Television

"Satellite channels are obsessed with family melodramas" : director Vinod Pande

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Vinod Pande is not a run-of-the-mill filmmaker. Whether films or TV, his creations have stood out for being daringly different. Pande was the trendsetter in late 1970s and early 80s with films like Ek Baar Phir and Yeh Nazdikiyaan, which explored man-woman relationships in the backdrop of forbidden love, with a degree of boldness that none of his contemporaries dared display.

In the 1980s, he arrived on Doordarshan with Air Hostess, a serial he produced and directed. Then came Reporter, the story of a crusader journalist who left no stone unturned in getting to the truth. Pande is in the news again after a hiatus for his new tri weekly on DD - Mera Humsafar. Mera Humsafar is the story of a courageous woman who takes it upon herself to stand by and single-handedly raise her child suffering from Down's Syndrome. Excerpts of an interview with indiantelevision.com correspondent Amar.

From civil service to advertising to filmmaking - what has been the journey like?

I was settled in England with a job in the British Civil Service, even though I had always wanted to be an actor. In 1972, my creative urges propelled me to quit my job and start an advertising agency of my own. For seven years, I ran my agency successfully. In 1979, I directed my first film, Ek Bar Phir. The movie was made entirely in England and went on to meet outstanding box office success.

You are known for tackling offbeat, often taboo subjects. What exactly appeals to you as a director?

I like to explore unconventional man-woman relationships, especially in the context of forbidden love. I like bold subjects and my movies have always been ahead of the times. For instance, in Yeh Nazdeekiyan, an actor's wife, played by Parveen Babi, is shown as opting for a physical relationship outside marriage, because she is unhappy with her husband.

"I don't have much respect for the conventional form of marriage. Marriage, to me, symbolizes the apex of a bond of friendship, where one should respect the partner's freedom, space and preferences"

But what is your source of inspiration behind dwelling on extra-marital relationships?

Well, personally, I don't have much respect for the conventional form of marriage. Marriage, to me, symbolizes the apex of a bond of friendship, where one should respect the partner's freedom, space and preferences. I guess this ideology of mine gets reflected in my work. I believe in an adage someone once told me- You could be more married without being married while you may not be married at all even after being married.

How different do you find directing a serial from directing a movie? Well, fundamentally the difference lies in the scale and then, in the space. In a movie, everything needs to be mounted and done lavishly, whereas in a serial everything needs to be toned down. In a movie, the story needs to be told in a very compressed way, whereas in a serial multiple tracks and sub-plots need to be carved out. But it is far more creatively satisfying to do films because cinema has its own magic. If you can draw people out of their homes to pay and watch movies, it is far more satisfying than obtaining a good viewership on TV.

How was 'Mera Humsafar' conceived?

Some 10-12 years ago, I read an article on the cover page of Sunday Express that read A prayer for my daughter'. It carried the story of how a mother had single-handedly stood up and fought for a child suffering from Down's Syndrome. I met this woman and was so inspired by her that I decided to make a small English film based on it. I expected support from the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) but that did not happen as the NFDC people felt the subject was very morbid.

Then two years ago, when we were looking for some new subjects, I decided to revive the story. At the same time, I told myself that we would make this sad story into a positive story of the victory of this woman and make it feel good. That was how Mera Hamsafar was conceived.

Why did you opt for DD for telecasting 'Mera Humsafar'?

Well, ideally I would have wanted to put the serial on a satellite channel but somehow even a path- breaking subject like this did not find any takers among satellite channels. I guess satellite channels are so obsessed with family melodramas that nothing else appeals to them. When we approached DD, it immediately gave us a tri-weekly slot. Initially, I was very reluctant to make it a tri-weekly but then given the economics of DD, it made better sense to employ people on a regular basis to obtain economies on production and reduce costs.

As a director, what are the elements you never compromise on? Primarily on the level of performance and the inherent content of a scene which involves matters like the right lighting and the right camera work.

As a production house, which other genres would you like to venture into?

I would like to venture into several genres except melodrama and make believe stuff. At the moment, I am particularly charged up about a non-fiction series-Reflections, where I'm profiling some of the most enigmatic public personalities of our times. I recently interviewed V P Singh for this, where I have unveiled aspects of his personality other than the politician we know.

Who would you rank among your favourite directors?

Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy and David Leene.

"It is far more creatively satisfying to do films because cinema has its own magic. If you can draw people out of their homes to pay and watch movies, it is far more satisfying than obtaining a good viewership on TV"

Are there any stylistic elements you have imbibed from them?

All these directors brought out a deep sense of humanism in their work. Besides, they excelled in man-woman relationships that carried an element of forbidden love.

What is your production set up like?

We have recently acquired office space at Malad, that also houses our in-house editing studio. We have a team of about 17 people on a full time basis that includes a production controller and an executive producer. Given the way a daily soap has to be shot, even the director and writers are more or less working on just this project.

As producer, which are the areas you are personally involved with as far as your projects go?

Primarily with the scripting. I prefer not to direct now unless I find the task extremely challenging. I directed the first two episodes of Mera Humsafar because I wanted to experience the challenge of directing a daily. Besides, I like to focus more on giving shape to the future plans of the company- and supervising its growth in the coming years.

On what basis do you choose a director for your projects?

It depends. First and foremost, it's how I gel with the director and whether our wavelengths match. Secondly, it's the capabilities of the director. For instance, two directors who I have worked with the most are Usha Dikshit and Amitabh Sinha. Usha has been an old colleague with whom I have done a lot of work in the past and we relate superbly. When I was starting this daily - Mera Humsafar, we were however not too sure of her doing a daily well. So, we gave the responsibility to Amitabh Sinha. Amitabh had been my chief assistant on Reporter. At the same time, he has earned a good reputation for himself as a director of dailies in the last two years.

Where do you see Vinod Pande Entertainment Organisation (VPEO) five years down the line?

Well, we've made a few false starts but this time around we really want to irreversibly consolidate our position. Five years down the line, we would like to be known as a dependable production house providing trend-setting, high quality programming to the industry. At the same time, we would like to produce a couple of movies of the kind I normally like doing.

Why have you been so selective in choosing your projects all these years?

I entered the medium primarily to express myself. My intentions have always have more ethereal than material. I would admit that as a filmmaker only a few subjects have really excited me. While I might whole-heartedly love Lagaan, if I were asked to make a similar movie, I don't think it would excite me. The same is the case with TV. I can't be a me-too contender and do something everybody else is doing.

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