Television

"If you restrict the story to the main characters, the viewer enjoys it more" : Ravindra Gautam

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 Smart, young and handsome. One look at Ravindra Gautam and you wonder why he didn't want to have a tryst with acting. But then, you can't force somebody to start believing contrary to his convictions. Ravi, as he is fondly called, always believed that he could make his mark as a director.

Did we say 'make his mark'? Sorry, we take our words back. He hasn't just made his mark, he has now become a force to reckon with- as a director. Balaji's Kasautii Zindagi Kay currently directed by him was number one for quite some time recently, then Aruna Irani rolled up her sleeves and snatched away the top slot with her  Des Mein Nikala Hoga Chand for some time. But Ravi wrested it back!

Vickey Lalwani caught up with him on the crest of his wave, at a break in the hectic shooting schedule of  KZK in 'Indiclay' at Goregaon. Excerpts from an interview:

How did the direction bug bite you?

Since childhood (which was spent in Lucknow), I was a filmi buff, in the sense that, I used to see almost every film. Then, I joined a theatre group. I worked there for nearly seven years and learnt almost every nuance involved in the making of a project- screenplay, script-writing, direction, editing, etc. I developed plans of coming to Mumbai. But somewhere along the way, I got a nice job as a Probationary Officer in a nationalised bank.

And your filmi aspirations went for a toss?

No way! Films were my first love and first love never dies. Since my theatre days, I had developed an itch to direct a film, and even my parents supported me in my decision. Also, I had already met my better half!

Wow!

(blushes) I met her during my theatre days (I was just 22 then) and we even got married in Lucknow, before we finally departed for Mumbai.

And you left the bank job?

Obviously. Even my wife had started supporting me in the pursuit of my dream. Frankly, I had made it clear to her before marriage that I would leave the job and we would go to the city of my dreams, very soon after marriage.

Then?

I joined a six-month course in Animation Graphics in Lucknow. Meanwhile, my wife started working. Someone had to form the supportive system (smiles).

Fast forward. What happened in Mumbai?

I joined Crest Communications. After a year, they made me the editor. I worked there for nearly six years. Then joined MTV as an editor for a very brief period. Then I joined Sibar Media (a Hyderabad based company) which gave me the flexibility of being the Creative Head of their studio. From there, I got my first assignment as a director. I directed a few episodes for Khaufffor Sab TV. The EP of Khauff Vandana (who is currently the EP of KZK) messaged me that Balaji was looking out for someone to take over the directorial reins in KZK. I did a few test shoots for them. They liked it. Within a month, I was in the hot seat of KZK .

Hot seat?

Yeah. Kaid had directed about 200 episodes of the serial. Balaji wanted this serial to raise its TRP ratings. Earlier, it was slotted as fourth or fifth, if I am not wrong. So, my task was cut out for me. Mind you, it was a stiff challenge.

How did you meet the stiff challenge?

I saw the earlier episodes to take a firm grip on the plot. And I realised that the pace of the serial was quite slow. I started making it pacy. I am not saying that is moving at break-neck speed even now, but if you see how we take the shots compared to the old episodes, you'll realise what I mean. Without changing the gist, the camera angles and the length of the scene can be altered to keep the viewer's interest alive. Importantly, I started curtailing all the unwanted characters and dialogues. If you restrict the story to the main characters, the viewer always enjoys it more than otherwise.

Then, I realised that I needed to better the performances of the artistes as well. I had a long meeting with them where we gelled extremely well. From there on, I have never had a day of going home and worrying that any of my artistes was not too good. We tell each other whatever we have in our mind, and neither of us takes it to heart. We improvise on our flaws and highlight our virtues. The results are there for all to see. I have a terrific equation with my artistes. Importantly, I am open to suggestions.

"Without changing the gist, the camera angles and the length of the scene can be altered to keep the viewer's interest alive"

Do you give your artistes the flexibility to perform as they want to?

That's what I was coming to (smiles). I tell them that they should perform in a tone and posture they feel the best. I observe that. More often than not, they are bang on. They are professionals, have an image and reputation to protect and have lived the character now for more than 320 episodes. Why wouldn't they give it their best? Sometimes, of course, as a director I cannot see eye to eye with their portrayal. I tell them and they immediately understand. It's a pleasure to work with especially Cezzane Khan, Shweta Tiwari, Ronit Roy and Dipak Kazir. Put together, they form the biggest volcano of talent on Indian television.

Do you get rattled when some of your actors come late?

No. Because I know that they have a genuine reason. Many artistes from my serial are working on some other Balaji project. Surely, I can't be screaming in that case.

How does it feel to enjoy the top slot in the TRP game for so long?

Great. But we haven't had a party as yet. There is so much work still to do. You can't relax in this business. Remember, Des Mein Niklla ... had become number one for a week or so!

Oh, yeah! Did Ekta Kapoor send you a fiery message?

(laughs). No. But she told the Creative Head of the show, Nivedita Basu, that we quickly need to get our act together again.

But how did you recover in a week's time?

I removed all the unwanted scenes in that week. I kept only that stuff, which keeps you guessing as to 'what next?' Predictability was thrown out from the nearest window. Importantly, I hastened to show that Bajaj was still alive. Else that was slated to be shown a little later. The public got a jolt, we went back to the top (smiles).

So you change tracks, here and there, to suit the TRPs?

That's the name of the game.

Do you have an end in mind? Or is this serial just going on?

In television, the dictum is - 'if so far so good, then please don't tamper and don't think too much ahead'. You have to know the economics of the trade. Honestly speaking, I don't know what is the end. We are going on as per the mood of the viewers. But Ekta must be having something in mind, I am sure.

Doesn't the inordinate length often find characters being changed midway?

It does. But what to do? That way, just recently, we replaced the Geeta character (shrugs his shoulders). There is no time to sit, debate, brood, etc.

A word about Balaji before we wind up?

Great production house. Full freedom given to directors. Cost is never the factor. Lucky me! (smiles).

Has the first love of films evaporated?

May I repeat that first love never dies? One day, I will direct a film.

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