Ravi Kemmu took the plunge in TV direction in 1995, when
satellite Indian television had just started to come of age.
He debuted with a romantic series called Suhana Safar
and went on to direct Mausam, a series on NRIs. Dollar
Bahu and Dulhan were natural successors.
With Aamrapali, this former protégé of Shyam Benegal
has hit big league. The ease and finesse with which he executed
this historical of epic proportions has won him admirers already.
His strong cultural moorings, belief in the educational value
of entertainment and tireless efforts in shooting speak for
the enthusiasm and commitment of the man.
Ravi took time off from his frenzied schedule to speak
to indiantelevision.com correspondent, Amar. Excerpts:
How did you get started as a director?
My father worked in the Jammu & Kashmir's state department
of culture and retired as secretary of the same department.
So, the family was involved with cultural activities throughout.
Right from a very young age, I have been fascinated by drama
and as I grew, this fascination only grew stronger. In 1977,
I took an integrated course at the National School of Drama,
encompassing acting, direction and stagecraft. I came to Mumbai
in 1987 and started as an assistant to Shyam Benegal. My first
independent project was a TV serial, Suhana Safar in
Have any directors influenced your style?
Shyam Benegal has influenced me the most. I have imbibed a
lot from the way he would treat a scene, his co-ordination
of choreography, his screenplay.
How is Benegal's treatment different from other directors?
Basically, the difference lies in the use of trolleys. He
uses the light trolleys in such a way that it exploits the
geography of the scene to the maximum and creates depth in
visuals. For a historical, the lighting pattern is of key
importance because it has to be used to provide maximum details
of the pillars, windows and the architecture of the time.
Shyam Benegal had his own way and that explains how he created
so many successful historicals.
How important is formal training for a director?
It is indispensable. In the absence of trained directors,
the aesthetic value of the film gets lost. When assistants
turn directors, they invariably tend to emulate the directors
they have assisted. While there is nothing wrong with it,
a formal course helps in forming a more balanced and rounded
view of things. It does not confine you to the learning you
can imbibe from one person.
Which factors do you take into consideration before taking
up a new project?
My basic concern is that whatever I undertake be fresh as
a concept and different from what I have been doing.
a historical, the lighting pattern is of key importance
because it has to be used to provide maximum details
of the pillars, windows and the architecture of the
What made up take up a difficult project like Aamrapali?
There are two reasons. One, I felt honoured by the faith the
producers showed in me for directing this grand-scale historical.
It made me feel vindicated and wanted. Two, I have always
believed that the purpose of entertainment programmes should
also be to educate. Aamrapali fitted the bill this
way. Besides, I have assisted Shyam Benegal on Bharat Ek
Khoj which covered this period in one of its episodes
and have also always been culturally inclined.
How different is Aamrapali from other projects you have
The grandeur involved makes me slog that much more in every
department. Right from the personal appearance of the artistes
- dressing them up authentically, right from their hairstyle
down to their footwear - to the lighting, camerawork, and
choreography - all these require a very careful supervision
and control at every stage. This requires me to be on my feet
all the time.
How long did it take to shoot one episode of Amrapali?
On an average, it took me four days of 12 hour shifts
each to can one episode. The maximum number of re-takes required
would be 12 or 13, whereas some scenes would be okayed even
in a couple of shots. Most of the scenes have been shot with
one camera for colour consistency. For the outdoor scenes,
specially where there was movement of horses and animals,
we used three or four cameras.
Another important aspect involved in directing a historical
is handling the performances. What problems did you encounter?
Well, most actors we have taken have a rich background of
theatre, hence it was not difficult for them to adapt to these
roles. But, yes there are some new faces - like Shilpa Shinde
(who plays Aamrapali) and Seema Kar. The main problem
we faced had to do with their diction. Being Mumbai bred,
they were not able to pronounce words correctly. My assistants
took up the added responsibility of tutoring them in the language.
Also, as some important dance sequences featured these two
actresses, they had to be trained in specialized dances which
took a lot of time and effort. Besides, the actors also had
some difficulty in carrying off the ethnic costumes.
But does it make good business sense to put an expensive
serial like this on DD?
DD has its own advantages. One, its viewership remains unmatched
by any satellite channel. Two, with the Sanskritized form
of Hindi used in the serial, it is likely to appeal more to
the people in the interiors - Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh
and Bihar - than in the metros. DD certainly has a far better
penetration in the interiors as against the satellite channels.
Three, with DD, we are able to retain our rights over the
serial. This serial will have a tremendous re-sale value and
we plan to dub it in several languages, including some foreign
languages for retelecast elsewhere later
also derives tremendous satisfaction by creating such
exceptional stuff at a time when everybody is just interested
in saving costs and churning out the same routine stuff"
Don't you feel drained out doing such taxing stuff? How
do you motivate yourself?
(laughs) Washed out rather. Of course, directing an epic like
this sucks all my energy and I do feel dead at the end of
the day. Shooting in the terrible summer heat in a non-stop
schedule of 75 days was also some experience! But one also
derives tremendous satisfaction by creating such exceptional
stuff at a time when everybody is just interested in saving
costs and churning out the same routine stuff. Seeing the
curtain raiser of my serial gave me a rare high and I am proud
to be associated with the serial.
are the factors you never compromise on as a director?
I never compromise on the way I want a shot to be taken.
I never compromise on the kind of lighting I feel will work
best for a scene. If I feel certain scenes will come out better
with mis-en' shots, I go for them irrespective of the time
and effort required.
Which subjects appeal to you otherwise?
I like to take up path breaking subjects that give people
food for thought and those that really move them. In the next
few months, I will be starting a movie where the story revolves
around a 16 year old girl who is forced to become a nun.
What factors do you take into consideration before taking
someone under your wing?
Well, the person should be sincere and hardworking. Besides,
he or she should have a reasonable level of technical knowledge.
I also look at the person's knowledge and understanding of
literature and his inclination towards art and culture. These
factors indirectly play an important role in the person's
approach to work.
On hindsight, do you regret any shot and feel you could
have done better, given another chance?
(laughs) I feel that way for every scene I have shot. But
the fact is that given the constraints and pressures one has
to cope with at least on TV, the best seldom comes out. I
don't regret any shot as such.
Which has been the happiest moment of your career?
There have been several very happy moments. Whenever the telecast
of my serials have begun - whether it has been Dollar Bahu
or Amrapali, I have felt very happy and proud because
most of my serials have been widely acclaimed.