Are directors getting a raw deal on Indian television?

Directors on Indian television have a long list of complaints. 'Blame it on the production houses and the channels', seems to be the majority viewpoint. Are they justified? attempts to analyze:

1) Directors complain that people are unaware of who wields the megaphone even if their programme is popular.

Kahiin To Hoga director Anil Kumar says, "In films, the director is given a lot of importance in the publicity campaign of the show. This does not happen in serials. As a result, he does not get any recognition if and when his hard work bears fruit."

But BAG Films Mumbai head Rajesh Chaddha argues, "Why do these directors forget that they get films to direct very soon, if they have done a bit of television? Plus they get sufficient money."

Kahiin To Hoga director Anil Kumar

2) Directors gripe about scripts that habitually arrive past deadline, generating perpetual anxiety - and no one has been able to do much about it, they say.

A director directing a daily for a leading channel on account of anonymity, offered, "We are ready to roll. But where is the script? Creative think, writers write and directors direct. And when creative and writers don‘t do their job on time, why is the director expected to direct on time? Directors have to control scores of people, an enormous amount of equipment, trucks, vans, casting and locations. It‘s a huge strategic undertaking. And if you have no script, you simply cannot operate. Sometimes, I think the creative, writers, et al, who are late, do not fully grasp what the ramifications of that tardiness really are."

"If the script comes late, we have to extend our working hours, because the channel takes no excuses, if the channel wants a cassette by evening, they have to have it. We directors have to face the music. Today‘s actors who become known faces in a short span of time become too big for their boots even before you have blinked. Even before he/she arrives on the sets, he/she calls up to know when exactly I would call pack-up for the day! These actors are pampered by the higher-ups, else they wouldn‘t crib and create ugly scenes when their demands of an early pack-up are not met with, or inculcate attitude which smacks of needless pride," rues Kumar.

Cinevistaas chairman Prem Kishen

Cinevistaas chairman Prem Kishen quite agrees, "Why only directors? Even music directors and editors could do a better job is scripts are written and cleared in time. The directors who are finding this environment a lot stressful do have a valid point. It‘s a vicious cycle, really. Blame it on the constant monitoring that is done on every programme."

3) Directors lament that they should be involved in the storyline.

Actor director Anant Mahadevan

Actor director Anant Mahadevan (who directed Devi until recently) fumes, "I know of a channel official who said that he wants to show the bahu in an uncrumpled saree getting up in the morning and offering a cup of tea to her husband. I demand to know that why the head honchos of channels do not invite the really creative guys like Sai Paranjpe, Aziz Mirza, Ramesh Sippy, et al, who churned out some of the most memorable stuff in the past. I know for a fact that all these guys are still fit and bursting with ideas. But the head honchos feel that the their work is old-fashioned and does not click anymore. Actually, they don‘t want these

Kahaanii lambi chaudi...

seniors because they would invariably have an opinion in the way the story takes shape. Who are they fooling that the public wants to see the same shows again and again plus a 20-year leap, that too without a single white strand in the protagonist‘s hair? Recently I was walking in Vaishnodevi with Sakshi Tanwar and a big group of people came running to her and asked when Kahaanii Ghar Ghar Kii was going to end. The doomsday of Indian television is not far."

Balaji Telefilms creative head Ekta Kapoor who apparently believes in the TRPs her shows register, questions, "The whole game is run by TRPs. Atleast my shows are not dragging. If they were dragging, how would they have consistently achieved such fantastic TRPs?"

Soap queen Ekta Kapoor

Another man waiting to voice his complaint is Qaeed Kuwajerwala, director of Saara Akaash, "Gone are the days when the producer had the rights for every show and made the best utilisation of the services available, so that his product had a good re-sale value. Today, the channel has become the King and the producer has no option but to toe the line and take a cut commission if the serial can deliver an asked TRP. You have more characters and more scenes packed in today than you did a decade ago. Today, time is most important on television. A good director is not one who bothers about the skill and the craft of his art, but rather one who does not demand too much space and moulds himself according to the present scenario where he is ruled by at least seven to eight people involved with the show who are superior to him in designation and maybe status too."

Executors? "Actually. Today‘s TV directors are mere executors," says Imtiaz Punjabi who directed Choodiyan but later shifted to films, "If the executor, sorry, the director is slow, more so-called directors are employed for the same show - without giving thought to the fact that there will be a marked change in the flavour plus there could be continuity jerks as well. Believe me, the actors who worked with me - like Juhi Parmar, Rohit Bakshi, Manav Gohil, Shraddha Nigam - call up to say that they miss someone explaining to them what should be done and how it should be done, they say that directors just tell them to give less expression and more expression but not which expression." Adding a personal experience he said, "I was directing a show for a big production house, but was told to do things which did not convince me. I felt suffocated. I sensed that I was dragging myself to work. I left it. The fault lay with the production house. In fact, the channel saw my point of view but the production house did not. There is so much of creative space given to a director in films."

