When you go through director Abhijit Das’ profile, you realize he is as versatile as a filmmaker could be. From ad films to documentaries to TV shows to web series and now films, he has dabbled in different mediums and told a wide variety of stories. In this interview, he talks about directing a set of short films and a short film series ‘virtually’ during the lockdown, the mixed response which ‘Sanjivani’ received, eventful journey in the entertainment industry, love for painting and more.
During the lockdown, you shot a set of five short films across seven different countries. How did this idea come to you?
The idea was born out of necessity. I wanted to tell a story which would highlight the fact how we stereotype people. When the tension between India and China broke out, a lot of people, across the globe, started saying negative things about the Chinese community. Not every Chinese is responsible or supports the conspiracy or whatever it may be. Jason Tham, whom I directed in ‘Sanjivani’, is an Indian whose family is originally from China. We just started talking about the issue and both of us were of the opinion that one unfortunate incident gives people the reason to target a certain group of people in the society. It happens everywhere. I was in the US on 20th January when the whole outbreak happened. I was flying back from the US and we still did not know that it would become such a huge thing in the times of come. People were joking about the Chinese at the airport. I wanted to tell a story about the fact that there are no borders. The wires are something we have created. The virus has travelled across the globe. We are all human beings separated by geographical boundaries.
Was it difficult directing the actors virtually?
It was not so difficult as such. First I had a good look at their houses virtually. Then, I started writing the scripts. The first two films are ‘real-time’ films. For instance, if it is a ten minutes long film, the story spans across ten minutes. I had to be careful while writing the script as I was shooting across the globe. The writing part was quite challenging as the story is set in one house but the actors cannot see each other. In the second film, there is an American woman in the living room and a Pakistani man in the bedroom. All the actors who were a part of these films were extremely dedicated and it was wonderful working with each of them. At one point, I was awake for twenty-four hours. I was working with people living in different countries with different time-zones.
What else did you do during the lockdown?
I was actually quite busy. I made a short film series called ‘Lockdown Rishtey’. These were Indian stories of positive effect on lockdown on relationships. It is out on MX Player. I was here at my home and the actors were in three different houses in Lucknow.
‘Sanjivani’ was one of your most recent projects. The show received mixed response from the audience. Do you think there is something that could have been done differently?
The first season of ‘Sanjivani’ was created by Siddharth P Malhotra. Eighteen years later, he got the opportunity to work on the show as a producer and a creator. This was my third show with him. He chose the pace of the show to be different. Most of the daily soaps are fast paced and have over-the-top drama. ‘Sanjivani’ was very real. When the show got over, Siddharth never said we could have done it any differently. I think the audience wanted a lot of drama which they generally look for in a daily soap. We wanted to tell a story which would have real characters. Somehow, you try to do a trade-off between business and art. Siddharth stuck to his vision and all of us are glad we did. Eighteen years back my guru Anurag Basu directed ‘Sanjivani’. It was a surreal feeling to have taken it off from where he left off.
How was the experience of working with a veteran actor like Mohnish Bahl on the show?
It was a delight to work with him. He is a stalwart. He has done so much wonderful work across different mediums. You can only learn from him. He is so fit and disciplined. If there is a 12 o’clock call time, he will walk on the sets at 11:45 am. He surrenders completely to the vision of the director. He has an incredible amount of knowledge about his craft and yet, he is humble enough to give in to a much younger person. He would never go back to his vanity during a break. He would sit on the set and interact with everybody.
You have directed many popular TV and web shows. Is there any particular project which you feel very connected to?
‘Kehne Ko Humsafar Hain’ is one show which is the closest to me. It had such fabulous actors. Gurdeep Punj is one of my favourite actors. It was my third project with her in one year. I thought the show had shades of my own life. Sometimes, we do not want to see the truths in a relationship. There are complications in every relationship which we usually refrain from talking about. My life has been quite a roller-coaster ride. I have been married and divorced thrice. I could see those moments playing out from my life on the show. These unusual moments shape you as a person.
Your professional journey has been quite long. When did it all start?
I started doing television in 2012. This career of mine as a TV/web series director is my fourth career. In advertising, I started out as a client servicing executive. Then I went onto become a creative director in an advertising agency. I was a writer and art director. Then, I got into events. I used to design and direct live shows. I get a little bored with doing the same thing once I reach my peak there. When I feel there is nothing more to learn from a particular job, I quit it and do something else. It has been quite an interesting journey so far.
There have been certain difficult experiences too. In the year 2017, you were supposed to make short films for a platform and then, some controversy happened.
Everybody has their stories of their work being stolen. What happened then was not Viacom 18’s fault. It was the producer’s doing. They took the work from me and did not give me credit. I felt bad about it but then, I felt perhaps it was a compliment on my work. You like my work but cannot afford to pay me, so you steal it (laughs). You steal things that are really valuable. So, I take it as a compliment.
Painting is something you are very passionate about.
Yes, that is something I learnt from a bunch of wonderfully talented kids in Dharavi. There are so many of them who are amazing graffiti artistes. There are beat boxers and dancers and so many creative people out there. I always liked to paint. Graffiti has become my new-fond love. Earlier this year, in January, I was one of the six filmmakers from India were invited by the US consulate to be a part of an exchange programme. That is when I visited a place In Miami which is considered to be the Mecca of graffiti art. I managed to do some painting there. A lot of times, I paint my sets while I am shooting.
Do you plan to direct a film someday?
I actually started making a film last year. It is a bilingual which I am making in Tamil and Hindi. It will take a while for the film to be made as it is based on a very complex subject. I have always been interested in telling stories which convey something new and fresh. There is another story which I have been developing for Balaji Motion Pictures.