On her own terms

When it comes to her show Uttaran, Rupali Guha leaves no stones unturned. There is no denying that in this day and age, when TV serials come and go her propensity to pluck up and stay put is commendable. What started out as a show about two little girls from different sides of the tracks, trying to find their place in the world, is now pushing close to 1000 episodes. Rupali’s vision teamed with a brilliant cast of actors, established writers, creative’s and directors has made Uttaran one of the most popular shows on television today. So what does it take for the daughter of a renowned film maker, a wife, a mother and a home maker to produce a show that has stood the test of time? Tinsel Gupshup gives you this exclusive feature – Rupali Guha, the woman who envisioned Uttaran and exalted Iccha and Tapasya to cult status!


TG: Can you tell us how Uttaran was conceived? How involved were you in the whole process – writing, casting, and character development…the whole conceptualization?

RG: At the time Uttaran was conceived, Colors channel was starting and Ashwini Yardi had asked me to present a few concepts. She was looking for programs that she could start the channel off with. I had this story about two girls and how their status quo changes and my whole thought process behind the story was that we have a very condescending attitude towards the people who work for us. So even though we take care of our housemaids, chauffeurs etc, we let them take food from our house, we may offer to take care of their medical bills etc but at the end of the day we have this superiority complex about it. Now, what if tomorrow you go for a job interview and the person who interviews and makes the decision on whether you get the job or not turns out to be your housemaid’s son? How would you feel then? I think on a superficial level it’s all very easy to say that we won’t mind and it won’t matter but as a society, are we really that open minded? I mean, are we ok to sit at the same table and eat “khaana” with them? So that was the central thought behind the show. Ashwini saw the bigger picture because she is very good at looking ahead and she had a very clear vision about the future of the show. So, we got together with the writers and the channel and it was decided that the show will be based out of Mumbai and that was how Uttaran started. I was involved in all aspects of Uttaran from the beginning…be it the creative side, the writing, the whole vision…I was involved in it all.



TG: Each character is extremely well written and thought of. Were you particular about casting (relatively) new faces for Iccha, Veer, Tapasya? This was not a regular saas bahu drama and required a great deal of emotions, expressions, were there any apprehensions of casting new faces?

RG: Colors were very clear that they wanted new faces for the show. Rashami had done one show where she had played the lead and of course she had portrayed a double role as well. When she came for the audition for Uttaran, the channel was very clear about the fact that she would play Tapasya and no other auditions would be done for that character. I give the channel full credit because they immediately saw Tapasya in Rashami and the rest as they say is history! It took us a while to find Iccha. Rashami was also very very patient with us because “jo bacche logo ki kahaani thee”, that was supposed to get over in 30-35 episodes but that track went on for about 135 episodes. So Rashami was extremely patient and waited for that track to get over and the whole leap to take place.




TG: Coming to Tapasya - one of the things that still makes her an unique character is that she is an anti-heroic figure yet she's been a victim, not just a femme fatale. There's something very humanizing about that aspect of her. Is that how you had imagined her character?

RG: Oh yes! That is exactly how we had imagined Tapasya because we never wanted the quintessential negative character…you know “woh” Komolika type negative, we never wanted that. When you think about it, the whole situation is something that a lot of people can relate to. You have a housemaid and she has a daughter…how will your daughter feel if the maid’s daughter starts becoming the centre of attention? So, as you said, though Tapasya’s character skirted on Grey, there was something very human about her…sometimes you did feel pity for her. You know, we were blessed with a great set of writers who wrote the characters so beautifully. We had Prashant Bhatt as our creative head and he is now heading Colors, we had Mitali with the story and she is now the producer of successful shows like Sasural Genda Phool, then we had Shashi ji writing the screenplay and he is now doing shows like Punar Vivah and Diya aur Baati. So all in all we had this whole team of brilliant writers who along with the channel’s vision are 100% responsible for the success of the show!



TG: Out of all the male characters – Veer, Jogi Thakur, Vansh, Rathore, from a producer and creative’s point of view, which was the most challenging character to deal with?

RG: See, Rathore’s character grew. He was not supposed to play such a long role because it was a cameo and he was just supposed to come and go in a few episodes. He became so popular because of this whole aura that ok, finally Tapasya has met her match in Rathore and finally someone can shut her up! So, his character just grew and it went from 10 to 20 to 100 and so on episode. We had not envisioned and planned out Rathore’s role. I’ll admit that I was scared about Vansh because once again he was not a negative character through and through. He had his issues and his addictions and that made him behave erratically. Of course, Rohit portrayed him very well and the character was well received by the viewers.


