The actor-director Seema Pahwa, who has extensive experience in the theatre, was interviewed by OTTplay where she discussed the difficulties of working in the genre, will she take up direction full time as well as her favourite Manto tale.
Seema Pahwa, who made her directorial debut in 2019 with Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi, seeks to tell slice-of-life stories. She chose Koi Baat Chale as her sophomore project in order to further develop her directing abilities. Manoj Pahwa and Sadiya Siddiqui are the main characters in the two stories adapted from the short stories by renowned author Sadat Hasan Manto.
The actor-director, who has extensive experience in the theatre, was interviewed by OTTplay where she discussed the difficulties of working in the genre, will she take up direction full time as well as her favourite Manto tale. Read the full interview here:
1. The critically acclaimed film Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi served as your directorial debut. That was a feature film, whereas Koi Baat Chale has a theatre aesthetic, was it different or difficult as a director?
Definitely, as both the formats are totally different and offer widely divergent experiences to the audience even though they primarily deal with human stories. Broadly speaking, a film tells a sequential story with many characters performed by a large cast of actors while a dramatic reading is done through a single narrator and it is through him or her that you meet all the characters, get an idea of the social context and some sense of where the story is located in the absence of elaborate set design, frequent camera cuts and props. So there is a certain limitation even though your imagination is set free. A film can be made anywhere but in theatre, we cannot go outdoors and have to recreate an atmospheric suggestion of sounds, sights and the vastness of a story's canvas.
2. We know you as an amazing actor and now as an outstanding director as well, if given a chance will you take up direction full time?
Actually, both are very similar and the only difference is that the actor plays her part in a film and the role of the director is a bit bigger because she has to manage everything in the film. So the transition is from a small canvas to a large canvas and it was very comfortable for me because I am from theatre, and its discipline not only teaches you techniques like 'blocking' but how to hold an audience, how to detail the costumes, work on characterisation etc. I cannot however take on direction full time because I am an actor and so I will try to balance both.
3. A project like Koi Baat Chale can play an archival role in showcasing India's literary and cultural legacy, was there any pressure on you because of this?
Yes, there is definitely pressure because the literature that we have curated is so iconic and has been penned by such legendary writers. To do justice to these stories is not easy because so many people have read them and have their own take on them and even a small mistake cannot be made in the way we retell them. I am responsible for the gravitas and the authenticity of this project and can't play around with such well-loved classics that demand respect, sensitivity and a nuanced interpretation. And because it is a reading, the presentation becomes even more challenging.
4. Which is your favourite Manto character?
I love all the stories written by Manto but particularly wanted to present 'Hatak' as I love Sugandhi's character.
5. Did you demand for specific actors for Koi Baat Chale or were you not involved with the deciding team?
Yes, I chose these actors because I was convinced that only they would be able to do justice to the stories.
6. What prompted you to take up this project?
I have grown up reading Indian literature in multiple languages and so when I got an opportunity from Zee Theatre to work on 'Koi Baat Chale', I grabbed it instantly because this was an opportunity to bring alive the literary legacy of the subcontinent which has enriched both theatre and cinema but still remains relatively undiscovered by the current generation. I am grateful to Zee Theatre to be able to bring these stories to today's audience.
7. This show includes two classic stories by Munshi Premchand - Idgah & Gulli Danda. Do you think these stories are relatable in the current scenario?
Absolutely! ‘Gulli Danda’ is so relatable because it evokes the subliminal sense of competitiveness between friends that can occasionally disrupt their relationship especially if they come from different social backgrounds. The question of 'status' that is so pervasive even today is also explored in this story which is about two friends meeting after a long time. One friend has elevated his status socially and economically while the other has been left behind but when they play their childhood game of Gulli Danda, something unexpected happens and the power equation changes in a surprising way. ‘Idgah’, we have all read in our childhood and it teaches what we need to learn most today; the spirit of sacrifice, empathy and the powerful gestures of care that can change lives and make the world a better place. In today's era, we prioritise ourselves, immerse ourselves in the virtual world and in the process, lose touch with our loved ones who are right in front of us. I think this story is as important today as when it was first written. Today, families are fragmented, and this story is all about how you can give something back to someone who did everything for you. This story reminds us that it is beautiful to want to do something for someone else without thinking about yourself first.
8. How was the experience working with actors Vinay Pathak and Vivaan Shah?
Vivaan is very young but he is a very hardworking and diligent learner. For 'Gulli Danda', I needed an innocent boy and he is the perfect fit for the story because he also has a hint of mischief in his eyes and in his smile. He will go a long way as an actor because he takes the craft very seriously. As for Vinay Pathak, he is a very established artist and has been working for a long time. He is also a writer, so he knows how to enjoy the language and extract a new emotion from it. He became a child himself while narrating 'Idgah' and imbued the story with so much love and emotion that you saw Hamid come alive on stage. He is an artist who transforms himself into the character he portrays. So both are fine actors and have done a very good job.
9. Do you have any more upcoming work in direction?
I am working on a lot of scripts and trying to go on the floors soon. My goal is to definitely direct at least one project every year.