Ashish R Shukla is currently basking in the success of his suspense thriller, Undekhi. The show received positive reviews and has been praised by all from Anurag Kashyap to Rajkummar Rao. Ashish was the creative director on Anurag’s Dev D and is happy that the filmmaker loved his show. Despite spending more than 20 years in the industry, Ashish feels he can achieve a lot more and rubbishes the use of the word ‘nepotism’ as just an excuse for those lacking patience.
In an interview with Hindustan Times, the Undekhi director reveals the lead actor Harsh Chhaya didn’t take a single sip of alcohol to get into his alcoholic character, and promises to abstain from the use of too many abusive words in the second season. He also shared his thoughts on the ongoing insider-outsider debate. Excerpts:
What was your vision for the show to make it stand out from the swarm of crime thrillers on the digital platform?
Before I came on board, the show was being written since two years. Talking about the title of the show, all such stories just become a small newspaper clipping and you turn over the page. So you read a story in the newspaper that a dancer was shot during a party and you turn the page, but if you were present at that party, would you have turned that page? In the current scenario, so many people are dying of coronavirus but it’s just a number for you until it happens to you or someone known to you. It is kind of a tribute to all such stories that if you were a part of it, what would have been your conscience call? Each episode questions your morality.
Harsh Chhaya in a still from Undekhi.
What brief was given to Harsh Chhaya for the role of Papaji?
When we were casting for the show, we needed someone like Rishi Kapoor who could be that fat Punjabi, who can be loud at all times and loved his drinks. But the actor was undergoing treatment for cancer. I was recommended Harsh’s name many times but I was bit apprehensive, and I am also sorry for that. Harsh has an entirely different personality — he is a Gujarati and even agrees that he looks like a US-returned doctor. But he said that since he was born and brought up in Delhi while being surrounded by Punjabis, he wanted to show something. During a narration, he recorded a 15-minute video where he was simply abusing in Punjabi and looked completely drunk. We got our papaji and he created his own look. He is a non-alcoholic and didn’t even take a sip of alcohol.
Did you use a stunt double for Apeksha Porwal?
We used a stunt double for a few risky scenes. But Apeksha was wearing just a single layer in minus degree temperature and had to run barefoot. We used to clear the floor but still she was struck by thorns and stones. She became immune to the cold after some time. It’s the first show for five lead actors and all have done a great job. The writing was very sharp, had clarity and the actors trained well during the workshops.
Sometimes you create a character and you don’t use it, which becomes an issue of promise and delivery. Even the goons had very specific characteristics in Undekhi. Varun Badola and Siddharth Sengupta had done half of the job during the writing of dialogues. When I watch the show now, I feel we went overboard with abuses, I will take care of it in the second season.
What are your preparations for the sequel?
It is being written by creator Siddharth Sengupta. I can’t reveal much but can assure you that there will be much more drama and twists. We left the first show on such a cliffhanger that you will get to see much more revenge and violence in the second season.
You are also working on a film titled Bahut Hua Samman?
It is a satire based in Banaras. It stars Abhishek Chauhan and Raghav Juyal who try to do a bank robbery with help from Sanjay Mishra. There are many more actors including Ram Kapoor and Namit Das and there are many parallel stories in the film. It will be releasing online in one or two months.
How do you see the ongoing insider-outsider debate?
There is nothing called an insider or outsider. When the film industry was made in 1930s-40s, all from Prithviraj Kapoor, Dileep Kumar to BR Chopra were outsiders. Every time an outsider comes and finds success, he brings his child or other family members in the industry. Priyanka Chopra was an outsider, now her sister is also here. Everybody will do the same one day. Every person sets up his shop and wants his son/daughter to inherit it, this happens in all businesses. I have seen many star kids who are talented and humble and there are also outsiders who are arrogant and have attitude. Only those who are humble and talented are making progress. There are also star kids who consider themselves artists and feel they don’t need to upgrade themselves and flop.
Everyone gets a chance in the industry. Look at Paatal Lok, who is an insider among Jaideep Ahlawat, Abhishek Banerjee and Neeraj Kabi? If nepotistic films are being made, you want to watch them, which is why they are being made. If you really wanted to save someone’s career, you should have seen those films of that actor which flopped. I never felt this thing because I believed that I am yet to do a lot more work and my time is yet to come. We work on projects and always look for a new face, not a star kid. Those who do not have patience and want to find success as soon as they start, they look for excuses and nepotism is one of them. If an outsider who has become a star rejects a script; a producer also has the right to reject an outsider because it’s his film. People have painted it in black and white, but it’s a grey area. One thing I would say, no one has the time and money to focus on destroying someone’s career. It’s a conspiracy theory.
Author tweets @ruchik87
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