The Writers Bloc: Anshuman Sinha
The irony of the story lies in the title itself-whose suggestion was it and how did you go about conceiving this story?
When the show started a lot of names were under discussion, including the name of two central leads. But after the channel’s vision was locked, the picture and the pitch became clearer. It was suggesting the irony in everyone’s lives, how we always crave and crib for things we don’t have, and do not cherish what we have. If we stop cribbing, and just look at our life, we will find that our life is more than OK. I remember a poem that Lyricist Munna Dhiman wrote, which meant, “waiting for one bigger pleasure we stop cherishing many little pleasures that life offers to us; it’s the small quota of pleasures that makes a life worthwhile, not the big ones, so we should stop using ‘bahi-khataas’ and stop being munims”… So as a whole team this title was finalized, which projected the irony of this drama, hinting at the irony we force ourselves to live in.
The show is adaptation of a popular south show “Shravanthi”, whose rights are with UTV. But, we approached the whole show from a fresh and a bit different perspective, and for that a lot of changes was done at story as well as characterization level.
Whose idea was it to begin with and how did you go about evolving the characters of Viraj and Jhanvi?
Since, the show is adaptation of a popular south show “Shravanthi”, whose rights are with UTV. So we all had a basic characterization of Viraj and Jhanvi. But, we approached the whole show from a fresh and a bit different perspective, and for that a lot of changes was done at story as well as characterization level. In Shravanthi the husband’s character was completely dark and commits a murder in initial few episode only. We have not defined Viraj as a dark character, and kept the suspense alive around him, if he has done any heinous acts that he will be accused of. And to create and sustain that doubt we have made him a bit vulnerable also, exploring his softer side. And to achieve that, we had to layer him more, make his character more complex and in complete contrast to the simplicity and innocence that Jhanvi offers. In Shravanthi, the wife’s character, lost hope very early in the story, and didn’t try much for the marriage to work in the first phase of the story. Here we made Jhanvi’s character more optimistic, and having more of internal strength to be able to face the tyranny of Viraj for a longer period, and do efforts for this marriage to work. And we also made the character of Viraj smarter (than original) and brought in his manipulative nature strongly to emphasize on tactics the abusive husbands use to keep their wives in control. So you don’t know when he is genuinely expressing love, or when he is just manipulating as a counter measure of torture. It was a tough task to shape this character in a way, that one would love to hate him. So that there is always a mixed opinion, whether Viraj is a dark or a grey character, and that gives rise to hope, that one day, Jhanvi can make this marriage work. My inspiration for Viraj’s characterization actually came from Girish Karnad’s play Tughlaq, who always maintained the suspense and mystery around himself, that, whether he was an eccentric, tyrant, murdering ruler or a visionary king. On other hand in complete contrast we made Jhanvi’s character more innocent, simplistic and optimistic, than original, so that, she in spite of all the tortures, attaches herself to every distant hope and continues to try and make the marriage work. This also helped us to explore their marriage completely. Most of the characters that we see today, rarely grow, but here, both these characters will grow with time, but whether that transformation is in the positive or negative direction, is something to watch for in this show.
Considering, it is a show on a fairly new Channel whose identity was also under wraps, weren't you apprehensive about the promotions, and coverage the show would get?
No, that was never the fear or apprehension. If the content is good, it might take time, but audience will eventually come. In fact being a new channel, the publicity was really good, and since the show was getting launched with the channel, we always had extra benefits. The concepts on domestic violence have been pitched to many Hindi-GEC’s in past, but couldn’t be made for various reasons. So personally, I am really thankful to Life OK, that they provided the opportunity to make a show on domestic abuse, a reality, which most of us choose to ignore or acknowledge in real life. And it’s paying off for all of us, and we are much thankful to the audience for appreciating the show.
What were your reactions when you learnt that the show had topped the TRP charts on the Channel two weeks in a row?
We were never looking at the TRP initially; we just concentrated to tell a good story. Though we were hoping for a very strong reaction from the audience, as the content is a bit volatile and very different from what is being offered everywhere else. But a good TRP was indeed a welcome, and raised our confidence and provided the required boost that we are on the right path, but also brought along lot of pressure and expectations.
As a writer what kind of stories challenge you, and what about this show made you take it up?
All the stories offer their own unique challenge, and I love to write every genre. My only requirement is that the basic story should offer me the opportunity to explore and bring forth a deeper meaning and realities of life and people. I love to experiment with genres; for e.g. narrating a love story in a thriller manner; narrating a tragic story in a humorous way etc. But more than the story, it’s always the characters that entice me, and I personally like multidimensional characters. Because its the characters that motivate and propel me to narrate the story in a particular manner.
I am really thankful that I was offered to write Saubhagyawati Bhava. It’s the basic seed of domestic violence, which I wanted to work upon for a longer time, and the complex character of Viraj, which made me take up this show. Also the show offered a bigger challenge of narrating this dark story of a woman being tortured and abused, on almost a daily basis in such a manner so that the audience is not repelled, but glued to their seats. And we then devised a thriller narrative to this entire show, gave Viraj a dark humor; balanced the tortures of Viraj with his vulnerability and acts of love and care; balanced the pain of Jhanvi with her optimism and hope to make the marriage work; devised some of the tortures which are hooking rather than repulsive. So its one of the most challenging show I have done, and I am loving it.
Viraj is a dark character, how do you balance between making him look obsessive yet vulnerable considering he is the main lead?
