Luck by chance!
Given a choice, writer, director and producer Karan Anshuman wouldn’t have been doing films. This despite the fact that his father Manjul Sinha was the director of iconic TV series like Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Nukkad and Rishtey, in the 1980s and ’90s.
What Karan wanted to do was what we call ‘computers’. He found the technology fascinating and went to Denison University in Ohio to study computer science. But destiny had other plans for Karan. A weakness in mathematics (compulsory for computer science) made Karan shift to a cinema course, and soon he was enjoying himself and faring much better than his other classmates.
Today Karan can boast about directing Amazon Prime’s first Indian web series, Inside Edge, that won him not only the ITA Award for Best Director - Web Series along with Best Show, but also became the first Indian show to be nominated for the 2018 International Emmy Awards in the Best Drama category.
“When the news came, there was nothing but a feeling of complete disbelief from my side! I was in transit with some of the actors when the news broke. The first thing I did before reacting in any way was to cross check with multiple sources. It all seemed so surreal,” recalls Karan.
Not quite cricket
Showcased last year, Inside Edge is a sports drama featuring Vivek Oberoi and Richa Chadha, an edgy insider take on what happens in the world of a cricket premier league.
“I absolutely adore cricket,” says Karan. “I have followed the game closely since I was a child. If there is any trivia, I probably know it. I enjoy playing it even to this day and have intense rivalries with my friends in the industry.”
His favourite version of the game is test cricket, despite its waning popularity. “It really is the ultimate appraisal of the game’s best,” he says. “With the marriage of sport and entertainment in the form of T20 tournaments came a corruption of the game unlike any we’d ever seen before. Inside Edge addressed all the issues in this regard. It highlighted all things wrong with cricket - and by extension all sports - so that we may set it right.”
Considering the kind of critical acclaim that the series garnered, might it have done even better if it had been released as a TV series or even a film? Karan thinks not. “Given all the (regressive) censorship diktats, this particular story could never be on film. It also needed a lot more than two hours to tell. There’s even a season two in the making. It couldn’t be on TV too, because it is finite in nature. The characters drive the story here. In TV if you notice, characters remain consistent across scores of episodes. That’s the nature of the medium,” explains Karan who enjoys the films of Wong Kar-Wai, Stanley Kubrick and Anurag Kashyap. Denis Villeneuve is his current favourite though.
Ganging up on ideas
Karan’s next outing is again on the web, but this time it’s a crime thriller complete with mafia dons, guns, lawlessness and drugs. Primarily shot in Mirzapur, the series by the same name focuses on the rivalry and crime prevailing in the Purvanchal region of Uttar Pradesh. The cast includes Pankaj Tripathi and Vikrant Massey among others.
Mirzapur is as different from Inside Edge as chalk from cheese, leaving one wondering about the choice of subject. “I was very clear that I wanted to create a whole new world for my next web series,” says Karan firmly. “I am also trying to take on challenges myself. It’d have been too easy to do another drama set in a glitzy, rich world. Mirzapur is rich in many other ways, but it is a far cry from 5-star hotel rooms, fancy cars, and Bollywood. I hope to continue the trend of exploring new genres.”
Karan is also working on a streaming show based on his own novel, Kashmirnama. So is he in favour of letting authors have a say in the filmmaking process?
“I am always in favour of the best ideas winning. I always try to be democratic in the writers’ room,” says Karan. “As far as Kashmirnama (my novel) goes, I am working with another writer, Karmanya Ahuja, and I constantly encourage him to better my own ideas. And he’s been consistently doing that, for which I am grateful, but also aggrieved because I should have thought of those things when writing the book!”
His need to challenge himself shows in the fact that Karan seems to don several hats at the same time. Not only is he a showrunner (the word for a web series creator), but also a screenwriter, director, author and even a film critic. So which role does he identify himself with best?
“Each comes with its own set of challenges,” says Karan with a laugh. “As an author, you spend months in isolation, dreaming up a world you barely share with anyone until publication, and time is never a factor. Directing is the exact opposite. It’s all about getting a crew, including the cast, to buy into your singular vision and inspiring a team to realise that vision in very limited time and (usually) under great pressure of time and resources. Screenwriting is perhaps a good balance and a process I always enjoy. You’re often collaborating, which means the best ideas win, and strict schedules keeps a healthy check on productivity also.”
Film criticism, feels Karan is a different job altogether. “You’re essentially transcribing your emotional state while watching a movie. It is deeply personal, based on your experiences, and it is not your job to understand the audience. In fact, only a select few viewers will either agree or disagree with your point of view on any movie.”
This is why Karan says, “it is critical to have multiple voices and those they resonate with, they tend to follow for tips on whether or not to watch a film.”
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From HT Brunch, December 16, 2018
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