Next time when I direct, I’ll be more confident about what I want: Seema Pahwa

Alaka Sahani

Seema Pahwa made her directorial debut in 2019 with Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi.

Even though Seema Pahwa had the story of Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi in mind for over five years, direction is something she had not considered. Known to a certain generation of audience as Badki of the popular television show Hum Log (1984-85), Pahwa has been in the reckoning after the appreciation she enjoyed for her role as Amma in Ankhon Dekhi (2014). Her cameos in movies that followed such as Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015), Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017), and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (2017) have ensured that she has an exciting second inning as an actor. She took this a notch higher when she wrote and directed Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi, an incisive look at the complex family emotions and relationships following a death. The movie premiered in the ‘Spotlight’ section of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star, and is one of the more impressive directorial debuts of 2019. Excerpts:

How was the experience of taking charge as a director?

Initially, I was scared. There are several factors that help in bringing a script alive on the big screen. I had never directed before. Not even a short film. For the first time, I was directing a feature film and that too with a cast of 27 actors. However, I was operating from the point of view of an actor, not director. I was paying more attention to each actor’s character and its significance. Most of the times directors get bogged down by the technical aspects of a movie. They are easily pleased with what an actor delivers. They don’t push the actors. I was more concerned with how my actors were portraying their characters. I have tried to do justice to even those who were playing small roles. I have played smaller roles in several films and found myself to be neglected.

What kind of preparation did you require before taking on this new role?

On the first day of the shoot, I was very nervous. Once I started working, I had a lot of clarity regarding what I wanted as we had done the pre-production meticulously, just the way we work in theatre. My experience of directing plays — Kamleshwar’s Bayaan and Bhisham Sahni’s Saag Meat in Delhi as well as Bhishmotsav in Mumbai — helped me a lot. I didn’t know much about post-production work. However, I had to go by what was suggested to me by those working on post-production. Next time when I direct a movie, I will be much more confident about what I want. Filmmaking, too, follows a pattern. We can experiment with certain technical aspects of it and bend the rules. Rules should not come in the way of touching the audience’s hearts and storytelling.

How overwhelming was the response during the screening the film at MAMI?

All my actors watched it together for the first time during the festival. My biggest worry was whether young audience would connect with the story. I was surprised that so many youngsters met me after the screening and talked about their grandparents and other family members. I was touched by the fact that the day after its screening Shabana Azmi called and was curious to know how I took the shots and managed a big cast. Naseeruddin Shah too praised the film.

Your father’s death triggered your idea for this story.

Nearly 30 years ago, after my father passed away, my mother felt very lonely. I was married for a year by then. We had lost my elder brother, my sister was married and another brother lived abroad. My mother was very dependent on us emotionally. I wanted to introspect what goes wrong. After I worked in Ankhon Dekhi, I realised a movie on this plot could be developed. While shooting for Dum Laga Ke Haisha, I wrote the synopsis and narrated it to Sharat Katariya. He encouraged me to write it. In 2015, when I was not shooting for a while, I started writing. I called a bunch of people home and read the script. They loved it. So, I told Sharat and Rajat Kapoor about the script and asked if they want to make the film. Rajat said since I know the story so well, I should direct it.

All your characters are flawed in some way.

No one is perfect or ideal. We do gossip about each other. In spite of all their flaws there is a bond that ties them together. Everyone is disturbed and bogged down by their circumstances. Some wondered why do I have so many characters. My understanding is that when you have fewer characters, you do find solutions. More the characters, more entangled the issues are. I was very clear about the casting. I didn’t audition anyone. I tried to cast actors who get along and bring their camaraderie to the sets. When I approached some producers, they thought that without stars, my film won’t work. I was not convinced. I said during an interview that I have a script. Followed by that, Drishyam Productions called me and came on board. We finished shooting the film in December 2018.

What about Konkona Sen Sharma, who is probably not familiar with many of the theatre actors?

It was necessary to have Konkona as her character sticks out among them. She is very sweet and tried to mingle with others. But there was an awkwardness which was needed.