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'Huma surprises even herself with what she achieves'

By PATCY N
Last updated on: March 07, 2022 17:33 IST
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'Huma is one of those actors who makes acting seem effortless.'
'But that happens because she has put in a certain amount of preparation.'
'She has a certain confidence that allows her to let go.'

IMAGE: Avantika Dassani's happy moment with Director of Photography Sirsha Ray and Director Rohan Sippy on the sets of Mithya. Photograph: Kind courtesy Avantika Dassani/Instagram

It's not Director Rohan Sippy's first attempt at an adaptation.

He has already notched up successes with Criminal Justice and The Office, before he took on Mithya.

While the series, which airs on ZEE5, had had mixed reviews, it has won praise for the performance of its cast -- Huma Qureshi, Parambrata Chattopadhyay, Rajit Kapoor, Samir Soni and newcomer Avantika Dassani.

While an adaptation can be challenging, Sippy tells Patcy N/Rediff.com, magic can be created with the right cast, "It's almost like coming up with a great jazz band -- you have different kinds of temperaments and different kinds of styles, but, together, you can make great music."

What made you want to direct a remake of the BBC show Cheat?What was your reaction when you saw the original show?

When Goldie Behl, the show's producer, asked me to direct, I was happy to do so.

I saw the original show as well as the way they were trying to adapt it and I liked both versions.

This is a story about relationships, deceit and betrayal -- we have seen, and enjoyed, various versions of this onscreen.

The university setting gives it a freshness and brings in another layer because, now, you have cheating in the classroom and cheating in life. An additional layer is always lovely to play with in a film or a show, so that was very exciting for me.

When I chatted with the makers, we talked about setting it in a beautiful location. So you have all this stuff happening under the surface, people betraying each other and things getting nasty, but the backdrop is the gorgeous Himalayas, the monsoon... there is a kind of Gothic mood. These three things came together nicely in our show.

We were so blessed, we got to spend six weeks in Darjeeling in the monsoon; it feels like you could be in Victorian England.

You realise why all the great English writers in India in those days made Darjeeling their second home; to them, it felt just like home.

What are the challenges that you face when you adapt a series since, with OTT so prevalent, there would be many people in India who have seen the original show?

A tiny minority in India saw Cheat, so that was not a major concern.

Our approach was that the take-off point would be that show. What was important was how we bent it organically into something that feels right in India.

Each show has its own challenges -- whether it's a legal drama (Criminal Justice) or a show like this. The crux is making the right choices about what one needs to retain and what one changes.

There is a saying... Naqal ke liye bhi akkal chahiye (You need brains to even copy). Some of the greatest creative people have not just borrowed stuff, they have stolen things. And that includes the greatest of them all, Shakespeare. Others have done it too but he made it own because of the way he did it. That, I think, is an inspiration for us.

Nautanki Saala (Rohan Sippy's film, starring Ayushmann Khurrana, which released on April 12, 2013) is inspired by a French film (the 2003 comedy, Apres Vous).

What excited me was that the original takes place in a French restaurant; we made it about a theatre and a play that is a reverse take on the Ramayana. So, suddenly, while it is the same, it is also different. There's a challenge in doing that kind of thing.

My father (the legendary director Ramesh Sippy) took Ram Aur Shyam and made Seeta Aur Geeta. Salim-Javed took the concept of the former and, by turning the protagonists into women, made it even more interesting.

In an adaptation, you have the benefit of learning from the experience of those who wrote it in the past. You also have the opportunity to bring in more excitement.

IMAGE: Huma Qureshi and Avantika Dassani with Parambrata Chattopadhyay on the sets of Mithya. Photograph: Kind courtesy Parambrata Chattopadhyay/Instagram

You have an excellent cast -- Huma Qureshi, Parambrata Chattopadhyay, Rajit Kapur, Samir Soni... How did you decide who you wanted?

I would say it is our good fortune because, more than the medium, we depend on the combination of these kinds of actors to make it fly.

Huma was someone that everyone was excited about. We were thrilled when she read the first episode and was interested in getting onboard.

Parambrata and I had a wonderful experience on Aranyak (the show, which marked Raveena Tandon's OTT debut and co-stars Parambrata, was co-written by Rohan Sippy and Charudutt Acharya). We spent a lot of time together in Himachal during the making of that show and I was looking for an opportunity to work with him as a director.

Luckily, he too liked the material.

He is one the few actors who sees an opportunity in a character that is quite grey. He's made it special; we were really lucky to have him.

And it was just wonderful to get Rajit to do that particular character -- he brought it to life so well.

As far as this project was concerned, I'd say like-minded souls found each other. You get a sense that you are going to come together for this short period of time, really jam and make something that you all will hopefully be happy with.

Your instinct tells you that getting these kinds of people together is going to create interesting chemistry and that's what drives the project.

And when you have someone like Huma; it gives a push to the business side as well.

 

IMAGE: Huma Qureshi in Mithya.

What -- according to you -- are the strengths of your cast?

Someone like Rajit comes with so much experience that he has really distilled over the years; working with him is an education.

He is so well-prepared. He makes notes and asks questions when we discuss the character. And the magic that all this results in comes to the fore when you are shooting the scene.

It's amazing to work with someone who has that kind of experience and uses it to remain at the top of his game.

Huma is one of those actors who makes acting seem effortless. But that happens because she has put in a certain amount of preparation. She has a certain confidence that allows her to let go; that's the nice thing about her.

She surprises even herself with what she achieves at certain moments. It comes down to the basics and her basic style is totally different.

Param is just great to work. He's a director and producer himself. It almost feels like cheating working with him because you're getting a great, great package of so many things.

Firstly, you are getting an actor who is second to none. Secondly, it's nice to have another director on set who understands situations very quickly. We can chat about certain things and that, I would say, is really nice.

It's almost like coming up with a great jazz band -- you have different kinds of temperaments and different kinds of styles but, together, you can make great music.

IMAGE: Avantika Dassani in Mithya.

Avantika is a newcomer. Why did you decide to cast her?

It's not that we set out with the thought that we would audition only newcomers. We did, however, think it would be interesting to have a fresh face.

But, more than me, it's the producers Goldie and Applause Entertainment who had to feel that she was right for the part.

Rhea (the character Avantika plays) is a huge part of the show so, when you take a newcomer, there is the obvious risk that you may have made the wrong decision. Not in terms that the newcomer may be a bad actor but in the fact that you may have not cast the person correctly.

With an experienced actor, you've seen them onscreen so you know what they can do and the risk is mitigated to some extent.

With Avantika, everyone across the board saw something in her audition that made us feel she could pull it off.

However much you'd like to, I don't think you can tell your casting director exactly what you want in an actor for a particular part. Yet, when you see it, you see the spark that you know is going to light the flame for you.

That was the kind of feeling -- and we had seen enough auditions -- we got when we saw Avantika's.

The fact that she was a first-timer and her mother was a big movie star (Bhagyashree) didn't matter; it was just about whether she clicked for the part.

Rhea is not a difficult role, but it is a little twisted. When you see Mithya, you know Avantika suits the role.

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PATCY N / Rediff.com