Filmmaker Rohan Sippy said the writing of the second season of Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors intrigued him enough to come on board. Sippy has helmed the courtroom drama along with Arjun Mukherjee. The Disney+ Hotstar series stars Pankaj Tripathi, Kirti Kulhari, Anupria Goenka, Jisshu Sengupta and Shilpa Shukla among others.
In this exclusive chat with indianexpress.com, Sippy opens up about directing a story for the digital format, the challenge of taking up a show in its second season and the nuances Pankaj Tripathi brought to Madhav Mishra.
Here are excerpts from the conversation:
Criminal Justice: Behind The Doors is different from your earlier works. What was the reason for getting on board as its director?
It is something different, and for that reason, there was a fresh challenge to it. Also, we were building on a very attractive first season which had an instant impact. Of course, having Pankaj Tripathi at the heart of it was the icing on the cake. All these things made it a great opportunity.
Is it difficult to take a franchise forward in its new season? How did you prepare to cope with the expectations?
The writing was a good starting point. The team also made some departures. In the British version, there was even a new lawyer. But we decided to create a blend by continuing the character of Madhav Mishra and Nikhat Hussain. That gave us the opportunity of retaining a couple of terrific cast members. It also makes the process of adaptation fun because you aren’t just following only the original story.
Why was Madhav Mishra chosen as the central character in this season?
That’s the concept of the show. He’s a lawyer who gets into a case each season. That makes him as central as the suspect or the victim. He’s a character who connected with the audience. And to have familiarity in this kind of format is a strength. Because the story is opening up step by step, we’ll now get to see a whole new dimension of his personal life. That was a fresh element for us to explore – what we know of Madhav, what we can expect of him and what we can get surprised by. There is also a lighter side that we’ve brought in the intense show. That change of gear brings a balance.
What was the most challenging part of making Criminal Justice: Behind The Doors?
When you are making a show, the day-to-day challenge is definitely that you are working on much tighter deadlines and you have to work three to four times the pace of what you work for a film, while maintaining the quality and performance. Particularly on this project, the prison element was tough.
What I also liked was this whole idea of women being so central to this story. The ultimate extension of that was this prison which throws women together, in unfortunate conditions. A woman like Kirti (Kulhari) who’s from a different background is also in there. Then there’s Shilpa Shukla. The single biggest challenge is to write and conceive that whole section, even physically recreate the place and the mood from Kirti’s perspective.
Any brief you gave to the actors for their roles, including Pankaj Tripathi?
I think Madhav should be giving me tips on how to get into the skin of the show (laughs). He’s a veteran there. He said from the beginning that he’ll play around with his character. So if you watch closely, there are very subtle and clever jokes that he’s made in between the lines. I just love that. Even other actors are so terrific. Just the chance to see the nuances they bring in was a joy.
How was it working in a two-director set-up this time? Did you and Arjun Mukherjee fight over creative decisions?
It was the other way round. Arjun and I fought together with the production (laughs). It was great to have company and a bouncing board. There wasn’t any overlapping. I did the first four episodes, he did the next four. But, of course, there was a lot of interaction behind the scenes. It’s a different medium of filmmaking, so it’s nice to have a collaborative approach.
What is it about the web that is appealing to you?
This format of telling a story in 6-8 hours is very interesting. You get to tell a more nuanced story and put more layers. You can have 10-20 terrific actors. The finance of a film is based on 1-2 stars. It’s great to make something compelling not because of a certain actor but because we’ve got it on the writing level, and I know we can cast so many interesting actors. You can tell a story that would otherwise be rushed in a two-hour format. Those are exciting things.
How does it feel to have two of your projects releasing in the same week – Criminal Justice and Sandwiched Forever?
It’s a privilege. It’s a privilege to be working in 2020 at all. The good thing for me is, both are from completely different genres. It’s nice to be putting 2020 behind closed doors!
Does the Covid-19 safety precautions restrict the director on sets?
Frankly, the initial thing demands a change of habit. But once you adjust to it, it’s fine. On some level, it can help in productivity. Because of Covid-19, people are conscious of reducing the crowd on set. It might take time to start, but once you do, it moves faster because of less chaos. You have to be disciplined to plan more. Certain things like crowd scenes will definitely be riskier now. I’m sure that’ll affect the writing and production. In Criminal Justice, we were dealing with the crowd in courtroom scenes, other shows you might be outdoor. Then there might be a contained sitcom. So each one has its own challenges.
A show or film in 2020 you wished you had directed?
How To With John Wilson blew my mind. It pushed the form in what we could do in terms of visual storytelling. Then, Scam 1992 has been an amazing example of storytelling. It also shows that OTT can reach a wide audience. It’s not necessarily always about being edgy in your approach. You need to tell the story the right way. I was happy for Hansal Mehta and his whole team.