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Exclusive! Aarya 2 directors on shooting amid pandemic: Taught us how important people are

Ram Madhvani, Vinod Rawat, and Kapil Sharma even gave their thoughts on co-directing the series and coming to a consensus.

  • Aishwarya Vasudevan

Last Updated: 06.59 AM, Dec 09, 2021

Exclusive! Aarya 2 directors on shooting amid pandemic: Taught us how important people are

Aarya, Hotstar Special series led by Sushmita Sen will soon return to Disney+ Hotstar with another season, this time directed by a trio of filmmakers — Ram Madhvani, Vinod Rawat and Kapil Sharma. While Madhvani and Rawat were on board for the first instalment, Sharma is the new entrant as co-director. Ahead of the show’s release on December 10, the three filmmakers spoke to OTTPlay about shooting with an ensemble cast, dividing directing duties, and the challenges that came with filming amid a pandemic.

Edited excerpts from the conversation:

Aarya 2 was shot entirely during the pandemic. How challenging was the shooting process knowing that the series features an ensemble cast?

Ram Madhvani: My co-producer, Amita Madhvani, plus our executive producers, Sia Bhuyan and Rhea Prabhu, hats off to them because of the COVID-19 protocols that were followed; they were incredibly good. I know what they go through when they get to see the results of 300 people on the cast. But thank God, we have had it safe and more than anything else at our production house, Ram Madhvani Films. What we do is a COVID test even after you go home, so that you go home safe. We've had [bio-secure] bubbles when we were shooting in Rajasthan, where we blocked up to five hotels. Even here [in Mumbai], when we were shooting in Madh Island for some of the interior bungalows, we blocked the whole hotel. We are very safety-conscious and we're very paranoid about this. It's so nice of you to ask because it was incredibly tough. We were locked in. We would have had the showdown earlier. In Season One, we finished shooting three days before lockdown, but we did the entire post during the lockdown. Season two, we have shot most of it through the COVID bubble, and even the post has happened, a lot of it through Zoom, and all the rest of that. It's been a huge thing and hats off also to Vinod Rawat, who's our co-director from season one and co-director of season two. Kapil Sharma also joined us on season two, so they were able to sort of work with the tensions and the stress that this causes.

What were the key learnings while shooting amid the pandemic?

Ram: I think the first thing that you learn is that you're just happy that there's work. Gratitude for having to work and for getting everybody home safe. I think that's the first thing that you learn, which is don't take these things for granted. As we can all see the smaller things in life-work or going out. Sometimes, when we were in a bubble and having dinner, we could have dinner without a mask after having worn it the whole day. I think we are just grateful that we can breathe. A fundamental thing that we could breathe.

Kapil Sharma: It was certainly a challenge we've had because we were so strict about our COVID safety. We were testing so often, especially in the initial days, as we didn't know what this virus was and how it was all progressing. We've been in the middle of a recce in the middle of the day and abandoned it just for safety protocols and stuff like that. It's been very, very tough. But like Ram is saying, it was just incredibly grateful to have had the work at the time. I think to answer your question, the challenge and our biggest takeaway was that it certainly taught me how important people were in this entire situation. Because if it wasn't for the kind of team, actors and crew, producers and the core directors, the people that everybody knew, who they were to each other and the support that we all managed to have for each other, I think one of the biggest reasons that one managed to pull this off in the way. There was always that anxiety because nobody knew what was going on and it was evolving and so on. If it wasn't for this team of people to be locked in together with, I don't think I would have had as much fun and as good of a time and as calm of a time as I did over these last 16 months through the two lockdowns and everything.

Vinod Rawat: I have become more organised, I think, in my life. I've learned one more thing. Because of COVID, certain locations that we thought of, we imagined we wanted to shoot over there, and we were not getting those locations. But I've learned one thing: the super-objective of the scene is the location, not why I'm shooting the scene, why this character is reacting, and why should anybody watch the scene? So to get the answer to it, I understood it's not the location, it's my character. It's the feeling of it. And once we change it, even now we are not analyzing or realizing or thinking.

Ram: Yeah, exactly. At that time, we didn't even know that COVID had become a strength.

Recently, Sikandar Kher told OTTPlay that he got back to the character of Daulat in the fourth take. How was the entire process of getting these actors back into the skin of their characters after such a long gap?

Ram: It's a nice question because it's only in a series that we can do this. In a movie, you're done and dusted; the character is over. It was a whole new thing for us because this was Season Two for us for the first time.

Vinod: My learning is again, it's not film, it's not an OTT platform, it's not any format, it's human. As a human, if I'm practising any exercise or any art form, and I stop doing that and have to start again, it's like swimming, right? It just takes momentum. Hamara film industry mein language hai, sur lagna. So it takes two or three days, jab woh sur lag jaata hai, it's stronger than the first one because you are searching for that sur and learning is also happening. So the previous one, the learning and the experience gave a much stronger character, I have realized.

Ram: What Sikandar probably meant was that it takes some warming up. But once you're warmed up, your voice warmed up, and you're saying, “Ah, okay, I know this person again." Because once you know that person, it's like cycling, you know your character. It will take you a little time, but you won't forget the character.

