SonyLIV’s web series Undekhi is being lauded for its crisp storytelling and good direction. Ashish R Shukla, the director of the show, is overwhelmed with all the congratulatory messages coming his way. “We knew we are making a good series, but sometimes what happens is good movies come and go, nobody cares about them. So, this appreciation feels rewarding,” the filmmaker told indianexpress.com in an exclusive conversation.
During the interview, Shukla elaborated on how he took it as a challenge to bring the best out of the new actors in Undekhi and why he thinks, “if you care about nepotism, you should watch this show.”
Here are excerpts from the conversation:
Q. When and how did the journey of Undekhi begin?
Undekhi started two years back. Siddharth Sengupta was developing this with Applause Entertainment along with writers Umesh Padalkar and Mohinder Pratap Singh. I was in Dubai when a friend who was a creative on the show asked me to come to Mumbai for it. When I read the script, I was spellbound. Three hundred pages and you have to justify it! That was like a big responsibility. The writing was so fresh, that I thought if I don’t do justice to this stuff, it will be a missed opportunity.
Q. What kind of research went into the making of Undekhi?
Undekhi is not just about one particular incident of a dancer being shot dead in Bathinda. The show is the story of every small crime which has become so normal that it comes as mere newspaper clippings. We read it and flip the page. There is a kind of insensitivity in people now. So, we raise a question on the morality and conscience of people – If such a case happens in front of you, what will you do? Rishi (Abhishek Chauhan) and Saloni (Ayn Zoya) represent two groups of audience. Saloni is practical and knows that we should not start a fight without knowing the power of the enemy and Rishi is also right to seek justice for the dead dancer. So, both of them are right. It is on you to decide, who will you support.
Q. Generally, we see the characters of investigating officers as violent and aggressive. But Dibyendu Bhattacharya’s character DSP Barun Ghosh is subtle and calm. What was the thought behind it?
I had always had an issue with the portrayal of police in the movies. I always like humane police. We wanted a retiring cop who is a failure and has never achieved anything in his life. He is lethargic, and when you see him, you won’t think of him as an ideal police officer. To keep it realistic, we even decided, since Debu (Dibyendu) is fat and old, let’s give him the disease of diabetes, so every time he’s having tea, he is like, “arre dada kitna shakar kar diya, diabetes hai, maarega kya?” So, fitness was never his cup of tea.
As a character, I, along with Siddharth Sengupta, decided that he should be Rinku (the antagonist) but in another way. Since he has dealt with criminals all his life, he understands their tactics. With his experience, he has become a calm and composed person who reads people. He also has colours of evil which don’t show on his face. I told Dibyendu that you need to be really intimidating and unpredictable.
Q. What was the thought behind the lovemaking scene between Rinku and Saloni? Did it really add up to the story?
What happens is Saloni tries to outsmart Rinku in his only vulnerable moment. So, we had to establish how vengeful Rinku is. Also, it was to establish how influenced he is by his family, where women have no say at all and they are even comfortable with that. So, we wanted to show him at his obnoxious best.
Q. Did it ever occur to you that the web series might suffer because of lack of known faces?
First of all, the script was the real hero in this show and it didn’t require any star. However, by the time I came on board, the casting was done. For actors who play principle characters of Rishi, Saloni, Koel, Muskaan, it was the first show of their life. So, it was a big challenge that we had a team of freshers and had to make them perform like seasoned actors.
One of the initial conversations I had with Siddharth Sengupta was if there is a possibility to change something from this cast. I had some actors in mind who could have fitted in the story. But, this was before I met the actors and came across their craft. Soon I realised it was an amateur judgement and took it as a challenge to flesh out the characters from these actors only. What helped further was the right attitude of the actors and their willingness to learn. I think it is the unknown faces of these actors which has lend a real vibe to the show. Also, not having A-listers helped in cost cutting. I would say, if you care about nepotism, watch this show and see how amazing these new faces are.
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Q. Don’t you think Apeksha Porwal’s character of a tribal girl, who is central to the plot, could have had more depth to it?
We have not shown all of her sides yet. It is only in the last episode that we have started unravelling her personality. Until then, she is living in the shock of what has happened and does most of the talking through her eyes. She is comprehending and contemplating everything that has happened around her. Then there is a moment when she transforms from a shy, quiet girl to a wonder woman. If you look at it as only one season, you will feel the character lacks depth, but we have just given a build-up of her character until now. There is a lot more coming in the second season.
Undekhi is streaming on SonyLIV.
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