Web series Paatal Lok, currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, has received raving reviews for its story, cast and brilliant performances. Its directors Prosit Roy and Avinash Arun spoke to Outlook's Lachmi Deb Roy about the events that inspired the story, its success and much more.
Tell our readers a bit about the Paatal Lok…
Prosit Roy: It is about the stories that we hear and read every day in the newspapers. It is inspired by the life of the people of India. By India, I mean the three Indias that we see around us -- Swarg Lok, Dharti Lok and Paatal Lok. The characters, shown in the web series, from these ‘Loks’, are inspired by their life.
Sudip Sharma, who is the creator and writer of the show, along with his team of the writers, had already written one version of the script before we took over as directors of the show. And they had done all the research brilliantly. It is such an intelligently written script that everything was crystal clear when I went through it. Both Avinash and I have shown what was there on the script.
Since both of us are not from Delhi, yet we are associated with Delhi and the culture of the people in and around the capital city, it wasn’t very difficult to put everything into action. Despite having a brilliant script, we did our research. We refereed to films based on Delhi, to get an idea about life in Delhi because I am from Kolkata and Avinash from Mumbai. We tried to understand the culture of Delhi and then through our perspective, we showed whatever we could show in the series.
Avinash Arun: The story revolves around the difference in the economic strata of our society. And how the economic differences in our society affect the characters of the people.
How directing a film is different from directing a web show?
Prosit Roy: The process is quite different. For a film, we have to shoot for the content, which is two to two and a half hours long. Here, we are shooting for the content that is spread over nine episodes. And we have to keep in mind all the connections and the transitions. In a way, we are shooting three films in one go. Directing a web show is extremely difficult and time-consuming. On a mid-budget film, you tend to shoot three pages of the script every day. But for a show, you have to shoot five to five-and-a-half pages every day. And still, you have to maintain the quality of the film. So, shooting for a web show gets very taxing after a certain point. For Paatal Lok, we had 120 locations and more than 200 cast members and we were shooting from extremely cold weather to extremely hot weather. It is fun, but it consumes you completely.
Avinash Arun: I don’t think that there is any difference as such. Creatively, there is no difference other than the fact that web shows are far more taxing than feature films. Pataal Lok had 450 pages script, that was the biggest challenge for us.
How did you visualise the characters of the show while casting?
Prosit Roy: It was not only about the visualisation; it is about understanding where the character is coming from. When we got the script, we locked ourselves in the room for seven days in the office and we only discussed the script and the characters. We tried to understand the culture of each of the characters, their background and also their upbringing. After all this is done, begins the process of visualization and it happens till the time you reach the set. When we were working on the character of ‘Dolly’ from the show, we had to keep in mind that she is from Swarg Lok. So, you try sketching in your mind how she is going to look in the film, what is she going to wear at home. What is she going to wear when she steps out of the house and other finer details? All those things become a part of your visualization and finally, you have to implement it.
When we read about Hathi Ram’s character, we immediately knew that Jaideep Ahlawat is the right man to play the role of Hathi Ram. Hathi Ram is a character on the script who is a Hariyanvi and Jaideep is a good actor and at the same time, he is from Haryana. We knew he could bring in so much more to enhance the character.
Avinash Arun: All the characterisation was very clear on the script itself. Every actor has an aura of his/her own. We did a little audition and we saw who is fitting into each of the roles and accordingly, we went ahead.
Which was the most challenging episode?
Prosit Roy: The whole season was quite challenging for me. We started shooting in Delhi in the peak of winters and by the time we moved to Chitrakoot, it was around 50 degrees in April. To just understand the culture of Chitrakoot was an experience for me because I am from Kolkata so I wanted to have a feel of the place and I wanted to portray it on screen with a lot of authenticity.
I liked the episodes three, eight and nine a lot. But my favourite scene from the show was when Hathi Ram comes to confront Sanjeev, the journalist of the show. The scene goes this way -- they are sitting across the table and they are having a conversation, especially the dialogues of that particular scene are very close to my heart.
Avinash Arun: Episode six was the most challenging for me. It was in this episode that all the relationships came alive. And I felt it to be the most complex one too. By the time the show reaches episode six, all the characters have grown in their ways and the audience has also started making their views about each of the characters.
If given a choice what would you prefer -- films or the freedom of web shows?
Prosit Roy: It will purely depend on the story.
Avinash Arun: Both are my favourite. It doesn’t depend on the platform; for me, it is all about the script. Content is the king. If the story touches my heart, I am ready to go with any form of platform. Now, OTT has taken over in a big way, but we shouldn’t forget that cinema is a hundred-year-old art form. If you can narrate a story in three hours, it’s fine. But if there are many layers to a story, I would say OTT is a better platform because you will be able to do justice to it in a web show by weaving the characters into it in a perfect way.
What is the message you are trying to tell through Paatal Lok?
Prosit Roy: Consciously, we are not trying to give any message. We are trying to entertain the audience. It is purely the people’s interpretation of the art that we created.
Avinash Arun: Nobody is good or bad and that the line between good and bad is blur. There are no black and white in our society. We are all shades of grey.
I would say it is an interactive web show. We have left it completely in the hands of the audience to decide for themselves as to what they have learned from the show.
Is Paatal Lok based on former Tehelka Editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal’s book “The Story of my Assassins”?
Prosit Roy: It is inspired by the book written by Tarun Tejpal. Scriptwriter, Sudip Sharma drew inspiration from his book and then he weaved his story around it.
Avinash Arun: It is loosely based on Tarun Tejpal’s book.