Television

"Television should be reflection of reality; it should innovate, reinvent and not continue to piggyback ride on something that has worked" : Ajai Sinha

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Simple, uncluttered and raw emotions are his forte. Never in his decade-long career as a director has he resorted to unwanted twists and turns in his shows. With interesting shows like Hasratein, Justajoo, among his credits, director Ajai Sinha is currently making waves with his show Astitva- Ek Prem Kahani.

Belonging to Zee's chosen gang, currently Sinha is busy with the post production of his mainstream cinema debut venture, Bachelor, starring Sharman Joshi, Raima Sen, Riya Sen, Manish Nagpal, Himani Shivpuri and Manoj Pahwa. Bachelor is expected to be released in the last week of September. Besides, he has a few more movie projects on hand.

Not many know that this actor-turned director-turned producer is a civil engineer by education. Coming from an academically inclined family, he found it difficult to explain to his family his aptitude for the performing arts. After his education, he took up a stable job while moonlighting as a theatre performer. To his credit as a civil engineer with CIDCO is the famous Bandra-Kurla stretch in association with MMRDA, then BMRDA and special building projects in the Mumbai suburb of Wadala.

Busy as a bee, the director met up with indiantelevision.com's Trupti Ghag at his office recently. In a free wheeling interview, he talked about his experiences in the industry, his principal peeves and mostly about his show Astitva.

Currently you are also making a few more movies. Are you planning to edge away from television?

No, apart from the emotional angle that television gave me the first break and blah blah, I am good with television. I have full faith in television. Additoinally, television I am certain of delivering class products.

 
What is the difference between the Ajai Sinha now and Ajai Sinha ten years ago?

I certainly get less worked up now. If I had to work for Astitva - a daily serial earlier, I am certain that my blood pressure would have shot up by a good few points (laughs).
 

Speaking about 'Astitva', the show has been receiving a lot of critical acclamation off late. Did you ever envision this kind of success?

Well, both yes and no. I am a little sceptical of audience tastes. Plus with the whole TRP rigmarole, I never thought that the show would be enjoying appreciation as much as it deserves. Despite everything, the show is still getting critical acclamation.

 

"Had 'Astitva' been on any other channel it would have been 'Kastitva'"

 

Would it enjoy a better fate had it been on any other channel?

Zee and only Zee could do justice to the show. Had it been on any other channel it would have been 'Kastitva' and not Astitva. Other channels wouldn't even have entertained the thought of the subject, but it was Zee that gave us the brief to work on and the freedom.

 

What according to you is the reason that 'Astitva' is working so well?

Realism people can relate to the situation. Never have we incorporated situations that seem too hard to digest. Take for instance, the scene where Niki's character Simran finds that her husband has been cheating on her. Instead of hitting the temple bells or beating her chest, she shuts herself in her room and thinks what to do next. That's exactly what anybody from that stratum of the society would do.

While television is making more and more opulent shows, bigger in budget, they are not necessarily innovating.

 

What do you think is the real issue here?

The ultimate goal of television should be to inform, to uplift society and not to indulge in a money making racket. Just because something has worked for you, it doesn't make any sense in trying to cash on it by churning out clones. If you are in a position where you can experiment and probably bring about some change in society, then why not.

While trying to make the television viewing possible for the lowest strata of the society, it is not necessary to stoop to that level. Instead of upping the thinking of the domestic workers, the channels are glamorising the 'bai culture'. Tell me do people from the affluent classes have time to do elaborate pooja, prepare different sets of breakfasts, attend to chores and then by the end of it all still manage to scheme and shed copious tears? How ridiculous can you get!

Wake up! You have a responsibility here. It is because of this 'baniya' (shopkeeper) mentality that our country has not progressed

 

What about the TRP ratings?

People who have good taste will watch good programmes.Take for instance the report filed by a columnist in a leading daily a couple of weeks ago (Shailaja Bajpai's column in Indian Express). She is not related to me. Yet she made it a point to recommend Astitva to her readers. It is to such kinds of audiences that I am primarily catering.

Television should be a reflection of reality; it should innovate, reinvent and not continue to piggyback ride on something that has worked. Look at the fate of movies, barring one or two movies others miserable flopped last year. Thankfully filmmakers have now understood that they need to come up with something different to sustain. Television should take a cue from the movies.

 

Haven't there been instances off late where stories 'inspired' by foreign scripts have worked well?

That's a very sticky issue. But I have a simple logic to explain it. Look at the seven notes of music after sa re ga ma pa dha ni there is again a sa. But the difference here is in the treatment. Even Sholay is a modern Ramayana, Amitabh and Dharmendra's characters Viru and Jai are like Ram and Lakshman; Gabbar is the Ravana while Thakur is Garuda with clipped wings. Even the scene where Basanti, played by Hema Malini, is abducted by Gabbar is inspired by the Sita abduction. It is inspired yet it is not alike.

I was traumatized when certain media sections claimed that my show was like the movie Ek Chotisi Love Story. Thank god they've stopped saying it.

It is sheer stupidity if you just pick up stories from the South and try to make into a Hindi serial, just because it's worked well. Other than the fact that it is a lazy work, you are killing your own creativity.

 

But isn't it the demand of the times? If you can't beat them then why not join them?

I may be losing out money wise, but I would rather be like Thomas Alva Edison who invented light bulb than like General Electric that produces millions every month.

 

Getting back to 'Astitva', how did you go about fleshing out the story?

It is not an unusual story. The lead characters are people everybody can relate too. Everybody from the middle class and upper middle class society can identify with the story. While fleshing out the story, I took help from people around me, my friends, relatives, friends' relatives... Take for instance, the scene where Abhi says that Simran should accept Kiran, as she makes him happy. That's exactly what happened to a cousin of mine.

Alok Nath's character is based on an IAS officer that I know. The opening scene where he is shown chased by a dog was a real life incident. Apart from the fun elements, I have inculcated the mannerism of that IAS officer in Alok's character his approach towards situation and his reactions.

 
How did you go about casting the artistes?

I chose artistes who I thought suited the character the most. I do not cast anybody for their star value. We have a very open system, no favoritism.
 
Haven't quite a few artistes have been repeated in your shows?

If you mean Harsh Chayya, then yes. He is a brilliant performer and I share a great rapport with him. But that is not the reason why he is cast in my show. He wasn't in Gudgudee.
 

Did you ever think about working with other channels?

No, never. I am very comfortable with Zee; I don't mind the Zee director label either. They have been very supportive of me. At Zee they always interact with you during making but never enforce. I am given complete liberty to do as I please. Barring Samay, all the programmes enjoyed a long run.

 

Why was 'Samay' taken off abruptly?

Samay was released simultaneously with Kaun Banega Crorepati. It was a family drama but unlike the weepy saga's. It had a saas and bahu , but that was it. It had a pathetic viewership. Plus Zee made a decision to completely revamp its programming, so it was not as if only my programme was taken off. The entire line-up was changed.

 

What is the essential difference between a weekly and daily?

Quality! With a weekly, you have the luxury of time so you can afford to re-shoot if you think that it isn't perfect. While with dailies you have deadlines to meet, that really affects the output.

 

So what next for Ajai Sinha, the director?

Currently, I am working with a producer on a movie project based on Indo-Pak relationships. The movie titled Upahaar is penned by Ishan Trivedi. Besides there is a television serial titled Atmakatha in pipeline, that is of course with Zee.

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