Sachin Darekar had penned Ek Thi Begum back in the 1990s after reading about Ashraf in a Marathi magazine.
Ek Thi Begum's second season was released on MX Player recently. The show is once again being lauded for its plotline and acting. While director Sachin Darekar came on board for the project again, this time even Vishal Modhave took the director's chair.
OTTplay got in touch with Sachin, who has now been associated with the series for two seasons. The writer-turned-director opened up about his transformation and the journey of Ek Thi Begum. He shared that the series was originally going to be made as a film back since its idea germinated back in the 90s. However, thanks to the boom of OTT, it was turned into a series.
Take us back to when you first started working on Ek Thi Begum. What was the idea behind creating the world that the show is?
Mumbai gangsters and the underworld is a world that is always fascinating. Most of the audiences and makers are passionate about it. I came across an article published in a Marathi magazine in 1990 when I was researching for another project. That article hooked me at the first glance. The real story of Ashraf was so intriguing and exciting to portray on screen that I decided to write the story back then. I didn't know about OTT obviously, thus I started writing the script in the form of a movie. Years later, I got the opportunity to make it into a web show. With Begum, I would say it was 'right time right place right story'.
You said that you read about Ashraf in a magazine. Was it the story of a person named Ashraf or is it an adapted name?
I have kept that character of Ashraf very close to reality. However, we can't show exactly what happened and how it happened. Otherwise, it would have become a docu-drama. I believe in entertainment and an entertaining way of storytelling. Fortunately, I've seen the characters, people and language since I grew up in Mumbai near Lower Parel, Lalbaug. Hence, somewhere I knew what kind of universe I wanted, which I had seen in my childhood. While her story is as close to reality as possible, I have created a universe around her. I always referred to real-life characters, the era, the real layers and the social incidents while creating the universe.
Since we are talking about names, what made you choose the name of Leela Paswan. That name was also promoted for Ek Thi Begum 2. What was the idea behind it?
When we were discussing season two, we all thought that Ashraf needs a new identity because she can't live her original identity because of the situation. People had seen enough of her in season one and thus, there was a need for something more exciting and intriguing. We took almost a month to even decide on the name because of the same reason. We had almost 150 options but this name hooked us. So, Leela Paswan was created to give a novelty and uniqueness to the character the audiences saw and loved in season one.
You mentioned that Ek Thi Begum was originally written as a film. Was it always going to be a Hindi project or Marathi? Since you had been working in the Marathi industry back then and for quite some time...
Right from its inception, Ek Thi Begum was a Hindi project. I had written the script for the Hindi film. The scale and grandeur of the story need to go beyond only Maharashtra. Thus, I always planned to make it a Hindi project to reach National level audiences. There are Marathi characters who come organically in the story. When we started working on it for OTT, we still hadn't decided which language show will it be. It is basically about the characters talking in their language in the project. We followed the backdrop and culture of the character. Thus, we made the series in both languages, to cater to both audiences. There is 10% Urdu as well in the series.
The film culture is usually favourable to the stars while OTT doesn't follow that culture. Thus, when you started casting for Ek Thi Begum, did you have the same thought process in mind - of not casting a big star?
Yes, definitely. When we started the production after finalizing the script, then the producers gave me the go-ahead to cast who I like onboard. They were okay going with renowned actors as well as not-so-famous actors. I chose the actors who suited my character well. That was my casting process. It was the right decision, from what I see. I have received a lot of appreciation and reviews for the characterization and casting. All the credit goes to the actors.
Talking about actors, Shahab Ali is also a part of Ek Thi Begum 2. Did you happen to cast him after watching him in The Family Man? Did you feel that he is perfect for the role after seeing him in that avatar in that world?
Shahab didn't have a major role in The Family Man season one. He proved his mettle with the second season. His character was also very important. When we started shooting and cast him, at that time season two had not been released. We knew that he's playing a good character but didn't know much. So that wasn't the reason at all for casting him. When I came across Shahab's name, I didn't even recall that he was a part of The Family Man. I thought he was fit for the character when we had a zoom call. I got to know about season two later so it was just an additional layer.
You have helmed the series with Vishal Modhave. Did you both direct different episodes? How did you make sure your vision came together?
Vishal and I have been good friends forever. We would always collaborate professionally for the last 15 years. He was the creative director for season one. Since I am producing season two as well, so I requested Vishal to take over the direction with me. It was only a terminology change but otherwise, he was always an integral part of the Begum series.
Ek Thi Begum is as raw as web series come. Thus, if OTT censorship were applied, it wouldn't be the same. What are your views on the debate?
The freedom to emote, portray and say needs to be there. I respect that freedom. At the same time, we as the makers should also respect and not abuse that freedom. It's actually about a mutual respect. We can find a middle path only when that respect is maintained. Nobody likes restrictions and at the same time, freedom should also be respected. This is a very thin line. We should all respect whatever the authorities decide. They should also keep in mind that any creative person shouldn't feel restricted while emoting or narrating a story.
You have gone from writing to the direction and now even production. So what can we expect to see from you next? What are your upcoming projects?
After Begum 2, I will start working on my film which I have been writing for a year. It is based on a real incident that happened in Mumbai. It is an intriguing story that is also very entertaining. There is another series that is also based on a real story. Both the projects are Hindi.