Proud to be making soaps

Telly Director

Proud to be making soaps

Mind of his own: Sidharth Sengupta

That is what his parents would have liked him to do, but he came to Mumbai instead because he wanted to narrate stories. In Mumbai, he met Nana Patekar who was about to start his directorial venture Prahar (1991), seeking an assistant director’s job. He had no experience of the medium but got the job though. Cinematographer Debu Deodhar was shooting the film and Sidharth fondly says, “I learnt a lot about cinema from Debu da.” 

After Prahar, Sidharth went back to Delhi because his father was unwell. He worked on documentaries for a while but Mumbai soon beckoned, and somewhere in 1996-97, Sidharth was producing (along with his wife) and directing his first TV show, 9 Malabar Hill. It is a show that won critical acclaim and is still remembered. Sidharth recalls how Pavan Malhotra had enthusiastically agreed to do the serial and how he had been afraid that Renuka Shahane — fresh from the success of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun — would say no!

Many more shows followed, even though he and his wife stopped producing after a while, realising TV production wasn’t their cup of tea. In any case, there were several producers who wanted to work with Sidharth, since he had made a name for himself as a very successful television director. In fact, he is often called upon to do the beginning episodes of a daily, so that he can “set up the characters and mood of the show.” But he does agree that “Soaps on television suffer from the fact that it has no clear beginning, middle and end along its TRP guided path.”

The fairly long innings has not diminished Sidharth’s enthusiasm for his work. Currently shooting in Rajasthan for a new show to be aired on Star Plus, he is sometimes amazed about how popular his shows are in places like this.

Balika Vadhu may have attracted some flak because it shows child marriage but “The show deals with problems that arise from a child marriage. There is a realisation that early marriage is not a good practice, and this is understood by the audience, and especially by the people of Rajasthan, where the show is set,” he says.

Sidharth considers television a writer’s medium and considers himself lucky to have worked with several talented writers like Saurabh Shukla and Purnendu Shekhar. It fascinates him that “Shows are written in so many different ways.” He “tries to understand the writer” while bringing to life the script. And no, the larger-than-life sets and unreal costumes do not bother him, even though he likes a show like Tamas. “I am told that television viewing is all about gloss. TV poverty is never real poverty,” he adds.
Known as one of television’s biggest directors, he says “I try to be as honest
as I can to the project that I am doing.” Needless to say, work pressures are
high, but he takes a break regularly and doesn’t shoot for more than 6 months a year.

Since he doesn’t continue with any serial for too long, he gets refreshed often enough, finding time to escape to his favourite destination, Ladakh.

Not terribly ambitious, Sidharth says, “If someone gave me a lot of money, I’d go to the hills and never work again.” Asked where he sees himself five years hence, he replies, “I don’t even see myself one hour down the line. I just go with the flow.” But yes, there are plans to make a feature film, his second actually, since he had made one on the Mumbai 26/11 attacks called Un Hazaron Ke Naam, which was shown on Star Plus. 

There are no regrets about not having joined the army and Sidharth loves directing for television. “Don’t see TV as an undergraduate version of film,” he says.

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