Guest Lecture by Purnendu Shekhar

Purnendu ShekharScreenwriter Purnendu Shekhar gave a lecture to DA students on 10th May, 2013. One of the topmost writers of Indian TV series, He shot to fame with Balika Vadhu. He has also written other notable series such as Astitva- Ek Prem Kahani, Saath Phere etc.

Strongly vocal in favor of women’s role in and outside their homes, Purnendu Shekhar categorized TV as a modern shaping tool for the family. “To be in the TV industry, we have to understand our families, our own lives, and especially the women at our homes. If cinema is a predominantly male medium, it is the TV which represents the female”, he said.

And the essence of TV is in the series. For most of the cases, television serials are known for the roles of the women characters in it.

It always begins with a concept – a plot grounded in family relationships. The script elaborates the plot visually, with event substantiation. “Whichever department you belong to”, Purnendu Shekhar addressed the students, “Direction, Acting, Editing or Cinematography, everyone has to understand the script thoroughly, and analyze it.

“Only then it becomes possible for an artist to create an impact as conceived by the writer.”

Asked how he gets ideas for a story, or script, he puts the credit to the observation and memory. It was his own childhood experiences that goaded him to write a script on child marriage. Thus came Balika Vadhu.

He said, he had written the story way back in 1992. While growing up in Rajasthan, he saw many girls getting married at a minor age. Once he saw a girl in Rajasthan who was feeding breast milk to her own child openly without covering up; she was a minor, and was so innocent that she did not even realize that she had to cover up. People passing by were smiling sarcastically. That experience left a strong inedible impression on his mind, which triggered his thoughts to pen down the story.

DA-studentsChild marriage was popular in the Indian subcontinent just half a century back. Even today it exists in many Asian countries. Purnendu Shekhar decided to wield his pen against this. The concept worked as it stimulated the public to reasoning, and paved way to a critical consensus to the social evil connected to the child marriage.

He sculpted his characters out of the average Indian family. These characters are not merely moving shadows on the screen. He gave them flesh and blood. As the audience could identify with them immediately, by the characters’ connection to the real life in India, the series became a super hit.

When he joined the TV industry, it was dominated by highly dramatized melodrama series like Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki. He tried to cut out of that tradition by bringing realism, with Astitva – Ek Prem Kahani.

His other series, Saath Phere, is somewhere between these two approaches, which he based on a strategy. Balika Vadhu, on the contrary, did not use much strategy to attract audiences.It was more of realistic drama which was shown in its true essence so that people could relate.

Talking about cinema, Purnendu said, a filmmaker has the liberty to show what he has conceived in his mind, and what he has framed in his vision. But in case of television serials, there is always interference from the channel, or the producer’s side. The writer of a television industry works under more pressure and has many levels of approval to cross.

Purnendu ShekharHe mentioned one of his experiences with Balika Vadhu. IPL was going on, and the producer wanted to create some hype to get TRP back. He asked Purnendu to bring some later scenes in the story much earlier to the screen, to create an interest. Purnendu rewrote the script accordingly, and devised a scene where Anandi gets hit by a bullet in her stomach. When Purnendu watched that episode on the TV, he was taken aback to find that they have shown that Anandi got hit by the bullet in her head.

It became a critical situation for him. It is implausible that someone would be alive after getting hit by a bullet in the head. The later story had already been planned. But, if he would show Anandi alive now, that might look too farfetched.

This dilemma pressed him to research. After extensive research on the net, and speaking to doctors, Purnendu found out that there was one such case in reality, where the person lived for 8 years after he was hit by a bullet in the head. But the doctors did not remove the bullet from that person’s head. Had that been removed, the person might have died instantly.

There was another problem connected to this. If the doctors operate the brain, they must shave Anandi’s hair. So, Purnendu researched again and found that sometimes doctors shave only a small area in the head where the operation is done.  Hence, the patient can keep rest of the hair as it is. In the serial, this translated to covering up Anandi’s forehead with a bandage.

Dialogues are very important in any TV series. The Television, as a medium, reflects the daily dregs of the common man’s life. Dialogues, conversations, take maximum share of his social existence.

However, in cinema, the sensational, spectacular, larger than life nature of the medium works in a different way to draw the spectator into the screen. It is action, not dialogue, that speaks. Cinema uses dialogues sparingly, mostly for detailed characterization, or as spices to the visual story.

Purnendu does not write dialogues himself, He works in collaboration with  dialogue writers. It is a problem if the dialogues do not match the visual emotions and patterns penned by himself. As a result, the audience may see a change in the character’s attitude for no reason.

Although no method is full-proof to get rid of this problem, Purnendu recommended long brain-storming sessions with the dialogue writer before each episode.

For actors, he suggests a through script reading. Actors must understand their characters. They should fit themselves in the character’s shoes.

Purnendu always sits with his team of writers, and tries to find out the problem if a series stops working. TRP is always the notifier.

“We should never compromise on the content. If we do so, the story will become monotonous, leading ultimately to diminishing TRPs. So, it is imperative to change it when there is time.”

He believes in providing entertainment with a purpose. He also feels that the emotional disturbances a woman can go through, a man cannot. As he always makes the central character emotionally strong and vibrant, he has chosen only female protagonists so far. He puts them in difficult situations, and sees how they cope up.

In Baalika Vadhu, it shows phases of puberty in a girl’s life – when she transforms from a girl to a woman. In this age, a girl should be with her mother who could explain the changes to her. But, by the time she reaches puberty, Anandi is already married, and away from her parents. Although the Mother-in-Law is traditionally like a mother, she is not a replacement

With his series getting higher TRPs every week, Purnendu feels that he is playing an active role in reshaping the society, for the new generations. This to him is the highest award a writer craves.

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