be excited about his work. He should be a person who tells me, 'I'll do it' rather than come back to me every now and then and say 'This can't be done'. I don't put much emphasis on technical knowledge unless I have to recruit someone as the chief assistant director.

Do you personally enact scenes by way of instructing your actors?

No. This only makes the actor more conscious and affects a natural performance. My whole idea is to put the actor at ease so that he gives an uninhibited performance. I do a lot of talking with my actors and help them feel situations and emotions better.

What marks Sanjay Upadhyay in style and sets him apart from other directors?

I seriously don't have an answer to this question, nor have I ever thought about it. I would leave it for people to decide.

Where do you see yourself ten years down the line?

As a successful director of movies.


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