"There are no bad actors, only bad directors" : Sourabh Narang

At 29, Sourabh Narang is one of the youngest and most sought after directors on TV today. The critically acclaimed Haqeeqat, Shhh… Koi Hai and Kagaar are some of the serials he has directed. Saurabh is also proud of the fact that he is already reputed for the serials he has refused- Sarhadein and Aap Jo Bolein Haan to Haan…, whose pilot he shot - a telling statement of how discerning he has been. Sourabh is extremely enthusiastic and passionate about his work. He is also coolly candid when he says that all he wanted from life was a nice wife and some movies to direct. Here are his views on life, reel and real, as they unspooled in a conversation with correspondent, Amar.

How did the idea of being a director come into your mind?

I graduated from St Stephens College in Delhi where I would participate in debates extensively. Debating gave me an opportunity to speak my mind and express myself freely. Barkha Dutt (NDTV correspondent), who was my senior in college, suggested that I take up Mass Communications at the Jamia Millia Islamia University. By the time I completed the course, I was obsessed with the thought of making a movie. That's how I came to Mumbai. Once here, I assisted K Shashilal Nair on Grahan and after that moved to TV serials.

What is that special something that makes for an effective director?

Observation, vision and discipline.

It is unfortunate that all a TV director does today is look at the monitor and then look at his watch.


Which subjects appeal most to you?

Anything that can be developed into something very dramatic. It could be the story of a 16-year-old girl raped by the police during riots or the story of a boy trying to work up the courage to propose to a girl he meets every day at the bus stop.

It is often said that TV is a writer's medium? Your comments?

I don't agree with it. Such a statement is made mainly because most of the TV software today is dialogue-driven. But people saying this tend to underestimate the levels to which the director and the cinematographer can raise a written work. I would rather subscribe to another dictum - that there are no bad actors, only bad directors; even though I know how bad an actor can be (laughs).

How much of a writer does a director have to be? Are you involved with the scripting of what you direct?

I have scripted a few episodes of Rishtey and Saturday Suspense which I have directed. Even today, when I direct Haqeeqat or an episode of Shhh Koi Hai, I spend a lot of time lining up the pre-production work and going through the entire script in minute detail. Wherever I feel certain changes in the script would help, I have made positive contributions to it.

What kind of research goes into Haqeeqat from the point of view of direction?

Actually, BAG Films (the production house) has an excellent news infrastructure spread across the country, so getting factual details for episodes of Haqeeqat is no problem. Besides, we have a research team that works exclusively on the serial. But getting factual details is one thing, creating the actual feel of the places where these incidents occurred is quite another. For that too, we have our ways of doing things. For an episode that featured some 25 inmates in a Chennai asylum getting burnt to death, we actually created a huge set in Mumbai that resembled the asylum. For an episode which dealt with the story of two lovers being hanged to death by their families in rural Haryana, my casting director took pains to search for actors who could actually speak the language of the region. The only actor who could not speak the dialect was the female protagonist but she was made to rehearse her part with the other actors for five days before the actual shoot.

What are the factors you never compromise on as director?

Commitment - because, in a way, the word is all-pervasive. I will not compromise on the total commitment I expect from each and every member of my unit - whether its an actor who needs to have done some ground work on his role or my own assistants.

Who are the directors you regard highly on Indian television?

Two directors on TV who I have great regard for are Umesh Padalkar and Anuraag Basu.

The funny part over here is that people don't plan to fail, they simply fail to plan.


Are there any stylistic elements you've imbibed from them?

In the case of Umesh, I've liked his rather Hollywoodish technique of shooting, wherein the same scene is cut from various angles. This really minimizes the scope for a re-take. As far as Anuraag Basu is concerned, the best part about his work is that it's very crisp, very taut with no extra flab in it.

Do you find channel executive producers overbearing?

See, that is a matter of personal opinion and experience. Personally, its been a pleasure to work with Sahara TV because no channel would allow the kind of creative freedom that Sahara does.

What are the factors you consider before taking someone under your wing?

More than technical knowledge, I would go for the person's educational and family background because I don't compromise on commitment and sincerity; and only a person with good character and the right set of values is expected to do justice on these fronts.

Do you enact scenes out as a method of instructing actors?

I don't enact scenes unless it is necessary, that is if I want the scene to be emoted in a certain manner and the actor is not able to comprehend it. As far as possible, I avoid enacting scenes because that tends to affect a natural performance.

How many projects do you like to work on simultaneously?

Ideally I would like to work on a weekly soap and do one-off stories at a time.

I avoid enacting scenes because that tends to affect a natural performance.


Given the industry vagaries, do you undertake some long term planning of the projects to do in the future to ward off phases when you don't have work?

The funny part over here is that people don't plan to fail, they simply fail to plan. What is lacking is the sheer enthusiasm to give a project your very best. You will be surprised when I tell you that Mahesh Bhatt had called me recently just to tell me that Ramesh Taurani of Tips Industries was so moved by a story shown in Haqeeqat which portrayed the parents of a person killed in Punjab by terrorists waiting for compensation, that he decided to personally compensate them. Now isn't my work being watched by people who really matter and do I need to worry so much about the future? In fact, more than the projects I do, I am already known for the projects I've refused - I was supposed to do Sarhadein which I didn't, I had directed the pilot episode of Aap Jo Bolein Haan To Haan…, but didn't direct any of its episodes after that.

How much time do you normally take to shoot one episode?

I take two days or three shifts to shoot one episode because that is the time I require to deliver top quality work. I have refused some very promising serials because the producers wanted me to shoot one episode a day and I don't operate that way. It is unfortunate that all a TV director does today is look at the monitor and then look at his watch.

So, are you absolutely closed to doing a daily soap?

Yeah, I'm offered at least one daily soap a week, which I have been refusing.

On hindsight, do you feel a specialized course in direction is required or is training under somebody more important?

A specialized course is important because formal education sets up the right foundation and enables you to get your basics right. One can always train under somebody after that.

What marks Sourabh Narang in style?

It's a little difficult to answer. You will have to see my work to see the passion and involvement that goes behind it. In a nutshell, let me just say, I don't do different things, I just do things differently.

Where do you see yourself ten years down the line?

(laughs) Given the amount I smoke, I should be dead. Jokes apart, I have always wanted two things in life - I wanted a beautiful wife and I wanted to direct a movie. Now that I've got the former, I just want to direct movies.

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