In literal sense, Punjabi means that TV directors have been reduced to being robots who have to churn out quantity first and quality later!

However, Kapoor believes that film direction and TV direction are two different ball games. She explains, "Our TV directors have needlessly started thinking like film directors. Film direction comprises story telling and execution. TV direction comprises only execution. The story telling is in the hands of the creative. And this is not something that is happening in India only."

"The growth of a TV director is always recognised by the production house. If he is replaced, there must be a genuine reason. And it is wrong to believe that if and when they‘re replaced, the TRPs do not change - both ways. And who says that execution does not involve creativity?" she added.

Star India senior vice president Deepak Sehgal

Star India senior vice president Deepak Sehgal believes, "TV directors have a much more challenging job than film directors. Unlike films, there is no scale, no mounted songs, no control over the audio, plus a large amount of inputs by the production house and the channel. It‘s just a question of rising to the occasion."

On the other hand, Chaddha feels that directors who are downcast are not making efforts to rise to the occasion. He claims that production houses and channels do allow the liberty of innovations and improvisations if the director is an established one. "I think the speed factor may be disallowing them from experimenting beyond a certain limit but that‘s the way things are likely to remain, with dailies being in vogue more than the weeklies," he says.

4) Directors hate it if some other director is summoned to shoot a few portions of their show, which seems to be becoming a common phenomena these days..

Says Kumar, "A director or two are roped in from somewhere to speed up the process. And if the TRPs go down thereafter, the original director is the first one to be pulled up! Pray, what does a fly-by-night director know what all has happened in the serial so far, what the original characters are, what their body language should be, how loud/soft they should be…?"

BAG Films Mumbai head Rajesh Chaddha

Candidly speaking, Kumar means that directors are freelancers and not members of the family and the director is the first on the menu to be eaten - alive if necessary! Has the scenario been reduced to: One director holds the baton of directorship, but he is meant to run for a certain distance before he hands over the piece of wood to somebody else, who then runs for a few yards more and does the same?

Solutions? Most directors are not optimistic on this front.

Qaeed Kuwajerwala - Director of Saara Akaash

Kuwajerwala would prefer to resign to the infrastructure available. "A discussion to this problem is healthy, but I don‘t think that this problem has a solution. Every TV directors must stop giving vent to his feelings and difference of opinion, if he wants to remain as a part of the serial. He should not question whatever he has been told to carry out. If he does, he should get ready to be replaced. There are enough substitutes that can be found for him. Today, creativity for a director in Indian television is how he/she manages to salvage him/herself."

Sanjivani- A Medical Boon director Kaushik Ghatak is not upbeat either. Replaced from Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi once upon a time (which he prefers not talking about), he does not sit on the side his fraternity does. He has perhaps learnt his lesson. He offers, "A director is no more the sole captain of the ship in television. Time and energy should not be wasted in understanding that the entertainment media has become a collaborated effort. The producer and the channel are involved in high stakes. If a TV director claims that he is the sole captain of the ship, he should not forget that the producer and the channel together make the ship itself!"

Sanjivani- A Medical Boon director Kaushik Ghatak

Punjabi, however, feels that India must follow the Western formula, "Shoot for six months before going on air. While the show is on air, concentrate on the script and the shooting for the next six moths. That way, the director can really use his expertise to convert an average product into a brilliant one," but quickly laments, "We want to milk the cow continuously without realising that she‘ll soon go dry. Believe me, many directors are asked not to sit at the edit table! They are told ‘shoot kar ke do, edit ki parvah mat karo, yadi humko achcha nahin laga to hum reshoot karva lenge." (Shoot and see, don‘t worry about the edit. If we don‘t like we will have a reshoot.)

Mahadevan sighs, "Every TV director must sign a contract with the producer that he will not be replaced for a particular amount of episodes. If he is thrown out before the contract expires, like they do abroad, he will be allowed to go away taking the script with him."

Kumar, sounding terribly peeved, is not looking for solutions, "I feel that I should start switch over to directing films. I directed a film called Kucch To Hai for Balaji Films, but since another director had done a part of it before me, I did not get the freedom I would have loved to have. I don‘t mind starting off on a lower note with good producers; I have some wonderful scripts which I am confident would click at the box-office."

Add this to the other problems which TV directors claim they face - inability to get the desired cast, added production time due to inadequate preparation, inadequate rehearsal time with actors, cost overruns due to production inefficiency, negative impact on the quality of the production and, last but far from least, negative impact on a director‘s reputation.

Is it a problem that might not go away and, in fact, appears only to be growing worse? Kishen endorses, "It is a problem. But there is light at the end of every dark tunnel. A day will come when directors will stop complaining."

Or, is it not a problem at all? It‘s a coffee-toffee argument really.

On date, the directors on Indian television would do well to remember the age-old saying ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going.‘

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