Taj Divided by Blood director Ronald Scalpello wanted to show real human emotions: 'Otherwise it’s a Marvel film’

Mar 04, 2023 07:12 AM IST

Taj: Divided by Blood director Ronald Scalpello spoke to Hindustan Times about how focus on human emotions was of prime importance for him during making of the Mughal period drama.

The new Mughal period drama Taj: Divided By Blood on ZEE5 focuses more on the intense emotions and complex equations between Akbar’s three sons than just the wars they fought in order to lay their claim to the crown. Director Ronald Scalpello, who has made quite a few thrillers in the west, says its essentially a family drama at heart. The filmmaker was conscious of dealing with a big canvas of the Mughal empire but wanted to focus on the family and the interrelationships, the detail of every scene and the complexity of emotions. Also read: Taj Divided By Blood review

Naseeruddin Shah in a still from Taj: Divided by Blood.
Naseeruddin Shah in a still from Taj: Divided by Blood.

Taj has Naseeruddin Shah in the role of Akbar, Aashim Gulati, Taha Shah and Shubham Kumar Mehra playing his three sons Salim, Murad and Daniyal respectively, and Aditi Rao Hydari as Anarkali. In an interview with Hindustan Times, Ronald spoke in detail about working with a huge cast like this one and also the creative liberty taken during the making of the show. He stressed on how focussing on emotional and intimate scenes is as important as the war scenes. Excerpts:

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How much creative liberty has been taken in the project?

I saw it as a family story set up in epic times. We are telling an epic entertaining story for a modern contemporary audience with relatable characters who happen to live in that era. If people are looking for historical accuracy, there are lots of documentaries, books and then there are lots of historians. People are looking for dramatized stories and getting people's attention spans for 45 minutes amid a hectic social media world that we live in, is important. For us, it's about storytelling and making sure that we engage the audience in drama, that's full of emotion, that they connect with, and they want to watch addictively and are drawn into this world.

We have focussed on historical accuracy with regards to the way we built the production design, palaces, costumes, battle sequences, battle armour. We wanted to make it as close as possible to what our research was.

Anand Neelakantan, who contributed in the research on the show, adds, “History itself has a lot of layers. This is a show made for entertainment. We have drawn from various sources of history and set it up as storytellers. We have packaged in an entertaining fashion. That is the only way you can do a drama like this.”

Don't you think the language used in the show could be closer to that era, mainly of those who played Daniyal and Maanbai. Maanbai, a Rajput woman from a respectable family, is shown hurling abuses at the drop of a hat and talking in a very casual tone.

Everyone has an idea of what history was like and how the language should be. It's a valid point because some people would prefer the language to be from that period. But for the understanding of the young audience, we have characters that seem to speak in their way so that they can relate to and can understand them. Everyone will have different views on it.

What was the most difficult thing while making the show like this one?

The scale of the show was huge and we just wanted to make sure that even though we're dealing with a big canvas of the Mughal empire, we focus on the family and the interrelationships, the detail of every scene and the complexity of emotions. None of our decisions were set in stone and as we moved from one day to the next, we could always change it. We had such a brilliant cast who invested so much in their characters and their emotional lives. They were three-dimensional and not wooden. Across time, human emotions have remained the same – of joy, jealousy, hatred, love, anger, regret, that what humanity encapsulates.

It wanted to make it a really moving story with characters that are not just loved and cared for but you also understood the moral complexities of their world and private versions of who they are, just how the play of Romeo and Juliet and other epic stories are loved. I wanted to make it big and cinematic like Kingdom of Heaven but also wanted to make it intimate, relatable and personal.

Jealousy, emotions, sexual desire has its own complexities. Naseeruddin, Aditi, Taha Shah really made sure that those characters were three-dimensional, they lived them. The smaller, intimate scenes are important. Reading people's faces and reading people's emotions is what the audiences go for. Otherwise it’s a Marvel film, a spectacle. I didn’t want to tell the story that way. I wanted to have real human emotions with the characters that we cared and loved, understood and recognized and got involved in their decisions, good or bad.

Tell us about the filming of the battle scenes.

The war in Kabul was very difficult. It’s an epic battle scene. We spent over two weeks, with five cameras, horses, camels, elephants, blue screen, hundreds of soldiers and cannons. That's a technically complex scene with so many great departments including stunt choreographer. It's a huge undertaking. We had an army putting the show together.

Spartacus and Kingdom of Heaven are huge epic references. When you are children, you grasp on these big stories and one day you find yourself in the middle of a field with 300 soldiers, 50 horses and you're excited to be given the opportunity to realize everything that you hope to do in your career. You become like a traveling circus, where you live and breathe 18 hours a day of your life with everyone.

Taj: Divided by Blood director Ronald Scalpello spoke to Hindustan Times about the web series.
Taj: Divided by Blood director Ronald Scalpello spoke to Hindustan Times about the web series.

Share a sweet memory from the set.

We didn't really want Naseer (Naseeruddin Shah) on a horse. But the horses turned out and there was no way, Naseer wasn’t going to get on a horse. I saw a big smile spread across his face for the first time as he got on that horse. And he absolutely loved it. He was like a big kid when he was on that horse.

There is also a lovely scene where an elephant is walking alongside Taha Shah and he gives his apple to the elephant. It looks so powerful. The elephant just sort of took it from him, as if it was perfectly choreographed.

How was it to work with Naseeruddin Shah, he made an appearance after a long time?

I have tremendous respect for him, he's one of the great actors from Indian Cinema and internationally recognized. For me, it was a privilege to meet him. When I started talking about the vision of the film, we were absolutely thrilled when he took the responsibility of that role. Great actors like Naseer who are theatrically trained. You don't over direct them, they come with so much experience, wisdom and emotional empathy, and know their words inside out. He was an example for younger actors, about how to conduct yourself professionally on camera and off camera. We were in awe of his characterization of a historical legend and how three-dimensional he made that character, he's had so much grace, dignity and so much empathy.

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