When you have delivered a hit show like Balika Vadhu for three years in a row, and continue to tell a story of over 1000 episodes, like there were something new to tell each day, one would definitely wonder what is it that ensures this kind of consistency and quality? Having worked on unconventional shows like Ek Chaabi Hai Pados Mein which was a weekend Drama, and Jyoti, a simple story of a strong willed girl from a middle class family, Siddharth Sengupta ( known as Goldie to the TV fraternity) excels in story telling.
Every show has its own back-story to tell, and every one involved in it only goes on to make this story what it finally is. When you talk to Siddharth Sengupta, you can see why his shows are what they are: simple, strong yet effective. He is all of that! Play me your show, and I will tell you who you are.
During our hour-long chat with Mr. Sengupta, we were more than thrilled to know how shows are made, and what makes them click through the tale of Balika Vadhu.
Rangmunch.TV: Congratulations! Balika Vadhu has completed three years. What do you thing is the USP of the show, which has helped garner such high TRPs week after week?
Sidharth Sen: Thank you. Yes, it has completed 1000 episodes. The idea was to give something to society. We wanted to do it in an honest way because I had seen child marriages; it takes childhood away which is unjust. Everything else just fell in place; we never knew it would be such a big hit. It has worked because its extremely well written with lines that have lot of depth. The show has good actors and Pradeep Yadav, the Director is also good. I believe that when all the departments involved in making a show fall in place, the show becomes a hit.
Since I had been busy with Gulaal, I haven’t being doing Balika Vadhu for a while. Infact, I shot with Pratyusha (Anandi) for the first time only recently. Avika Gor (younger Anandi) and Avinash (younger Jagiya) were the ones I had worked with right from the start. I brought them up.
Rangmunch.TV: Currently, there are several shows with a rural backdrop. Do you think it is essential to garner high TRPs?
Sidharth Sen: I don’t think so. Whatever be the show, it just has to be honest. After Balika, in these three years, how many shows that have started with rural background have been successful? Bade Achche Lagte Hain is doing well and is a respected show. It is not rural it is completely modern. It is actually a herd mentality to follow a success formula. If the story demands it then it is fine, but if it doesn’t why have it in the first place?
Infact, I don’t know how to make a hit show. More than us, everyone else seems to know why Balika Vadhu (smiles) is such a hit. At our end, we are just trying to tell you a genuine story.
Rangmunch.TV: So, whose concept was Balika Vadhu?
Sidharth Sen: It was Purnendu Shekhar’s concept who is the writer of the show and is also from Rajasthan. Purnendu and Sunjoy Waddhwa, the Producer, have been trying for years to get this across to people until Ashwini Yardi, Programming Head of Colors understood the concept and decided to air it. Nowadays the channels work on research. Four years ago, the Channel would not have allowed a story revolving around two kids getting married.
Rangmunch.TV: Do you think the unique idea of asking the viewers to choose the actress they wanted to see as their Anandi after the leap, worked in your favor? Why this strategy only for Anandi?
Sidharth Sen: Everyone has apprehensions when the story takes a leap because audience gets connected to the characters and their faces. Am sure that it has worked well as you can see Pratyusha (Anandi) is still working (smiles). This was an open audition. Television is led by women. She was the protagonist; hence, it was done only for her. Also, it was Anandi’s story at the end of the day.
Rangmunch.TV: Since your show depicts the rural Rajasthan, your characters not only wear the traditional Rajasthani costumes but also speak the dialect. Did you conduct any workshop to ensure the right diction?
Sidharth Sen: No, we have consciously not had very hard dialects. Its spoken hindi delivered with a leja – a flavor of the language. We have kept it flexible; we just wanted the flavor of Rajasthani dialect to come across. If it is over done people start disconnecting.
Rangmunch.TV: Do you prefer working with the same people (team) always?