Vinod: Also Ram, this time when we used to tease Sikandar that he had fewer lines and we used to not even let him speak. But even in that, if I compare my season one Sikandar to season two, again, he's playing the second, third layer of a character. It's such a mature performance by Sikandar in this one.

Ram: It's because the situation has changed and the character remains the same, but his behaviour changes. I think that is also what has helped us, which is that the plot changes, and therefore the situation changes, which means the relationship changes. Therefore, it's a new character while being the same old one.

Kapil, you are a new entrant to the team as co-director. How interesting or challenging did you find shooting for a series that has been established as a continuous story?

Ram: Wait a minute, then. Kaps is going to say, "It was difficult." It was not difficult at all. Ask Vinod and me, when he came in, he made it seem as if he'd been there all the time (laughs).

Vinod: He's a player. He listens to us and then smiles and says, "It's right." But I'll tell you one thing... and then you have to listen to Kaps.

Kapil: Thank you both. It was incredibly easy, especially with Ram and Vinod. Vinod got to know me in the last year and a half. Going back many years, Ram Sir, as I keep calling him and he hates it, I was an assistant director, and I've worked with Mr Madhvani before.

Ram: He has a T-shirt that says "I've survived Ram."

Kapil: "Survive" is his word. I think I have partied with Ram more than anything else. It was really fun and very easy because I came in as a fan. There was no question. I had watched season one. I wasn't working on season two at the time that season one was released. It was completely out of the blue at that time when I got a phone call from Ram sir to say, "Hey, this is what's happening. Do you want to be a part of season two?" It was the quickest "Yes" I've said in a very long time. I was excited too, in fact, to be a part of taking the story forward because, like every other viewer, I also had a question: what happens in New Zealand? What happens next? So all that was very much a part of the top of my head. Yes, to be on that journey as a series and take the story forward. You're right. It's taking the story forward, and it's not a new premise. But I think that's the point because you watch nine episodes with these people and these characters, you get to know everybody, and by the end of that ninth episode, you do want to know what's next and what's more, and that's hopefully what we want to answer for you this season.

My question is to the three of you — How do you decide who will direct which episode? How do you three come to a consensus to maintain the flow of the story?

Ram: We don't direct each episode, we direct within an episode. Some scenes Vinod directed, some scenes Kaps directed, and some scenes I directed. So a lot of that is based on all kinds of things: who wants to do what, what the producers feel is the right kind of mix. So one is that when we are directing the episodes, I think that the first thing that we all need to know is what is the vision. I think just as the creator of season two, I think it's my job to have that vision and pass it on. Rawat has been with me now since season one, and so he knows the shooting style, he knows the characters. Kaps knows me, so there is a certain familiarity with the way that we're working. There are a lot of HOD meetings that go into setting the tone and setting the way that we work. A lot of conversation goes into the script. Even with Sandeep Shrivastava and Anu Singh Choudhary writing it, even after the scenes and the interaction, the script is the fundamental thing that we spend a lot of time working on together.

Kapil: My answer to this is that I have seen season one and even now, because it's been a year, I don't even remember who directed which scenes. It's again going on the flow, because before going on war, the prep of it and all those things, whatever the creativity, the ideas, everything, we listen to each other and we come to one point and say, "We are making one film." That is the most important thing.

Ram, what's your fascination with shooting gripping stories like Neerja, Dhamaka, and quite a lot of Aarya 1 and 2 in confined spaces?

Well, first, I think that scale comes from the landscape of the human face. That's number one. That's what I'm interested in. The weather of this landscape of the human face, to me, is more important than the weather that's happening on the landscape of nature. Having said that, for my next film, I'm going to be shooting in seven countries, and I'll make sure that I have only long shots. I don't want to get typecast. I don't want to be seen as a guy who does that. I think Aarya is not necessarily [shot in a confined space]. I agree that Neerja was in a confined space, so was Dhamaka, but Aarya is not. There is enough stuff happening. Plus, I also believe scale does not come from photography, it comes from thought. Especially in Aarya, you will see this philosophical thought, there is emotional thought, there are all kinds of things that are affecting you, and the things that are being said are what give you scale.

Aarya is an adaptation of Penoza, while Dhamaka was based on The Terror Live. What interests you in adapting these international titles for Indian viewers?

Ram: I don't think that adaptations are wrong. We've been adapting Shakespeare. We've been adapting Ramayan and Mahabharat, not to compare Aarya or Dhamaka to any of those. But there's nothing wrong with that. I know now that my next film had better not be in a closed space, and it better not be an adaptation. So next time you can ask me, why do I not do an adaptation? Why was it all in a closed space?

A lot of it is just your voice. Why are you making it? What do you bring into it? What is your vision? How do you make it culturally-rooted? Why do you want to make it? I think, most importantly, for the three directors that you're speaking to just now, the one question that we keep asking ourselves is, "Are we bored?" Are we going to get bored while we are shooting it? And in every scene, every time that we say, "Arre yaar humko nahi shoot karne hai," we are constantly just trying to make it interesting for ourselves and trying to make it something where you're saying, "I'm excited." I want to make this. " So I think a lot of the time it's an irritation. The question is, how do you make it your own?