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‘I have fuel for the stories I will tell in the future’

Payel Majumdar Upreti | Updated on January 08, 2021 Published on January 08, 2021

Family saga: Seema Pahwa, the director of Ramprasad ki Tehrvi, with Mohammad Zeeshan Ayub Khan and Konkona Sen Sharma (from left to right)

Actor-director Seema Pahwa spent her time in pandemic 2020 building stories around the eccentricities of joint family set-ups

* Pahwa, 58, debuted as a director with Ramprasad ki Tehrvi, a feature film released in theatres last week

* The way a film is shot has also changed, and become more dependent on the editing

* People get flashes of these stories when I act; they see humour in my roles

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Veteran telly viewers remember her as the beloved Badki of Hum Log, and today’s cine watchers know her as Ankhon Dekhi’s Amma. Seema Pahwa, the stage, television and film actor whose roles in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan and Bareilly ki Barfi won her Filmfare Awards, is now behind the camera. Pahwa, 58, debuted as a director with Ramprasad ki Tehrvi, a feature film released in theatres last week. The film, starring Naseeruddin Shah, Vikrant Massey, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub Khan, Konkona Sen Sharma and Supriya Pathak, revolves around the family dynamics and politics that follow the death of patriarch Ramprasad.

BLink chatted with Mumbai-based Pahwa, who also wrote the script for the film, about her recent venture. Excerpts from the phone interview:

Why did you decide to take up direction?

I had a lot of stories that had come together in the last few years, so I wanted to put them down on paper. I have lived in a joint family all these years and the idiosyncrasies of the set-up have given me many ideas that live in my head. I would like to give shape to them now. People get flashes of these stories when I act; they see humour in my roles of an aunt or a mother or sister. That’s how my family is, we have great fun together.

You’ve had a successful career in acting and lived in a traditional household. Was there ever a conflict between the two?

Contrary to the image projected by television and film about the great Indian joint family, I have had no trouble living in one. My family has been my support more often than not. I work with my husband [actor Manoj Pahwa] often, but we are individualistic when it comes to our work. I would like to think that we are each other’s biggest critics, and it helps to have a frank opinion that spurs you on than have positive things to say about each other.

How has film-making changed since you began working?

Film-making on the sets has changed vastly over the years. We used to labour over takes, as a bad take meant that’s how it would be like in the film ultimately. There would be multiple rehearsals. Nowadays, actors work hard on their look and physique, and that’s where the effort goes in, but editing makes it possible to ‘fix things’ in post-production. This wasn’t the case when we had begun to work decades earlier.

How has editing changed the game?

Editing is now what directors concentrate on when building a scene, rather than a perfect take. The way a film is shot has also changed, and become more dependent on the editing, as has the role of the actors. We had it tougher earlier, as these tools weren’t available to us. There used to be a fine if any actor looked into the tele-prompter, for example, and we had to remember all our scenes. Now, it is perfectly fine for actors to look into the prompter if they want to recall their lines.

Would you like to pick up acting roles again or continue to direct?

I would definitely like to direct in the future. I’m a perfectionist who likes to have some control over the film. As a director, you can foresee the whole picture but as an actor you are limited to the role that you are portraying. So, I feel directing comes more naturally to me than acting. All of that depends on how my debut direction is perceived by the audience.

The film Ramprasad ki Tehrvi premièred in the Mumbai Film Festival in 2018. However it took a long time for it to be released commercially. Did you ever contemplate releasing it on OTT platforms?

It wasn’t my call to take, it was the producer’s. We all know what happened last year, with the lockdown and everything else that ensued. I’m glad that we have waited for a theatre release; we wanted the audiences to see it on the big screen so that the film would be noticed. Let’s hope this risk pays off. I myself haven’t been to the theatres yet but would start with my film.

What writing projects do you have lined up?

I ended up writing a lot during the lockdown — that is how I utilised the time we had on hand — to reflect at home. There are many other stories that I would like to write about. This is what I will be doing next, provided people have faith in me as a director. All of this depends on how my film is received.

How difficult was 2020 with the film industry coming to a halt?

All shooting had stopped and it was indeed very difficult to spend time or think about the future. However, I ended up doing a lot of writing in this time, and I have fuel for the stories I will tell in the future. In that way, the period gave us all some time to reflect, away from the hustle and bustle of the daily demands of the set.

What has been your favourite role so far?

I will have to say (that of Amma in) Ankhon Dekhi. We have been portraying elderly characters who are mothers and aunts for a very long time — the window to play the main lead as a woman is pretty small. However, that was different in this film, as the story revolved around characters who were 55 and above. As film-makers, we often end up making stories around the youth, and they end up becoming unidirectional.

How different was it on the sets being a director?

Ultimately, a set runs its own course, but I enjoyed being the director. I had cast people I had worked with before, and I knew how everyone worked. I didn’t have any issues while directing people, and got to learn a lot.

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Published on January 08, 2021
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