Sidharth Sen: I am very finicky about who I am working with. I have a great equation with Sanjay. It is a pleasure working with him. Anybody who is interested in making a brand out of their name, which Sunjoy Waddhwa is, I am more interested in working with such people, because people are product conscious. I have been lucky to work with some of the best writers.
Rangmunch.TV: How do you ensure consistency with regards to the story and characters over a period of three years?
Sidharth Sen: That is the difference – it is a very honest and dedicated approach. It is the Director’s job to tell the story without letting any character or actors getting out of hand. This is possible when everything falls in place including the writers.
Rangmunch.TV: You have dealt with issues like puberty in the show. When shooting such scenes with children, how do you let them know what and why they have to do? Did you ever feel uncomfortable while explaining certain things to them?
Sidharth Sen: Avika (younger Anandi) is a very intelligent and mature girl. I used to call her Bindni (wife). I used to speak to her father too and he used to tutor Avika. I would try to explain to them drawing references from their world. Kids pick up faster that way.
Ali (younger Kesar) of Gulaal was much more innocent than Avika. Avinash (younger Jagiya) was also little difficult to explain to.
Rangmunch.TV: Has it ever happened that a scene or a dialogue was written that you were convinced of but the actor wasn’t?
Sidharth Sen: (Thinks and smiles) Well, it has. But we as creators have to justify the same, and make actors understand for them to perform. For eg. Senior artists like Surekhaji (Dadisa) play their characters with their heart, so you cannot tell her to do something that she is not convinced about; so it is important to convince them first as well.
Rangmunch.TV: Vasant and Gehna is another interesting couple in the show. Their suhaag raat addressed marital rape. How do you convince the actors and give them confidence to do such scenes where they have not had a chance to interact and get comfortable with each other?
Sidharth Sen: When I shot that scene, it was not difficult to convince the actors. The whole point is to do it aesthetically. It can go haywire anytime. If you have seen the show, you would know we have dealt with sensitive issue like menstrual cycle and things that are unheard of in the industry. Once you speak to actors, explain the vision, and assure them that it would be done aesthetically, they generally don’t have a problem. We don’t show anything vulgar in Balika or for that matter in any other show on Indian Television today.
Rangmunch.TV: What were some of the challenges you faced while shooting for this show?
Sidharth Sen: Shooting wise, there are scenes that we shot on the sand dunes in Rajasthan that comes to mind. It was during the month of May and it was so hot that we were getting blisters through our shoes. It was a tough shoot. Making the kids understand and setting them up for the shot was tougher than handling the climate.
Rangmunch.TV: While Balika Vadhu has been running successfully, Gulaal went off-air due to low TRP. Why do you think it was unable to garner desirable TRP?
Sidharth Sen: I really don’t know how TRPs come. Whose job is it to garner TRPs? I have not met anyone in these 15 years who can tell a sure shot way to follow in order to garner TRPS. It has hard to tell what works with the audience. Some shows do well some shows do not.
Gulaal was not accepted I think from the word go. If the story was about Deyarvattu happening at a later stage then it should have started differently. The way it started, for the first 15 episodes you feel this is about a girl who can take out water. If people were interested in that story then they will see it anyway. Somewhere we may have made an error in judgement and I think that is why it did not do well.
Rangmunch.TV: Do you get disheartened when things dont turn out the way you have envisioned like it did in Gulaal?
Sidharth Sen: No I don’t. We tried to tell a story and infact, till the last episode we gave our best.
Rangmunch.TV: Have you watched any other Hindi shows on Television recently?
Sidharth Sen: (Thinks and tells) Yes! Infact I did watch a show on Star Plus called Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon which is produced by a friend of mine, Gul Khan. I did not get to follow the show regularly because of my hectic work schedule, but I must say that I loved the overall execution of whatever little I saw.
Rangmunch Team would like to thank Mr. Sidharth Sengupta for taking time out from his busy schedule and talking to us at length.
Niharika Vidya Sagar