Aatish Kapadia, one of the most celebrated writers on television, started his TV career with iconic shows like ‘Ek Mahal Ho Sapna Ka’. Over the years, he has written, directed and co-produced several popular shows like ‘Khichdi’, ‘Baa Bahoo Aur Baby’ and ‘Sarabhai VS Sarabhai’, among others, which went on to achieve cult status. ‘Wagle Ki Duniya’, a show co-produced by him, is currently being aired on Sab TV.
In this interview, he talks about his eventful journey as a writer and producer, working across different mediums like theatre, television and films, his association with professional partner JD Majethia, Hats Off Productions completing twenty years in the business, directing a film again and more.
While things are back to normal now, the TV industry faced a lot of challenges because of the Covid-19 situation. Was it difficult to deal with such unforeseen circumstances?
Initially, it was quite difficult. We had to stop our shoot a couple of times and we suffered from losses too. Having said that, there is nothing more important than safety and health. The channel was very supportive during these times. We sanitized our entire set and got the protocols in place. Even during the second wave, we took enough care to ensure that nobody gets affected. I have been working round the clock, so personally, I never took a break. Even when we were not shooting, we would work on scripting and ideation. Now, with the grace of God, everything is functioning smoothly.
During the pandemic, the re-reruns of ‘Khichdi’ and ‘Sarabhai VS Sarabhai’ kept a large number of people entertained. Many of these viewers were the ones who had seen these shows earlier and were revisiting them. This served as a testimony to the fact that they are relevant even today.
It felt very good to see these shows getting so much love from the audience all over again. A lot of my friends would call me up and tell me how much fun they were having revisiting ‘Khichdi’ and ‘Sarabhai VS Sarabhai’. I know so many people who have seen each episode of these shows countless number of times and keep going back to them whenever they get a chance. Comedy is the only genre that has repeat value.
When you decided to bring ‘Wagle Ki Duniya’ back, did you have any apprehensions about how it would be received?
I was very sure that it would be received well. We did have to keep certain things in mind though. The story had to be in sync with the times we are living in, so we ensured that it had contemporary elements in it. We requested Aanjjan (Srivastav) ji and Bharti (Achrekar) ji, who had acted in the original show, to be a part of this one as well and they happily obliged. Usha Laxman ji, the daughter-in-law of R.K Laxman ji, read the script of the first few episodes and was very happy with the way it had shaped up. JD and I had a big responsibility on our shoulders and we put in a lot of efforts to ensure that the show lived up to the audience’s expectations. We got tremendous support from Neeraj Vyas, Business Head at SAB TV. All the people who had worked on the original show were happy about the fact that we were bringing it back and introducing it to an audience that had not seen the original.
‘Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka’ was your first major TV show as a writer. It was the first Indian TV show to complete a 1000 episodes. What are your memories of working on it?
It was my first satellite show. Many of my theatre friends were in it. I will be forever indebted to the producers Shobhana Desai, Vipul Shah, Nilesh Mehta and Meena Gheewala. I would always be grateful to Shobhana Desai for giving me my first show when I was just 22 years of age. It was a Gujarati TV show. Working on ‘Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka’ was a highly memorable experience. I lived all my life in a joint family. Our family had a lot of money at one point and then came a time, when we lost most of it. The family saw many ups and downs but we managed to stick together. I had put all those experiences into writing ‘Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka’. I always wanted to write a family saga. The show helped me establish myself as a writer on television.
Would it be right to say that ‘Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka’ started the trend of ‘daily soaps’ on Indian television?
Absolutely! I can proudly say that ‘Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka’ was the forefather of all daily soaps on Indian television. Also, it was remarkably better than all the other daily soaps that came after it.
You started your career with theatre. Did you undergo any kind of professional training as a writer as well?
No, I learnt everything on the job. I was fortunate that I got a lot of good opportunities. Many talented people fail to achieve success only because they don’t get the right opportunities. Destiny plays a very important role in our lives.
Which was your first break as a writer?
When I was in college, the late Mahendra Joshi said that I had a flair for writing. He asked me to keep working on my skills. I started writing one-act plays. A lot of my seniors would see these plays and appreciate my work. I got my first play as a writer because of JD Majethia. I rewrote his College Day play. Slowly, things just fell into place. When I was 22, Shobhana Desai gave me my first break in television. After writing 3-4 episodes, I understood the process of writing a TV show. I had written a play called ‘Andhalo Pato’ which was very successful. I wrote a film (‘Aankhen’) which was based on it and did very well too. I have been fortunate in a lot of ways. I am still learning and will keep learning all my life.
