All About Web Series

by December 25, 2018 0 comments

A group of people are standing and chatting around a corner shop in Lucknow. Out of nowhere a gangsters strolls in, takes out a gun and shoots a person. Can you imagine the scene? Now place yourself in the centre of the situation. What would be your reaction? This is exactly what happened with some people in the city of Nawabs recently.

Director Bhav Dhulia’s new web series, Rangbaaz, starring Aahana Kumra and Saqib Saleem in lead roles, placed ordinary people at the centre of the action during one of the scenes. “We set it up without telling Saqib that there were people from the real public standing around. He just had to come to shoot a person. I wanted to catch the real reaction of the people but,” he laughs, “he spoilt even that. There were many re-takes and by then the people obviously understood that it was a fictional scene.”

Rangbaaz is a term, often used in parts of Uttar Pradesh, especially Kanpur and Lucknow, used for cunning or sly people. When Bhav describes his idea of a rangbaaz, he says that it is the journey and a love story of a man in his 20s who is responsible for more than 20 murders. “It is the real-life story of Shiv Prakash Shukla (Saqib’s character’s name) who was the talk of the town in the 90s. He was one of the first gangsters to be involved with the state politics and power games in the state where he was in touch with several politicians and police officers. This was unprecedented as nobody had earlier done something like that. A task force was made for the first time to catch a gangster like him. It is also a story about his transition as the 90s saw the liberalisation and globalisation in the country. It is a very fascinating period that way. Indians saw cable TV for the first time then. Things started becoming easily accessible to some extent. So it is about how he was influenced by and in turn influenced the political and liberal landscape,” says he.

Saqib, known for his roles in films like Mujhse Fraandship Karoge, Hawa Hawaai, Mere Dad ki Maruti, and more, the most recent one being Dil Junglee and Race 3, plays a gangster in the series which is set in the backdrop of politics and crime in Lucknow in the 1990s.

If you ask Saqib how he transitioned to such an intense role after playing what is referred to as a “chocolate hero”, he says that it was all about changing his conventional understanding of a hero.

He says, “I have never done a role similar to this one. Even when I did Race 3, it was on a very different track, I was the bad guy there. When this role came to me, I saw it as a great opportunity especially because of the web space doing so well in the industry today. So I decided to walk out of my comfort zone. I felt ki ab Hero-Hero bohot khel liya. You get influenced by what others are doing too. I observed that everybody is playing characters today, especially ‘flawed’ ones. I realised, why such roles would always be larger-than-life characters. The fact that I wanted to step out of my comfort zone was the most important thing here for me.”

He believes that the role had given him a chance to grow on a personal level. “Earlier, I wasn’t even thinking before acting. I was just playing roles without understanding them. To play such a person who came from Gorakhpur was really important for my personal growth. Here I didn’t have to just stand there, talk, keep my hair in place and look like a handsome hero. I had to move ahead and simply act no matter how I looked,’ he adds.

Saqib narrates how he attained an understanding of the character he played, since it is inspired from real life. He says, “If Bhav had let me play the kind of gangster I understood,  I would have only been abusing and shooting people. But there were a thousand other things which had to be done with subtlety.”

He tells us that Bhav would keep insisting on “‘Less is more. Even if you are angry you don’t have to show it.’ I laughed when I heard him say this. I actually came here after doing Race 3,” he laughs to add, “It was a film where you have to look like a hero in every frame or even walk in slow motion every time. Here, I had to understand what my director wanted and then fit in that. So everything was a challenge for me, especially since I come from a school of thought that if I remove my shirt as an actor, my six-pack abs should be visible. And when there was a scene where I actually had to remove my shirt, I asked him if I could wear a vest, since I don’t have them. (Laughs). But I didn’t have to play a stereotype here.”

For Aahana, who is from Lucknow, fitting into the character was not a great challenge since the set up was familiar. She laughs to say that when she first heard that the web show would be set in Lucknow, she instantly agreed. Adding, “It was a great story. There were some things that I have actually seen before. I had taken stories and character references from my family itself.”

She says that she has known the belt, especially in the 90s, since that was the time when she spent her childhood there. It was her family background that gave her a better understanding of a woman in that time and what consequences she had to go through when people caught her or got to know about her relationship with someone, given the prevalent gender restrictions.

She tells us what she found was the most intriguing thing about her role and the story, “Most of my scenes were shot separately from Saqib as it was more of a telephonic relationship than physical or the one where meetings were involved. I thought that I have never done a role like this. I was instantly attracted to it. Plus, I knew the dialect and the style of communication in that city. It was quicker to pick up the style.”

The only challenge, as she describes, was that she never cued any scene with Saqib, it was all done separately.

While talking about how the relationships have evolved today, both the lead actors believe that things have become way easier today.

Aahana says, “There’s only one reason why relationships are losing their endurance — things getting easier and those that can be manipulated.”

Saqib recalls the time when he was a teenager to say that since there were no mobile phones at that time, they used landlines to call their partners. “And even then, they had to look for an appropriate time when their parents were not around. They had to first give two to three missed calls to the other person to give an indication. Today, in the whatsapp age, you don’t get one reply and the relationship is called off. How easy, right?” he says.

Aahana, who has worked for five separate media — TV, cinema, digital, live sports anchoring and theatre — says that the most challenging one was to anchor live. The Lipstick Under my Burkha actress, who undertook this during Pro Kabbadi, says that there were many complex steps that were involved including spontaneity and pre-researching. “Before being actually present on the field, I had to be prepared with all the information about the players and their previous records. I was strictly instructed to not even once question them about ‘how did the match go?’ I had to study all of it myself to actually ask them relevant questions.”

There was yet another factor. “The coordinator who was from Yorkshire had a hard-to-get accent. I had to constantly keep listening to what he was saying through micro phones and then ask questions accordingly and he would often change the questions at the last minute. There were 20,000 people in the stadium and you can’t make a mistake because it’s all live,” she adds.

For her, it’s always important to seek out something and respect people for being what they are since as an actor, “one always has to step into someone else’s shoes in order to know them and portray them better.”

(The web show airs on ZEE 5.)

Writer: Chahak Mittal

Source: The pioneer

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