From the sets of Gulaal - Sidharth Sengupta

Home  Behind the Scenes  Director's Cut From the sets of Gulaal - Sidharth Sengupta

On the 28th of August, 2011 Gulaal – a jewel in the crown of Indian television aired its last episode and fans worldwide were disappointed to say the least. It started out as a story about a girl who could find water in parched lands but little did we know that this show was about to push the envelope, break boundaries and bring to Indian television for the first time the concept of “Deeyarvattu”. Each and every facet of the show was exceptional - beautiful sets, soulful music (who can forget the very poignant and melodic “Piyu Mhare”?), stunning locations and a superb cast of talented actors. We had the pleasure and absolute honor of interviewing Mr. Sidharth Sengupta – Director of this epic show. So come join us as he takes us down memory lane and shares some of his most fond and cherished memories from “Gulaal”.


Gulaal was based on a very different concept. What made you accept the project?

 I accepted the show because the concept was so different in fact, before Gulaal I had done a show called Ballika Vadhu and that too was based on a completely unique concept. Gulaal was written by Mr. Prakash Kapadia who has also written the screenplays for Devdas, Black, Saawariya etc so I needed no convincing on the brilliance of the story and then of course, conceptually it was a beautiful show as well. I think in the beginning the promise of the show was that it was about a girl who could find water but that was never the focal point of the story at all. That “finding water” part for the first 10-15 episodes was just our way of finding a girl called Gulaal but by then the promise had been made and I feel that is where we went wrong and faltered with the show. 

What was your most memorable scene pre and post leap?

There are so many memorable scenes…let me think…ok, pre-leap I really liked the scene where Gulaal and Vasant are by the lake and her payal starts tinkling for the first time. That scene was shot by a lake in Rajasthan and I still remember it was extremely hot. Another memorable scene was when Durgesh (Ujjwal Chopra) and his family came to see Gulaal to fix their marriage. Durgesh entered Gulaal’s room and she recognized him and envisioned him as the kinnar she had seen at the mandir…and then she refused to marry him. That scene was quite remarkable. Post leap, my favorite scene was the “Aam bagichaa” scene where Kesar watches Gulaal in the mango grove, she falls down and he helps her by taking the “kaantaa” out of her foot.

Can you tell us about a time when it was extremely difficult to shoot? (bad or extreme weather etc)

The initial episodes were very difficult to shoot because we began in May and it was extremely hot at that time. The third episode where we introduced Gulaal, there was a whole dance sequence in a melaa and that scene was very very difficult to shoot because of the extreme heat (50 degrees or so) plus these guys had to dance. Also, all the shoots on the Rann were very hard because it is an unfriendly terrain especially during the summer. There was a scene where Motabha (Manoj Joshi), Dushyant (Sushant Singh), Vasant (Rahil Azam) etc accompany Gulaal to drop her back to the village and they stop and set up camp in the desert in evening. That was shot in Jaisalmer and it was pleasant in the evenings but that same afternoon we shot a scene at the same location where Dushyant finds out that Gulaal actually loves Vasant and their marriage gets fixed. So a heartbroken Dushyant walks through the sand dunes and breaks down and that was tough to shoot again because of the heat. So, all in all we had some very difficult shoots because of the weather and locations.

How do you schedule your shoots?

For daily shoots, there is literally no beginning or end so we have a whole team of planners to work on the scheduling. We had started the shoot with the scene where Gulaal goes to Vasant and says “mujhe choodi pehnaao” so that was shot indoors and then we moved to Rajasthan. When we got to Rajasthan, it was super green and if you notice, Talsagara is a bit too green for a village that was suffering from drought! It was the same in Gujarat - completely wet so basically it was the rainy season all over the country. This made it very important to plan ahead and look at every single aspect, especially if the show is about the weather. The Rann was completely wet and when that is the case you cannot even stand on it. Since Rajasthan was completely Green we had to find dry patches to shoot the scene where Kesar is waiting for Vasant to return – we found that location far away from the village and we were lucky to find that dry patch during the rainy season.

Each and every character in the show had so many shades. As a director, did you have a personal favorite?

