Kunal Kohli on directing mythological series

Director Kunal Kohli’s storytelling has always managed to bring alive romance on screen. Films like, ‘Hum Tum’, ‘Fanaa’, ‘Mujhse Dosti Karoge’, ‘Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic’ have a special place in every Bollywood buff’s heart. But in the age of OTT screens, the director is adapting to stories that are different and bring him out of his comfort zone. He has now stepped into the OTT realm with his first outing being the digital adaptation of an epic Ramayan. Titled ‘Ramyug’, the web series is all set to be released on MX Player on May 6. Prior to that, in an exclusive interview with ETimes, the director speaks about the challenges of making a mythological story, and how the project came to place, what kept him away from the films, and how his movies stay evergreen to date. Read on:
‘Ramyug’ was announced way back in 2018. After almost three years, the project is seeing the light of the day…
It’s exciting. Like everything else, when you finally reach your destination or are right near your destination, you feel happy. I would say we reach our destination yet we are right there, almost that, you forget all the time that’s been spent. You forget all the issues. There were few delays, the VFX took some more time than we anticipated. Of course, we were also locked down, due to a pandemic. So, all the work had to stop and then restart again. And so, it happens. That’s a part of life. But you have to take it in your stride and move on and be happy that finally, the product is fresh and good. And finally, people are ready to see it.
Ramayan has been adapted for the screen several times. As a director, how have you kept it from being repetitive?

Yes, you are right. One has seen Ramayan, read about it in different forms, in the form of Amar Chitra Katha comic, read it as a book, or narrated the story by parents, grandparents, or through TV shows, several times. But every time one hears the story of the Ramayana, you see something else, your takeaway is something else. So, as a filmmaker, I just wanted to give it a new visual experience. The content and the text, of course, are the same; that can’t change. But it has been given a different treatment. I think that’s bound to happen. Even if the earlier makers of the Ramayana were to remake it today, they would do it differently because now you have better equipment available, more capital. The green screen facilities are better, so it is now easier to make a chariot fly in the sky.

You have redefined romance in Bollywood. How challenging was it for you to get out of your comfort space with projects like ‘Ramyug’ and ‘Lahore Confidential’?

Well, I think one has to get out of their comfort space. Filmmaking is something which you take one shot at a time and concentrate on it fully at that point in time. You’ve got to keep the entire arc in mind but once you understand the genre you’ve picked up is out of your comfort zone, you focus on that one shot even more. There is a reason why you should get out of your comfort zone, because then you can do better, be a little more alert, do more, think a little differently. I think it’s good for everyone to do that once in a while. We do it with our children too; we tell them to be more open-minded, then why do we, as adults, don’t want to try new things. We should be open-minded and say, ‘Okay, let me not compare it with anything of the past. That was done in a particular way; it’s not fair to compare your show to something that you have grown up watching. Watch ‘Ramyug’ for its own individual space, and voice.

As a director who’s known for films, did your creative process change for the digital medium?

The beauty of the digital space is that it gives you a vast captive audience. But the challenge is that it’s a very distracted audience, as they are always on the go. They pick up their phone, watch something, then they read something else, and they put their phone down. You have to make sure they don’t. Unlike in a theatre–for which they have bought a ticket and won’t leave the film mid-way unless it’s really bad–they’re not compelled to sit and watch it in one go; they can leave at any point in time. But having said that, trying to get someone’s attention and time is a wonderful challenge. The other good thing about it is that you make content reach as many people as you can.

After ‘Teri Meri Kahani’, you disappeared. We didn’t get to see much of your work. What kept you away?

(Laughs) Well, nothing kept me away; I was trying different things. I dabbled a bit in acting, I acted in a film called ‘Phir Se’, which is available to watch on digital platforms. I also made a Telugu film called ‘Next Enti?’ with Tamannaah Bhatia. I wrote a lot. Then I started work on Ramayana. So, I was busy doing other things, and in another language as well. But now, I’m sure you’ll see a lot more of my work. After ‘Ramyug’, I’ve done another show with Lara Dutta, and Prateik Babbar. I intentionally decide to do a lot more and hopefully, the universe will let me.

Will we not see you do more of the romantic comedies that we have come to know you for…

Yes, that’s the idea. That’s the intention. Sometimes we go right, other times we don’t. When we do something wrong, it’s necessary to receive feedback so that we can be brought back down to earth because we have a habit of flying. It’s very easy to make people who’ve done something good, fly a little more with praises and compliments. But this is dangerous. When someone makes a product that’s not so good, is the time when you should encourage him in the right direction. With encouragement from friends, family, audiences, media, we should all look forward to a very exciting time when all filmmakers are making all difference and all different and good kind of content.

Your romcoms still manage to bring a smile to our faces. Why do you feel are they still relevant?

(Smiles) Well, there’s a line in the song, ‘The Boxer’ by Simon and Garfunkel that goes, ‘After changes upon changes, we are more or less the same’. So, it’s not that I have a magic wand that predicts something. It’s just that after changes upon changes, we keep coming back to where we were, the same emotions and feelings. With these navaras–the nine types of emotions–you just want to make the right permutation, combinations. What’s there is there, that’s it. And so you gotta play within those boundaries, and you went through. That’s the beauty of life; you have to personalise things, include what touches you and affects you. Only then will your work stand out and be memorable.


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