"In a serial, you are only as good as your last episode" : Anil V Kumar

Call Anil V Kumar a 'self-made man' or 'Ekta Kapoor's man of crisis'. Actually, he is a mixture of both. He's here for fortune rather than for fame, and he makes no bones about it. He's got work on the rebound, and he has shown no ego but has in fact, done a better job than his predecessors. Graduating from television, he has set foot in the uncertain world of Bollywood. Despite a setback, he is busy dusting his pants and getting ready for another go at a feature film.

Vickey Lalwani caught up with the director at Thakur College, Kandivli, where he was busy directing Ekta's new serial Kashish.

Why did the arc lights fascinate you? And why did you take to direction as a profession?

I joined this line because there is lots of money in it. I am here to earn the most. Else, I would never have left my parents back home in Patna. I want to make sufficient money, so they can lead a luxurious life in their old age. I came to Mumbai in 1992, a little before the communal riots.

I still remember that horrendous day when I was running for my life; a mob was running to attack me for no rhyme or reason. I was in Goregaon (a suburb in Mumbai). I kept running and reached Film City. Even that day, there were film shoots going on. I was fascinated. I kept going there after everything had settled down, and decided that I wanted to try my hand at direction.


I joined Raman Kumar. His company Tracinema was into making serials. He made me the assistant director of one of his main serials Tara. Later, I became the chief assistant for three serials- Shatranj, Umeed and V3Plus. Somehow, Raman's company ran into losses and I had to branch out on my own. I joined Kushan Nandy (son of Pritish Nandy) and assisted him for some episodes of Thriller at 10 that he was making at that time. And then my life changed.

Ekta Kapoor spotted me directing Thriller at 10 in Shirdi. Through Kushan whom she knows, she got in touch with me and offered me the chance to direct her serial Kaun followed by Kahaanii Ghar Ghar Kii and then Kkusum. I was enjoying my popularity as a TV director when suddenly, one day she suggested that I take charge of her film Kucch To Hai. Anurag Basu was directing it, but there were some creative differences between the two of them. I was stunned. I realised that I had indeed come a long way (smiles).

"If you fail to sustain a viewer's interest in a particular episode, he/she may not view the next one"

How did 'Kashish' happen?

Actually, two guys, Deepak and Santosh, had co-directed 14 episodes of this serial. Ekta was disappointed with their work. She called and asked me to resurrect the whole thing. I was reminded of the days when she had asked me to take over the reins of Kkusum. Rajesh Bhatia had directed about 10 episodes of Kkusum, but Ekta was not happy with his work. I am going to direct this serial until June, then someone else will take over. I have told Ekta about it. Producer Ramoji Rao has asked me to direct his next film, starring Manoj Bajpai and Mahima Chaudhary. It's a triangle. Either R Madhavan or Rakesh Bapat will make up the third vertex.

What is 'Kashish' about?

This is Ekta's new baby. It's going to be a daily soap on Star Plus, June onwards. The entire star cast comprises of newcomers. It's the story of a young girl who is very supportive of her four sisters, but suddenly finds that two men have fallen in love with her. She loves one but gets married to the other. After a few days, her husband is murdered...

What are the differences you have felt while directing serials and a feature film?

Films are forever, TV serials have a short shelf life. You see a serial just once. But the movies are constantly played and replayed on the channels right from the stage of their promos. If a film director makes one hit in his lifetime, he is always remembered for that film. In a serial, however, you are only as good as your last episode. If you fail to sustain a viewer's interest in a particular episode, he/she may not view the next one.

Somehow, film artistes also stretch that extra bit compared to TV artistes. They feel the canvas is larger, they'll attain more fame. But I wish every artiste could realize that both films and television give equal fame. In fact, we have reached that stage in our entertainment world where TV is about to overtake cinema. Today, TV artistes are becoming more popular than the film ones. In a year or two, every artiste will have to shed his/her blinkers and dispel the myth that cinema is a more grand spectacle than television.

How different are you compared to other TV directors?

At the risk of sounding boastful, I think that I can pick up a scene after reading it, much faster than others do. Importantly, I don't dwelve into too many ifs and buts, but prefer to go ahead with whatever comes to my mind first. If you think too much, you end up getting confused.

Your Tv-director role-model?

Rakesh Sarang.

Any adjustments you had to make when you switched over to film direction?

See, in a serial, if the location is not good, 'chalta hai', you can compensate by bringing out the emotions a little more strongly; the viewer identifies with the character and does not bother about the set. If the artistes are unable to deliver the emotions, 'chalta hai', you can shift the set to an exquisite backdrop; the viewer, surprised by the locales, fails to observe the weak emotions.

In a film, however, you cannot compromise on either. You need both, good sets and emotions. The person who has paid Rs 100 per ticket expects, rather demands, 200 per cent of his money's worth. So I had to take all this into account when I took to film direction.

"Channels do interfere a lot, these days. But they are not irrationally adamant with her (Ekta), at least"

Still, the film flopped. And weren't you peeved when Ekta gave Anurag's name too in the credit titles?

(interrupts) It was not a disastrous flop. But yes, it did not do too well. Kucch to Hai was Ekta's baby. Midway through the film, she changed the director from Anurag Basu to me, simply because the baby was not growing as per her expectations. So there were portions where Ekta had her say. However, I had no ego problems when she gave credit to Anurag. After all, he did shot a substantial part of the film when the fall-out between Ekta and him happened.

As a director, how do you deal with the interference by the channels?

Channels do interfere a lot, these days. But of late, since I have been with Balaji Telefilms, I have not encountered this problem in person. Ekta can manage to have her way. The channels are not irrationally adamant with her, at least. Ekta deals with this problem very easily. Ekta and I have regular meetings discussing the tracks which have been dished out. At times, I realise that certain artistes will not be able to deliver to the demands. I explain this to her, and we sort it out by deleting/changing a scene or two.

Are there times when you have to sacrifice the retake since you have deadlines to meet?

Many times. But whether it's a TV serial or a film, the editing plays the most important role. If the editing is good, the product does not look patchy.

Do you agree that a director's opinion is not taken into account while doing the casting for a serial?

I agree. At least in daily soaps, that's definitely happening. That could be due to the lack of time. The ball is continuously rolling fast.

But it's happening in weekly soaps too.

Then, it's bad. At least in weekly soaps, a director should be involved during the casting process. I think that's because, nowadays, too many new departments have sprung up. Like there is this EP (Executive Producer) Department which wasn't there earlier. EPs are involved in casting, schedule, location, etc, almost everything. Often, they make a mess of many things. Moreover, they are close to the producer and not the director. So, their work is always done from the producer's angle. The director is again sidelined.

Don't you think that we are hardly getting to see anything innovative on the tube? I mean, everything is a mish-mash of something that has already appeared.

(interrupts) Still, quite a few serials are still doing well. I don't think that there's originality in any sphere. We all are inspired by each other, aren't we? What matters is how the product is packaged, presented and portrayed. The treatment of the subject is often more important than the subject itself.

You said that you'll leave 'Kashish' in June because of your movie assignment. Production houses too tend to change directors midway. Doesn't this inconvenience the artistes and the crew?

Of course, it does. Every director has a different perspective and style. The director who comes in towards the latter half of the serial has the toughest job. He has to trace back too much, do a lot of homework on practically every frame and character. Else the entire good work can come to nought. But what can one do? That's the name of the game, these days.

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