Inspired by true events, MX Original Series ‘Ek Thi Begum‘ has garnered a great response from viewers and critics. The two-season series boasts of a unique storyline featuring actress Anuja Sathe as Ashraf aka Sapna who makes herself heard in a predominantly man’s world. ETimes talked with writer-director Sachin Darekar and director Vishal Modhave, the masterminds behind the success of the series. Excerpts…
Did you always want to cast Anuja Sathe? Sachin: While scripting we were quite sure that we will do the casting later. This is because when you write keeping someone in mind, unintentionally the writing gets corrupted and you end up compromising some layers of the character. We were quite sure that we will not think of anyone while writing the story. Post writing, we auditioned Anuja, with whom we had previously worked. We knew her capacity and potential as an actress. In the first audition itself, we were sure that we didn’t want anyone else.
How was it working with her?
Vishal: She is a very dedicated artist. When we cast her, she did her homework first. Working with her was easy as she’s a director’s artist. I remember she made notes from the script, and came to us with questions to clear all her doubts during the workshop, before starting the shoot. It was such a good experience with her and every other artiste on the sets!
Sachin: Anuja is very disciplined and focused. She is not one of those actors who will be like ‘mere vanity mein yeh kyun nahin hain, woh kyun hain (Why are things not available in my vanity van)?’ These things don’t matter to her. She is not materialistic and is probably the smoothest actor to work with. It has been a fun experience.
Does knowing the actor beforehand helps with the work?
Sachin: Absolutely, even in season 2, we had a few new faces but it all went smoothly.
Vishal: Even Sachin and I know each other for such a long time and we are in sync, which is required when it comes to working with two directors for over 3 years.
The storyline is based on true events. What inspired you the most?
Sachin: It is based on true events; we have just tweaked some bits for creative reasons. The most inspiring thing behind this story was the courage of an ordinary woman, who once she decides to exact revenge, executes it from scratch. The story was quite captivating when I came across it in a Marathi magazine published in 1990. For some reason, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
Vishal: I think the story was destined to be a web series because, somewhere around 2015, Sachin was writing a film on this story with a renowned Bollywood director. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen and later web series worked out. I believe it was meant for the OTT.
What would you prefer ‘Ek Thi Begum’ as–a web story or film?
Sachin: Definitely a web series! This story has many layers and it would have been difficult to fit that in two hours of a film. Maybe a film wouldn’t turn out as nice as it has right now. However, we can’t compare the big screen with OTT because the two offer completely different experiences.
How was it working during the pandemic?
Vishal: The shooting of season 2 got delayed because of the pandemic. Later, we shot during the lockdown with so many restrictions!
Sachin: It has been difficult to shoot with masks, maintaining social distancing, work in a bio bubble–these were all new terminology for us. It was irritating and frustrating at times but the credit goes to my unit.
Share some memories from the sets…
Sachin: I can’t forget the back-to-back 40 days of night shoot during season 1. We were shooting in Thane like owls.
During season 2, our unit of 80 people was shooting in Manali’s Solang valley, when suddenly it started snowing. Initially, everyone was enjoying it, but soon we realised the gravity of the situation; we were stuck in snowfall without snowshoes, warm clothes, or even a car to return hotel. The temperature was around zero degrees and we had to walk through the snow. It was a nightmare!
Vishal: During these two seasons, there were multiple ups and downs. During the shoot of season 2, Sachin’s father passed away suddenly but he joined the shoot despite going through emotional trauma; it isn’t easy for anyone.
The series has been entirely driven by the role of Ashraf and her quest in a world dominated by men. How was it to have a complete female lead?
Sachin: There are many cult films based on gangsters, mafia, and the underworld, but none with a female lead; this was our USP. You can call it a calculated risk but we were quite confident about the story.
Vishal: Besides entertaining people, our motive was to add true elements to the story. We had amazing coordination as writers and directors.
Sachin: Each creative tweak has been added with a slice of history. It is a very well-researched work.
The climax has left some scope for the next sequel. When can we expect it?
Sachin and Vishal: We have some ideas and we are working on them.