Renuka Shahane’s directorial debut, Tribhanga — a film spanning three generations, which stars Kajol, Tanvi Azmi and Mithila Palkar — is getting rave reviews. We catch up with the newly-minted director for a quick chat. Excerpts:
What kind of response have you been receiving for Tirbhanga?
I’ve been flooded with reactions from people who have loved the film. It is so overwhelming that I feel I’m on cloud nine right now. It was always meant to be released digitally as a Netflix original, and we started shooting in 2018 for it.
How did Kajol come on board?
She wasn’t looking to make a digital debut. I narrated the script to her and she liked it and came on board. I want to thank producer Siddharth Malhotra, who suggested Kajol's name for Anu's character. Ajay Devgn also read the script and became a part of the project. The kind of love and support she poured into the role is unique. There were no airs about her and we got along like a house on fire! She made everyone around her extremely comfortable, and kept the sets alive and full of laughter. As an actor, too, she sank her teeth into the role. Whatever she had to discuss she did it before she came to the floor.
What about Tanvi Azmi and Mithila Palkar?
Tanvi and Kajol had already worked in Dushman before, and are very fond of each other. In 1988, Tanvi and I worked together on a show called Limelight where I was an assistant and Tanvi was the star of the show. Then it was a full circle for me to direct her in Tirbhanga. We were very good friends. I have known Mithila even before she became an OTT star. I met her when she was working as a volunteer at a theatre festival and I really liked her. We have kept in touch since then, and when I approached her for the role she agreed. I am happy to see her flourish in her field.
You helmed one of the most popular shows on Doordarshan, Surbhi. Between those golden days of Doordarshan and the OTT takeover, what do you think went wrong?
For all of us at Surbhi having a platform like Doordarshan was important, and it worked well with the audience. Doordarshan was the place where you had to reflect the entire country. The whole of India participated in Surbhi. It was more of a cultural art and craft magazine program. That was the uniqueness of the show. On the other hand what you see now is niche travel channels or shows. There are so many diversifications like a food channel, a travel channel, a history channel, a lifestyle channel, new channel, general entertainment, etc. Bringing it all together under the umbrella of one particular show cannot be replicated anymore. We were at the right place at the right time.
The fact there are so many channels has complicated things. The audience got divided. Frankly, with the advent of daily soaps it became more and more difficult to do something outstanding on TV. The makers began to work with formulas, which spelt doom for creativity. When you don’t have the pressure do something unique or don’t want to create history, then you take the easy way out. Jis ka TRP aa raha hain, usi pe kaam karo or wohi karte raho, that is logic applied. It is the same with general entertainment and even news.
And now with the advent of digital platforms like Netflix, good content is now being made available to watch online. There are so many new avenues to explore that it is intriguing and exciting at the same time. OTT is a huge blessing and has broken the established star culture in a way. Right from actors to technicians to audience, it is a giant leap forward. The content is based on reality so one is also looking out for talent that comes close to reality. International content is made available on your phone, which is an amazing change in the industry. Earlier, we saw such content only in film festivals and that too one happened to miss if one was tied up with other things! This went on to create an audience that is attuned to good content now. They are not going to watch shabby, substandard, TRP-driven stuff anymore. That in turn creates a ripple effect for the makers, even in terms of general entertainment.
Why do you think crime and underworld sagas have so many takers on OTT?
Yes, these themes seem to have worked, but perspectives will change because if they don’t the viewership will again get affected. All writers will tell you that there are only ten kinds of stories in the world and all content is a different version of those basic ten stories. The difference is in the presentation and how you narrate the story. Crime is hard-hitting, and anything that is slightly edgy does catch people’s attention. Apart from that a lot of really good work is also being done, which is not over the top. I don’t know why they are called OTT in the first place, it is definitely not over the top compared to general entertainment.
Do you approve of memes, especially the one with you falling from the staircase in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun?
Yes, totally! I think memes are actually very creative things to indulge in. They also bring a good laugh. Sometimes, when you place something serious in an upside down kind of situation, you can really look at it differently and even laugh at it. This sort of a thing actually keeps me alive as an actor in the minds of people, in a very different way. Memes also relate to the youth today, I am actually very happy about it!