Yes, he did not come out as planned but I used to really like Dushyant (Sushant Singh) and also Durgesh (Ujjwal Chopra). Both were villains but they were very interesting, complex and layered characters. Durgesh again, did not come out the way we had thought for various reasons but he truly did love Gulaal and he really could not be blamed for what he was. So while Durgesh saw her as a “Devi”, Dushyant too loved her in his own complex way but we just did not get the chance to dwell more into that. Even Kesar (Neil Bhatt) was a very interesting and complex character. They had taught him something and all through his childhood he was told that he was a married man and that Gulaal was his wife and then he grew up and was told that his feelings for her were wrong. So, all these guys were very interesting and layered characters.


Presenting the concept of a Deeyarvattu was a first for Indian television. Can you tell us about that episode? Were you apprehensive? How did you conceptualize that scene?

Honestly speaking, I did not shoot that scene (it was shot by Aziz) but I was involved in the whole creative part of the scene. The entire scene was very long but it was all shot in one day and it was brilliantly written, brilliantly done and brilliantly connected. Manasi did a superb job and again we had to deal with a lot of rain…so once again the weather was against us! See, we were not apprehensive about it because this was our story from the beginning so this was the ultimate roundup and the turning point of the show. We had been very sure from day one that we had to come here because this was always the focal point of Gulaal. I was very happy with the way the scene turned out. I did think that we could have done with a little more pain in Gulaal while she was speaking but all in all it was a fantastic scene.


A director has to wear many hats – Actor, mentor, creator, visionary, leader and so many more. Out of all the above, which hat do you enjoy wearing the most and which do you find most challenging?

The “Creator” part is what I enjoy the most and find the most challenging as well. As the creator you have to look at each and every aspect from pre to post production, you have to be present even while deciding the music…so the whole process of creating is the most challenging and the most satisfying as well. You become a storyteller and you have to make it interesting so you conceptualize, get the actors there, tell the camera where it should be….the entire process is fascinating. Then when you sit down to edit, you can turn the whole scene around. For example, in that “Aam bagicha” scene, out of the Blue, we decided to add the “Dil hai chhota sa” song. I mean, I had not even thought of it but when we were editing I thought of trying it and it worked out very well. Also, Kesar was supposed to have come in a bit later in that scene but I thought of getting him in earlier and all that was done on the edit. So the entire process of creation is very interesting…you have a vision…and you decide how the story will unfold.

How do you convey your ideas to your actors?

I have to admit that Gulaal was quite a cakewalk because all the actors were so good (Sushant, Manasi, Rahil, Neil, Manoj, Neha, Natasha…) all of them were brilliant actors. Even Ali was fantastic, he was completely comfortable. I had problems in Ballika because the kids were completely raw. When you have great actors, it becomes so easy to explain what you want and each interaction becomes a learning process for the entire team. The best thing was that all of them were very creative actors so it was great fun shooting them.

Can you tell us about a scene that gave you a great sense of pride and achievement?

Now, that is a tough one to answer!! I think it was the “Aam bagicha” scene because I actually thought of the whole thing while we were shooting. So I kept thinking “let’s try this”, “let’s do this” and I made the story right there. When we were done with the shoot and I saw the scene while editing it, I really liked it so I think that was the scene I loved the most. It was a long scene and if you notice apart from the conversation between Talli and Gulaal, no other words are spoken in the scene. Even when Kesar came up to Gulaal and took out the “kaanta”, there were no words…so it was a pretty magical scene.


If you had a chance to go back, is there any scene that you would like to shoot differently?

Yes, there is one scene. It was the first episode scene where Motabha (Manoj Joshi) speaks to the government official in front of all the villagers. I thought that Motabha was too loud in that scene and even now that scene keeps pinching me! Actually it was my fault, Manoj kept asking me if it was ok but I really don’t know what happened and I did not place it, but now I feel that he could have spoken in a more subdued manner. So, given the chance I would love to go back and reshoot that scene.

What do you do to motivate your team and draw the best out of them?

