Nitesh Tiwari: Humour can tell serious stories

‘Dangal’ director Nitesh Tiwari: Humour can tell serious stories

He talks about the power of laughter, and how he and his wife Ashwiny Iyer created ‘Break Point,’ the hit docu-series portraying the conflict between tennis stars Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi

Director-couple Nitesh Tiwari and Ashwiny Iyer.

He has directed just four films — ‘Chillar Party’ (2011), ‘Bhoothnath Returns’ (2014), ‘Dangal’ (2016) and ‘Chhichhore’ (2019).

Nitesh Tiwari has built an admirable reputation on this limited work. Yes, he has also co-scripted his wife and gifted filmmaker Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s ‘Nil Battey Sannata’ (2015), ‘Bareilly Ki Barfi’ (2017), ‘Panga’ (2020), ‘Ghar Ki Murgi’ (short film) and one episode of the anthology ‘Ankahi Kahaniya’. A seasoned ad filmmaker, Nitesh’s latest release was ‘Break Point’ on ZEE5, a highly-acclaimed docu-series on the friendship and split between Indian tennis stars Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi.

‘Break Point’ is the first ever project directed by the couple. With two brilliant but different filmmakers coming together, we ask the obvious question: How did they divide their work?

The ever-affable filmmaker says, “We understand each other so well that we are on auto-pilot and naturally divide our work.”

He says that once they formed the structure of ‘Break Point’, and knew where to begin and end the series, Ashwiny worked on the look of the series, the locations and the colour palette. Nitesh looked after the flow of the story. He spent his time on research to pick the matches they had to show and decided on the kind of questions to be asked to everybody in the series.

“Ashwiny also wore the producer’s hat, since we also produced the film under our banner of Earthsky Pictures,” he added.   

So will they combine and direct a feature film? Nitesh says that while they are open to the idea, they are waiting for that one ‘special’ film to collaborate. “I think it would have been very difficult to handle ‘Break Point’ alone,” he points out. “Otherwise, you know that as filmmakers, our sensibilities are totally different.”

Leander and Mahesh have stated that they had turned down 20 previous offers to tell their story but they trusted Nitesh and Ashwiny.

“We told them that we would be non-judgemental and make this docu-series on par with the best in the world,” he recollects.

“We said the show will not be about ‘our’ point of view, as it happens in most biopics. We promised them that ‘Break Point’ would be about their viewpoints and will have opinions of their families and friends. These two points convinced them to do the show, he says.”

How much have things changed between the two sportsmen after ‘Break Point’?

Nitesh feels despite their professional split, the two had always shared a unique bond. “Both admitted that the series was like a healing process. They became aware of certain truths after the series,” he notes. “That has changed their perspectives on the controversial fall out.”

Nitesh says shooting during the pandemic was a challenge but they went out of their comfort zone. “The series has been shot in Australia, England, Sweden, Singapore, and the USA. We had to shortlist production teams there, do the recess on Zoom and discuss everything with the cinematographers before the shoots. Shooting on Zoom would have been a big technical compromise”, he says

Praise from Aamir

At the time of ‘Dangal’, Aamir Khan was impressed with how Nitesh infused humour into serious subjects. This quality, perhaps, is a big reason for his success: “My writers and I always keep in mind that we make films primarily for people to enjoy. ‘Dangal’ could have become a very serious experience. But my priority is entertainment, and people must smile and experience all other emotions. Humour also increases the repeat value of a film,” he notes.

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