How do you look at the digital boom?
It is phenomenal. Everybody is getting to do such interesting work. So many talented actors who did not get their due are now getting lots of good opportunities. Apart from theatre, there were only two other mediums, television and films. Now, so many great stories are being told because of the emergence of the OTT platforms.
The TV industry in Pakistan had made a show that was, as you had stated, a ‘bad copy of Sarabhai VS Sarabhai’. You were very upset when this happened. Do you think more number of laws should be introduced in order to protect a writer or creator’s work?
Those who made that show should be ashamed of themselves. They copied so many elements from the original and made a pathetic show. The show died its own death. When you copy somebody’s work, this is exactly what happens. Laws are in place and those who breach them face the consequences in the long run.
You had written ‘Aankhen’ which was based on your play. You had also directed ‘Khichdi The Movie’. Your work in films has been quite less as compared to television. Why?
I was never ambitious about doing films. The problem with the film industry is that most people don’t respect writers. There were a couple of instances when I faced these things myself. After going through such situations, I decided that I would create my own world. As a film writer, you don’t have a say in a lot of things. I got a lot of offers to write films but I kept declining them. While working in television, I get a lot of freedom. I will be making my own films now. There is one script that is ready. I have narrated it to a couple of actors already. It should go on the floors soon.
You have also dabbled in lyric writing. You wrote the song ‘Apne Jahaan Ke’ from ‘Waqt’ and ‘Tere Dil Mein’ from ‘Commando 2’. Why didn’t you write songs more often?
Writing songs is a very dedicated job and it’s difficult for me to make time for it. Having said that, I love writing songs and would definitely write the songs for the film I direct. I have also written the title song of many of the shows that I have worked on like ‘Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka’, ‘Khichdi’, ‘Baa Bahoo Aur Baby’ and ‘Sarabhai VS Sarabhai’. Working on ‘Apne Jahaan Ke’ with Anu Malik was a very memorable experience. The song depicted the kind of relationship the father (Amitabh Bachchan) and son (Akshay Kumar) in the film shared. ‘Tere Dil Mein’ was the last song I had written for a film. It was a gorgeous composition by Mannan Shaah and I had a great time writing it.
Hats Off Productions is co-owned by JD Majethia and you. What is that one thing that made you stay together?
We were friends for a very long time and one fine day, we decided to have our own production house. We launched Hats Off Productions in the year 2002. Since JD and I knew each other very well, working with each other was a very easy process. The comfort level was very high, so we thought we would work very well as professional partners.
Hats Off Productions completes 20 years of its existence this year. You, of course, has been working as a writer much before that. How do you look back at your journey?
I have been fortunate in a lot of ways. I met a lot of good people and that, in turn, led me to many great opportunities. I started my journey with experimental and commercial theatre. My television journey started with Doordarshan Gujarat. I worked with them way back in 1989. Television in India was at a very nascent stage then. I also dabbled in journalism for a while and wrote a Gujarati novel around the same time. I have explored writing in different forms and in a variety of mediums.
On social media, people often talk about how they wish for a new season of ‘Khichdi’ and ‘Sarabhai VS Sarabhai’ to arrive. Do you have any plan to get these shows back on TV or the web?
We are contemplating about that. We have worked out some ideas for ‘Khichdi’ and ‘Sarabhai VS Sarabhai’ and have spoken to the channel about it. Once we get some clarity from them, we can move forward in that direction. There are many other factors involved in bringing new seasons of older shows. The actors must get time to shoot. If they are already busy with something, it gets difficult to get their dates. I guess things will happen when they are supposed to happen.
Out of all the shows you have worked on so far, which one, do you think, deserved more recognition?
‘Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka’. I know it could sound strange to some people but despite the massive success the show received, I feel it deserved more. It was made on quite a small scale but its story and performances made the show appear grand. It was a bilingual show that was shot simultaneously in Hindi and Gujarati. A lot of daily soaps, that were made after it, were shot on a bigger scale with very popular actors but the writing was very bad.
What is that one advice that you would give to an aspiring writer?
Read and innovate. If nobody is offering you work as a writer, write your own scripts. You must keep reading and writing.
What are you doing next?
We are producing a web series for an OTT platform. The film, that I plan to direct, should also happen soon.