I think Veer was a little difficult because he was the hero and yet there were points where he was with Tapasya and you wondered why was he being so nice to her? Nandish is a very soft spoken person and even at points where he had to get angry or aggressive, he made it so believable without stepping outside the boundaries of his personality or character. For example, there was a scene where he just loses his cool and screams in front of Jogi Thakur because he was supposed to get married to Iccha but got duped into marrying Tapasya instead. I mean we have never heard Nandish get angry and scream at anyone in real life so we were wondering how he would emote that anger on screen. But he managed to get it right and though he was not too loud or aggressive, that anger and anguish just came out so well. So, his expressions, his emotions would be perfect in any given situation…with Iccha, with Tapasya…


You have to understand that all the characters grew…they did not become positive or negative overnight. The audience was patient, the channel was patient and our numbers were good so we got the time to play around with our characters. That is a luxury because on daily television, you never get the time or the opportunity to develop your characters…so we were lucky. I mean, in Uttaran, it was not that someone started as a negative character and stayed that way…instead 100 episodes “ke baad woh negative baney.” That was a privilege for us…to be able to play with our characters.



TG: Do you tend to become possessive or protective about your characters? If so, which ones?

RG: No…I don’t think there is any possessiveness. I have been involved in every single aspect of Uttaran since the day it was conceived, so I believe that I do have a better judgment on how a particular character will move. Give me any situation and give me my five characters and I will be able to tell you exactly how each will react, speak, emote, move etc and I will be able to point out that this character will not say this dialogue! When Sajda came along, Mitali got very busy with it, on top of which Sajda was on a 10pm slot as well so for professional reasons she could not continue with us but now she is back on board and she is one more person who knows exactly what each character is capable of saying and doing…or not saying and not doing for that matter! So, let’s say I sit for the edit and Damini’s character says something that just does not fit then I get very upset. So, I won’t say I am possessive but I just want my characters to behave in the way that is most believable…I suppose I am a bit protective and I like to see them in a certain way. I have to give a lot of credit to Anil Deshmukh who has been our dialogue writer since the 5th episode! He gives life to all the characters with his dialogues. I always wanted to see Damini on the other side of the table, “toh woh ek cheez hai” and I got to see that with the leap.



Sometimes I am just blown away by the performances of my cast. They are such brilliant actors and they are the foundation of Uttaran. We have 4 strong character actors and there were the two kids and they just blow me out of the water with their performances. I mean, if you look at it, Ayub, Pragati, Vaishalee and Pratima ji…they are the four stalwarts who brought Uttaran to what it is today. Rashami and Tina came much later and together they gave me my numbers and set the ball rolling.


TG: Tina Dutta as Iccha and Rashami Desai as Tapasya – What were the innate qualities and characteristics in each actor that made them perfect for those particular roles? Did you ever consider going the other way around – Tina as Tapasya and Rashami as Iccha?

RG: Rashami was auditioned by the channel, I had seen the recording of the audition and we had our Tapasya but we were still looking for Iccha. I was in Calcutta to get some furniture for the new sets and the channel had told me about Tina who was also in Calcutta. So, I contacted Tina, called her over to my place and instinctively we knew that she was our Iccha! There was this simplicity about Tina which is what Iccha was all about whereas for Tapasya we needed someone who was chic and modern. Also, Tapasya was this modern, city girl who had an attitude and had her nose up in the air. So both Rashami and Tina had the perfect looks and characteristics to portray Tapasya and Iccha respectively. I do take personal credit for Tina’s selection…I mean I went to Calcutta and it turned out to be completely worth it. I still clearly remember that right after auditioning Tina, I sent a message to the channel that we had finally found our Iccha! I brought her audition tapes back to Mumbai and the rest is history…she came down to Mumbai and within a day her costumes were done and the promos had begun. I truly believe that everything just fell in place for Uttaran…call it good karma or whatever but everything worked out and was good for Uttaran!


TG: Can you tell us about your favorite scenes or moments from Uttaran?

