I didn’t have any ambition of becoming a director: Seema Pahwa

Actor Seema Pahwa’s directorial debut, Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi, is screening in the theatres and is already garnering favourable reviews. But according to the seasoned actor known for her turns in movies like Dum Laga ke Haisha, Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, she was not really thinking of turning a director.

“I didn’t have any ambition of becoming a director. But I used to always write… short stories, poems, etc. I started writing this story while at the sets of Dum Laga ke Haisha. It was a story I had in my head for some time. I wrote it as a film script. The idea was to give it to someone who would be interested in directing it. All I wanted was to play this role of Amma. But when I shared the script with my friends like Rajat Kapoor and Sharat Katariya, they suggested that since it is my story, I would be the best person to direct it. I wasn’t still sure. I spoke to Naseer sir about this and he advised me to make a theatrical play instead as getting a producer for such a film would be a struggle. But I was seeing it as a film from the very beginning. Then at an interview, I happened to mention that I am sitting with a ready film script but not getting any producers. Two days later, I got a call from Drishyam Films. And just like that things started rolling!”

And she didn’t have much trouble putting together the ensemble cast. The city’s theatre community, of which Seema is an integral part, is a close-knit bunch. “Everything started falling in place. But the only problem was that there were 27 characters in the film and I wanted to cast only those people with whom I have worked earlier and was comfortable with. Since such films are mostly small budget, the fact that the casting itself might cross the budget worried me a bit. But instead of giving up, I decided to approach a few friends… and by the end of the day, there was a whole army of polished actors standing by my side! Even Naseer sir, who was a big support all through, agreed to do a part. In fact, at that time people would say that ‘Seema ji have taken all the good actors, nothing is left for us’,” she chuckles.

But then her cast did include names like Manoj Pahwa,Vinay Pathak, Ninad Kamat, Parambrata Chattopadhyay, Vikrant Massey, Konkona Sen Sharma, Divya Jagdale, apart from Supriya Pathak and Naseeruddin Shah!

While she wrote Amma’s part for herself, she eventually cast another superlative actor, Supriya Pathak in the role. According to her, she wanted to focus on the directing part. “I felt that I won’t be able to do justice to either if I attempted to do both. Besides, I have acted a lot, this was something new!” she says adding that she kept the actor in her away from the sets and made sure her actors have their own liberty.

A still from the movie, Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi
A still from the movie, Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi

“When an actor gives their own contribution, it adds a flavour to the character and gives a new perspective. If I as a director start to dominate everyone then all the characters would look similar. As a director I just want to create the situation, I don’t want to create the actor. Creating the character is an actor’s job and I leave it to them how they will make it but my work as a director is how to make and highlight the scene where I have all those characters together.”

And it shows in the movie. The beauty of Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi is in its details. Seema builds each character with equal love; no one is short-changed. And also, there is no attempt among the motley cast, which included some of the most brilliant actors in the country today, to outshine one another. The result is a film where each character shines in its own merit.

Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi is a poignant tale of a family gathered at their ancestral home after the death of the patriarch, Ramprasad. The idiosyncrasies of a traditional Indian family, rifts among the members behind the charade of bonhomie, some dark secrets, all come under deep focus as everyone is forced to stay under the same roof for the thirteen days leading up to the tehrvi. The premise is nothing new. It is a well devised and popular trope.

We have seen the same in This Is Where I Leave You, Death at a Funeral, The Big Chill, August: Osage County, and closer to home, in Kapoor & Sons, and especially the 2018 film Khajoor Pe Atke -- the directorial debut of another talented actor, Harsh Chhaya, remembered for being eerily similar to the Priyanka Chopra-produced Marathi film, Ventilator, and for its stellar ensemble cast that featured Manoj Pahwa, Vinay Pathak, Seema Pahwa, Sanah Kapoor among others. Now, that is also some the same faces gracing the Pahwa directorial.

Point this out and the newly-minted director laughs. “Yeah, my son exclaimed that both hinge around a very similar concept as well. Even when I was signing for Khajur Pe Atke, I was aware we were having a similar kind of subject in the film, although at that point of time I didn’t have a producer. But then, the two films are very different in their approach and tone. While his was more about property shares and money, mine is about interpersonal relations,” says the director.

In fact, it must have been a delicious challenge she had thrown at herself while deciding to go ahead with the project... to start with a similar premise but curve out an entirely different film out of it! And no doubt she has succeeded.

As for the similar casting, she says: “We are actors and it is the actor’s job to play each character differently. Two actors can play brothers in multiple movies, but their character and characteristics will depend on the story and the situations. I have played the role of a mother both in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan and in Bareilly Ki Barfi, but both the roles were quite different from each other!”

But after the tragic and devastating year that was 2020, why did she choose to open the new year with such a film that deals with death, we wonder. “In fact, this is just the right time. For the movie talks about how life essentially goes on. Death is an integral part of life itself. One needs to acknowledge and accept that, and move on. We all need this optimism and strength as we begin a new year.”

Seema is at present working on a web series the shooting of which has just started. Apart from that she is also developing a web series of her own. “It is at a very early stage, so it is difficult to tell anything specifically right now...but I have a very interesting plot!” she signs off.

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