That was the most challenging task for us. I won’t say Viraj is a dark character, but he is a grey character who has the capability of turning dark anytime; it’s a very thin line. He is suffering from a mental disorder, and is unaware that he is doing something wrong. He feels that he is completely justified in his actions. His obsession compels him to behave torturous, but the next moment, his fear of losing Jhanvi, makes him vulnerable, and transforms him into a loving and caring husband. If at one moment he is devil, then the next he is the charming and loving husband any women would want, of course minus the flaws. And we had to match the intensity of torture to his love and care. And we are keeping the suspense and mystery alive around him, whether he has done any of those heinous acts that people accuse him of committing in the past. We wanted this drama to be a “post marriage dark love story”. So darkness and love, both are the integral parts of this marital story. We have tried to strike some balance between the love and care that Viraj showers on Jhanvi, and the amount of torture that he does on her and people around; so that his obsession and love both come out strongly. So in spite of being obsessive he also appears vulnerable, so that we all just love to hate him.
How would you answer opinions such as "the show propagates domestic violence" or "you are trying to justify every brutal act in the name of love" ?
We did expect such reactions to come, but we are not propagating domestic violence, but trying to show the bad affect of domestic violence. How can you show flooding without using water; how can you show devastating affect of flood w/o showing broken house and dead animals and people. If you analyze the narrative of the show, then after every torture we focus more on the affect of it on Jhanvi. And we have never shown any domestic torture in a glorifying manner. And if you look at Viraj, he due to his complexity, is although personally relaxed or victorious after every torture, but he is never shown happy nor at complete rest. Though he doesn’t realize it now, because the mental illness of this character has kept him away from such realizations. But we sincerely hope and wish our audience to realize that domestic abuse can never keep either the tormentor or the victim happy, it can only give rise to pain and unrest.
Our aim is to create awareness and help people recognize domestic violence as a social evil, and understand it completely. We want the audience to be aware of various forms of violence, not just the obvious physical violence. Domestic violence can also mean sexual abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, verbal abuse and economic abuse/deprivation. Domestic violence is done primarily to gain and maintain control over the victim. We also want to explore and show, why women in such abusive marriages continue to live there for a lifetime. Abusers use many tactics to exert power over their partner like dominance, humiliation, isolation, threats, intimidation, denial and blame. So not all nice acts by Viraj are acts of love, but also his manipulation to keep Jhanvi and situation under his control.
We have been very careful with the narrative in order to try and make audience go through the same emotional roller coaster ride as Jhanvi. For e.g. Viraj did marital rape (nonconsensual sex) of Jhanvi, in the third week of the show, something which is very sad but fairly common in many real life marriages. But those women in spite of complaining against it continue to live in those marriages for various reasons. And soon that is forgotten, as after two weeks most of the audience, just like Jhanvi, is not even talking about that marital rape anymore, and they want this marriage to work, just like Jhanvi. We are just trying to show the process of domestic abuse and how those wives choose to forget, forgive, ignore, and finally retaliate taking corrective measures, and make the audience experience the similar emotions towards Viraj.
Do you watch the shows that you write? Has it ever happened to you that, you have hated whatever you have written when you have watched it later?
Yes, I always make it a point to watch my shows. And after lot of deliberate efforts now I am able to detach myself and watch my own episodes as an audience. And it gives me a better perspective. Storytelling is an art, and there is always a scope of improvement. The entire creative team always takes Story decisions collectively, and sometimes we as writers do have to write something we are not very convinced with, and when I watch those episodes, I feel I should have argued more when the decision was being made. And at times I have been wrong also. But then in daily soap we do not have the luxury of time, as episodes need to be telecasted. I know as makers we do not have right to go wrong and do mistakes, but mistakes are bound to happen, as there are no formulae to storytelling, and we all work under lot of constraints. But we always try to be just and entertaining.
The story for sure has many twists and turns coming its way, but, as an audience why would you watch Saubhagyavati Bhava?
The show personally makes me feel better, that I am a better human being than Viraj, and seeing that realization in eyes of my partner is indeed satisfying. Jokes apart, it’s the unpredictability of Viraj and the core drama of the show that when will Viraj realize that he is destroying the same marriage that he is trying to protect? And how will Jhanvi deal with this obsessive man, when she actually starts to know and understand him? Will this marriage last? To what extremes will Viraj go to protect his marriage? This show leaves us with so many questions at the end of each episode, that I as an audience would love coming back to it to find the answers.
Do adaptations of existing concepts make story telling easier for a writer? (ref: sleeping with the enemy, agnisakshi if at all these were taken as reference points)
Like everything else, this has both plus or minus. We are adapting Shravanthi, the south show; we have story or character references from Yaraana, Daraar, Agnisakshi and Koi Mere Dil Se Pooche (Bollywood Films on obsessive and abusive husbands); Darr and Baazigar (Bollywood Films on Obsessive love or vengeance); Provoked (Film based on real life of Kiranjeet Ahluwalia and her abusive husband Deepak Ahluwalia); Sleeping With The Enemy (Hollywood Film and English Novel on abusive obsessive husband); Manjil Virrinja Pokal (Malyalam Film which was world over, first effort on abusive possessive husband); Aval Varuvala (Tamil Film); or Pelli (Telugu Film) etc… Well that’s a long list and it sure shows us many possible routes for the story and characters, but is also confusing at times. Because when we adapt a story, everyone prefers to stick with the original. To bring originality in the adaptation is a risk, not many want to take, that too if the source was very popular in its demographic zone or culture. So, while adapting Shravanthi, I made a point to not watch the original. Since the original source influences and binds your vision somewhere. I just had a broader narration of the story, and tried to get the soul of it. And then my effort has been to retain the soul, and retell the story, with a fresh perspective to the audience of Hindi GEC, based on our understanding of our culture, customs, beliefs, values, social system and audience taste. It makes the process interesting for everyone involved.