RG: Oh, there are so many moments but I still vividly remember that chunk of the show where Iccha and Tapasya were kids. There was this scene where Iccha gets a Maawa cake for her birthday and she gets really upset and throws a tantrum in front of Damini and the other children. She says, “this is not a birthday…I mean, where are the celebrations, where are the sweets, birthday aisa thodi na hotaa hai!” Then she picked up the cake, showed it to everyone angrily and asks, “yeh cake hai?” You call this a cake, where is the frosting?? This is not a cake!! Sparsh had performed this scene so beautifully, there was just so much spunk in her. Damini slapped her and said that you should know your boundaries, know who you are and what your limitations are. I mean, that scene spoke so much about Mumbai, about India it was all about – “thoda hai…thodee see zaroorat hai.” I just remember that scene so clearly…I remember the music that was playing, Iccha’s expressions and dialogues, Damini’s reaction, the way the children behaved! That scene and those moments laid the foundation for the future of the show!



TG: 900 episodes…what has made you want to stick with the project for so long? A lot of producers might lose faith in it or move on to other things. 

RG: No…no…no…never! Sometimes the channel will mention that the numbers are not up there and that it may be an idea to shut the show but I always tell them not to scare me! I am not scared of shutting the show down and let’s be honest, at some point it will happen but Uttaran is my baby so the very thought makes me sad. I was dedicated to the show when we were 10 episodes old and I am still dedicated to the show now that we are 930 episodes old. I still go for my edits in the morning, I watch each episode every day, I read most of the story documents, the screenplays and I am hands on with most of the senior artists who are the foundation of Uttaran…they are not just acquaintances for me..that is just the way I am. Uttaran is a part of me now and even though there is no compulsion, I still make time for it because it is not a job or chore for me. Even if I go on holiday to London or South Africa, I’ll make it a point to watch all the episodes on youtube…nothing stops me or keeps me away from it. The fact that we have gone up to 930 episodes makes me very very happy. In this day and age when shows come and go I am proud that Uttaran has been going strong for so long.



TG: You directed Aamras - what was the transition like…going from producer to director? What was the most challenging aspect of being in the director’s chair? Which role do you prefer – producer or director?

RG: Oh, that was a completely different experience. It was more challenging and scary because all of a sudden the entire thing was on my shoulder. I could not scold anyone and say you have not done your job well so that was a completely different cap I was wearing. It was extremely challenging but it was also one of the best experiences and I believe that every TV producer should go and become a director at least once! It is a brilliant experience and you get charged to do TV all over again. It is a good break because films are finite unlike TV that is just infinite. As a director you have to call the shots, make the decisions, you have to be extra careful and you tend to be extra scared because the responsibility rests on you. I think I actually prefer the role of a director!



TG: What’s the difference between making a movie and doing a TV series?

RG: TV Serials is a lot of people management skills. Sometimes you run out of patience with the team and shout and that is not enjoyable because you are not the kind of person who gets angry and shouts at people. The job is such that at any given point in time there are 60 people doing something that you have envisioned and it may not turn out to be as you may have wanted it but you just cannot be at every place at all times. I hardly go to the shoot anymore because I have to be involved in the other important areas such as the edit, the writing etc. Shooting is equally important and I am in constant touch with the director but I also feel that the director should be given a free hand because he too has a vision.



TG: Your father (Shri Basu Chatterjee) is a renowned director, writer. In terms of work style in what ways are you similar to him and what ways are you different from him?

RG: My father is very disciplined and I do take after him on that. I am very disciplined about reading my screenplays, going for the edit etc. I don’t read as much as he does. I mean he reads a lot and if you are in the entertainment industry then you should never lose touch with reading. He reads a lot of scripts, stories, books by renowned authors…and I feel that I am lagging behind on my reading terribly. My father is a phenomenon and I cannot even begin to compare myself with him. I have just started one television show and he has done over 35 feature films!



There is no recipe or mantra for success in the television industry. Sometimes you just have to believe and dare to dream. Though, she could sit back and enjoy the laurels, Rupali Guha is the intellectual producer who chooses to take a hands on approach to her work and by braving her way into direction, she has further consolidated her command over the craft.  Tinsel Gupshup would like to thank Rupali and her team for giving us Uttaran – a journey filled with memorable moments and unforgettable characters!



Photo credit: Rupali Guha & Colors


© Tinsel Gupshup


Aug 09, 2012
don't like the show at all! it's become a bad impact on the public and the story is completely disgusting! i disagree with 1/2 of what she said about the show and doesn't deserve high rankings at all!

Jul 31, 2012
the ongoing show is horrible. it is creating a very bad impact on the youngsters. mukta's role is very evil and the comcept of revenge is very negative.

Jul 31, 2012
out of total characters in uttrn vansh was excellent a very good acting by rohit

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