'I do not fall into the trap of slotting characters into 'lead' and 'supporting' roles'
A new show, but on the back of a successful first. What were your thoughts when it was show time finally? (Given that you probably also had to deal with the stress of the pandemic)
It was a mix of nervousness and excitement. The whole team along with Amazon Prime Video were overwhelmed with the response we had received for Breathe S01 from all over the world. That really inspired and pushed us to dive again into the world of Breathe and create another fascinating story, which eventually led to Breathe: Into the Shadows
Creating Breathe: Into the Shadows was an enriching journey of more than 2 years and it was finally hitting the marquee. I could not have asked for a better team of artists and crew.
Yes, pandemic was stressful for us but nothing more than what the entire world is experiencing. At the same time, just before the lockdown, we did manage to finish the post-production and deliver the show to Amazon. Due to pandemic we could not manage to dub the series in other languages and had to stream in Hindi along with other language subtitles. Hopefully we will stream the show in other languages soon. We were fortunate that we could showcase our series to the world in these trying times. Creating Breathe: Into the Shadows was an enriching journey of more than 2 years and it was finally hitting the marquee. I could not have asked for a better team of artists and crew, who went above and beyond. It will always be special.
From Mumbai to Delhi – capturing the flavour of the city through your shows seems to be your forte. Any specific reason you chose Delhi this time round?
I always try to integrate the city as an important part of the narrative. In the new season, since we were creating a whole new world for Breathe: Into the Shadows, I was very sure that I wanted to set this story in Delhi. I have been always fascinated with the varied visual scape the city offers. Delhi has its own unique ethos and culture, which lends a unique flavor to the show. In this season, I also wanted to create an atmospheric tension through the narrative, hence we had decided to shoot this season in winters. The winters of Delhi lend the right visual mood board. The cold, gloomy weather, overcast sky, nights and early mornings with dense fog. As a director, I wanted audiences to get engulfed into the tension that the city, the weather and the atmosphere created along with what the characters were going through.
There are 4 writers for this show – how did you ensure that this collaboration works seamlessly? Any incident you remember where your thoughts didn’t gel and it took a while to get the scene right?
I think the secret to running a writer’s room seamlessly, is to ensure that everyone in the team is open to collaborating and respects each other's opinions. Since you are creating a season with a run time of more that 500 minutes, it also becomes very important that you get all the writers on the same page as far as the pitch of the story and character arcs are concerned, more so when the content is deeply layered and complex. This is only possible through extensive discussions. We invested a lot of time to develop the multiple character arcs and the beats of the episodes, this for me is the backbone of the series.
Once this is done, then getting into screenplay writing becomes more effective and it gives a lot of clarity, on the tone and the approach to everyone involved in the writer’s room. Yes, getting stuck on some scenes is given in the whole writing process. I clearly remember that initially the most discussions and long debates happened about how we could do justice to the complexities of the mental illness, which was a very important aspect of this story. We all in the writer’s room could get on one page only after we were through with the extensive research and after doing multiple rounds of one to one sessions with few psychiatrists and psychologists. I would really want to thank my writing team Bhavani, Vikram, Arshad, Sunil for writing this season along with me and embarking on this amazing journey.
I think the secret to running a writer’s room seamlessly, is to ensure that everyone in the team is open to collaborating and respects each other's opinions.
Madhavan in the first and now Abhishek Bachchan, Nithya Menen, Saiyami Kher and of course Amit Sadh. What has been your experience working with the big names?
It has been an extremely rewarding and fruitful experience, working with all these exceptional talents with amazing body of work. Right from Maddy Sir to AB sir to Nithya to Saiyami and to Amit. First and foremost, they are all artists and once they are convinced with the story and your vision, then they become your collaborators in creating what you have envisioned. As an artist this medium gives them a wider range to perform and go in depth of their characters. They have 100% backed the story and put in their everything to bring this to fruition. I would be forever indebted to them for believing in me and breathing life into Breathe: Into the Shadows.
The supporting actors Hrishikesh Joshi, Jaiprakash (Shrikant Verma), Plabita Borthakur are getting a lot of kudos for their parts. Sometimes fleshing out these characters is the toughest part since they are not the lead but still have to make significant impact. How did you manage this successfully?
As a writer-director, it is very important for me that I do not fall into the trap of slotting characters into “lead” and “supporting” characters. Without all of them the story is incomplete, the journey is incomplete and more than that the characters of Avinash, Abha and Kabir are incomplete. Once we are free from this bondage, it becomes easier to look at every character holistically and do justice to it. This has been my approach and I am so happy and overwhelmed to see audiences showering so much of love to each and every character of our show.
My biggest take away has been that audiences are open to intelligent and thrilling content as long as the emotional core of the story is strong.
How are you dealing with the feedback – some say it’s binge worthy, other say it’s a tad too long – what has been your learning from this series?
Within few hours of the launch of Breathe: Into the Shadows till now, the response from the audiences all over the world has been heartwarming and we are soaking in the accolades and it continues to grow. Right from the writing stage we were aware that show of this breadth required a longer running time, so we could do justice to all the sub-plots, characters, their backstories and overall story. It’s a fine balance between length and content. While many have appreciated the detailing and the depth of the writing and execution, it also comes with the cost of screen time. Yes I am taking notes of all the learning’s and would try my best to implement them in my future projects. My biggest take away has been that audiences are open to intelligent and thrilling content as long as the emotional core of the story is strong.
What next from here? How are you taking a break? Or is your mind already working on the next script?
Well the continued love response from the audiences is not letting my mind take a break and I am working on a couple of exciting stories, but it’s premature to divulge any details as of now.