You have to make the scene very interesting for the actors, pep them up, explain the scene to them, tell them what they have to do and finally convince them that it won’t be easy! If it is a plain scene where they have nothing to do then you have to layer the scene because that helps. Sometimes there is something more in the scene…something that is not written, that is not seen or spoken. For example, there was this very normal scene where Gulaal is thinking and Dushyant (Sushant Singh) comes inside her room and just starts speaking to her and he is feeling very awkward. Now, on the face of it there is nothing unusual but there is a very strong undercurrent and that is very difficult to perform. So that undercurrent and that layer have to be there to make the scene come alive. Then of course, there has to be chemistry! Again, in the “Aam bagicha” scene when Kesar comes close to Gulaal to take the “kaanta” out of her foot – that “Kaanta” scene has been done hundreds of times before but once you do it with the undercurrents and the chemistry…the equation changes completely and the scene becomes very interesting.

Have you ever faced a situation where an actor just cannot connect with the scene and emote? How do you deal with such a situation?

I don’t think I faced that problem in Gulaal…I might have faced it in Ballika but not Gulaal. A director also has to be a manipulator in such a case…so you need to manipulate the scene in such a way so that it can be done. Sometimes an actor does have a point and sometimes the writer has a point that the actor cannot see. In Gulaal all the Gulaal and Kesar scenes were difficult because all those scenes were on an edge. If we overplayed the chemistry then the viewers would become uncomfortable and if we underplayed it then the story would not have moved forward. So it had to be just right. If he touched her a bit more then people could feel repulsed because at the end of the day you have seen him growing up in front of her. So handling the Gulaal and Kesar relationship and equation was very difficult. Once Kesar had grown up and developed feelings for Gulaal…the relationship from that point on became very difficult to handle. It was a delicate situation and we were going about it in a progressive way so that made it even trickier. At any given time if Kesar was too close to Gulaal then it could start looking vulgar because there was a strong physical undertone to the whole thing and that had to be played down and yet played right. So the undertone was very important yet without it there would have been nothing in the scene!

Everything about the show was simply stunning – the sets, the haveli, locations, the costumes, colors etc. You can tell that a lot of thought and hard work has gone into all the intricate details. As director were you involved in the whole creative process?

I’ll be honest, I was definitely involved in the locations but not in the costumes, colors etc. We had a dedicated team for that and they are brilliant in that area so it was all very well ornamented. They are masters in their field - the Creative producers, directors etc so I don’t interfere there because they are so good. My only concern was that in Gujarat they wear a lot of White in the village and I was particular that it should not be overdone. But they were very good with the dresses and in fact Tara won an award for the costumes on Gulaal and that pretty much sums up how good the team was.

Was there ever a moment in the show – a scene, a character, a dialogue, a moment that brought a tear to your eye or touched you emotionally?

Yes, there was a scene between Dushyant and Gulaal. She is in her room crying because of all the rumors in the village about her relationship with him. Dushyant enters her room to apologize and she tells him that he does not even know what he has taken away from her. Performance wise that scene was extremely emotional and just brilliant.


Gulaal and Vasant or Gulaal and Kesar…your personal favourite?

Aaahhhh….very difficult. Actually both… Gulaal and Vasant had a different kind of energy and there was another kind of a drama going on between them and around them in the beginning.  Gulaal and Kesar on the other hand was a very intimate and intricate relationship. Gulaal -Vasant was very colorful and grand and it was just the opposite for Gulaal - Kesar – very complex. So both had their own kind of magic and it is very difficult to pick just one.

Please tell us about your current and future projects

Currently Ballika is going on and there are some other projects in the pipeline but I won’t say anything about them just yet.


When you get time off, what do you do to unwind?    

To unwind I go to a place called Ladakh – it is the highest desert in the world. I was in London for a shoot recently so that was great because it was work and leisure. Usually when I get time off I try to take short trips to Ladakh.


Intricately woven…Gulaal will always have a special place in our hearts. We wish Mr. Sengupta all the best for his future projects and hope that we keep experiencing the magic and the sheer brilliance of this very talented director. 


Photo credit: Sidharth Sengupta

© Tinsel Gupshup

Prarthana Menon
Jun 01, 2012
Great story and great actors. Me and my mother loved this story very much. Watching Neil Bhatt and Manasi was a treat. So have introduced this to my sister who missed this show. All the best

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