Indian television

‘No one will chop vegetables while surfing’: Tigmanshu Dhulia on what’s changed for TV

The filmmaker returns to the medium that nurtured him with an upcoming film on the Indian National Army.

Tigmanshu Dhulia is evidently good at multitasking. The director of critical favourites such as Haasil, Paan Singh Tomar and Sahib Biwi aur Gangster is helming two very different projects for television, marking his return to the medium since his popular 45-minute films for Star Bestsellers in the 1990s.

Dhulia is casting for a film on Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army for Rajya Sabha TV, which will also be shown as a four-part series on the channel. He has also directed a short film for Zee TV as a part of an Indo-Pak anthology on diverse themes. And even as you read this, he is prepping to cast for his much-delayed movie Milan Talkies, while winding up the post-production of Yaara, starring Irrfan Khan, Amit Sadh and Shruti Hassan.

In an interview with Scroll.in, Dhulia talks about his lessons in history, his disenchantment with the current cinema, and why television programming is staring at its biggest challenge yet.

Why did you choose the subject of the INA for your television comeback?

The team from Rajya Sabha approached me with several topics. But I was more interested in this because, as a student of history and being particularly interested in modern history, I was intrigued by Bose and the trails of INA and the mystery behind his death. No one really talks about what he did or what happened to the INA. The trials [during which several INA officers were tried for treason, torture, murder and abetment to murder during WWII in 1945-46] were symbolic because the INA had vowed to hoist the Indian flag at the Red Fort and the British had retaliated by trying the officers at the site. What also appealed to me was the fact that Rajya Sabha TV wanted to release it as a feature film first. They were also very generous with the budgets.

What was the research like?

I put together a team of four writers. Not just any film writers, but people with a keen sense of history and respect for this part of our history. They went about reading all available material on the subject, combed through all possible archives for five-six months. We now have the first draft of six episodes. Since the film is set in 1945, a lot of it will be shot on sets, and some of it at the Red Fort [where the trials were held], Parliament, places that haven’t changed.

The INA and its founder are topics that have now acquired tremendous political sub-text.

I did not pick up the subject because of the current ramifications. I did not anticipate any controversy. It was just a coincidence. Who talks about the past?

Before taking up the project, I knew very little about Bose or the INA. The process has reinforced some of the things I knew, armed me with more information and also changed my perception about a lot of things.

What are things about Bose’s life and disappearance that you changed your mind about?

I don’t want to talk about it now.

Are these ‘finds’ in the script?

Yes, they are. The script is backed by solid evidence. Nothing is fictionalised. Every plot point is backed by research from newspapers and books.

Tell us about your short film for Zee TV.

It is a contemporary romance called Baarishaur Chowmein, set in Mumbai, and starring Amit Sadh and Taapsee Pannu.

How has television changed since your first TV film in 1994?

I was lucky to be associated with television till the time it died. Rajdhani (1990) on Star Plus ended and the saas-bahu saga began. It was some sort of a divine intervention that I got promoted to films and did not have to go through the frustration of being involved with the degeneration.

Television is now about to change. With the arrival of web and television on the internet and Netflix, everything is changing. Now TV reaches out to a new audience – 30-plus males and educated and professional women who watch on computers, tablets and phones. Traditional TV sets are only for housewives and grannies. New audiences mean new eyeballs on these new platforms. So the programming has to be engaging because those consuming it are focused only on the screen. No one will chop vegetables while surfing the internet.

While shows like Nagin will still have its share of eyeballs, traditional television technicians are going to face a tough time. Concept, execution and packaging will have to change to adapt to the new platforms and audiences.

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‘Ek Shaam Ki Mulakaat’, directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia for Star TV.

What about cinema – what is the next big thing? For instance, you pioneered the UP gangster cool genre, but it seems to have passed its sell-by date.

Somebody does it for the first time and people follow it blindly, diluting the colour and essence of the genre. God is in the details. They do not get into the details. I knew the hinterland well, I was well-versed with the politics and culture of Uttar Pradesh, I am aware of the details. Others are not. When they just try to appropriate the concept, it dies.

There is a new audience emerging and we must now start making content for a global audience, or else Hollywood will decimate us very soon. Fast & Furious did better business than some of our best films.

What kind of content are you talking about?

Rooted films that appeal to a global viewership. A film like Dil Chahta Hai was rooted in the urban Indian milieu. But the detailing was very nice, which is why even someone from Allahabad liked it. When you stick to the formula of hero, heroine and dream sequences, you make films that audiences outside India laugh at. Hollywood has survived because it reaches out to different worlds. We cannot ever hope to make Fast & Furious. But does that mean we do a “Shaava Shaava, Shaadi Byaah” instead? We have to think of something else. And if we don’t do it, who will?

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.