Director Vibhu Puri discusses the creation of Taj Reign of Revenge, shedding light on Naseeruddin Shah’s relatable portrayal of Akbar and other aspects of the show, in an interview with HT.
Taj: Reign of Revenge director Vibhu Puri has revealed the two seasons, the other being Taj: Divided By Blood, were shot simultaneously by two different directors but he is glad the two have come to be in sync with each other. The first season was directed by Ronald Scalpello. Not only Ronald, even the show writers are from abroad but have managed to make a captivating show with multiple creative liberties. Vibhu says history never has a single version and one should always keep reinterpreting it to pick only the good points and avoid the mistakes that were done in the past.
In an interview with Hindustan Times, Vibhu Puri opened up about working on the second season of Taj and also shared his experience of working with lead actors like Naseeruddin Shah and Aashim Gulati. He also shared his reaction to the now missing chapter of Mughal history in school textbooks in India. Excerpts:
Can we credit the show’s success to the creative liberties that have been taken in the show?
We don’t really know that because history is never neutral. Whatever history we have read, is from someone’s point of view or the other. We don’t really know what exactly happened. We spoke to a lot of historians and then came to conclusions. This looks plausible, might have happened, let’s do this. For example, Anarkali was never a person – it was a title, like a navratan. Daniyal’s mother was a concubine and a concubine used to be a king’s favourite, she would have been an Anarkali then. Salim loved an Anarkali. We just put things together to make it more audience friendly. Our intention was to tell about the Mughal empire but in a manner that the most common denominator would be able to enjoy it and understand it. In the process, you make the audience aware of that time, those people, their likes and dislikes.
Why has there been a shift in directorial roles? First season was directed by Ronald Scalpello.
Producers can answer this better. Actually, we shot both the seasons together. For anybody to be able to articulate and shoot for 200 odd days is very taxing. So Ronald did season 1 and I did season 2. We shared each other’s burden and could focus more. There was also a new perspective as season 2 is more emotional, how Salim comes back to Agra. There are completely different journeys of characters in the new season. Considering Ronald is not from India and has not read the history, he went on to do a fabulous job. I hope I have been able to take the show forward. We met only 4-5 times and I had not seen anything much of season 1 because we were shooting simultaneously. I am glad they (two seasons) look similar and the credit goes to the text we have. It is written by William Borthwick and Simon Fantauzzo who wrote the two seasons together. They were commissioned by producer Abhimanyu Singh, who has done historicals all his life. I don’t know what I would have done had I been given to direct a show on German history. But these guys have not even grown up here and executed it so well regardless.
Naseeruddin Shah was seen as a weak king, he almost became Akbar with his performance. What is his working style?
We have grown under the influence of how Mughals were, how Akbar was, thanks to Mughal-e-Azam in which Prithviraj Kapoor played a very stern, old, patriarchal Akbar. And then we had Hrithik Roshan in Jodha Akbar, who again was a very straight-jacketed and called spade a spade. But Naseeruddin Shah has made it so endearing, so real, especially in the second season. He is a father who is trying to amend his mistakes, he goes out to even apologise to his queen for killing Behram Khan, he is very progressive and a feminist. He has got the bones of a real old man. He wanted to play very, very real. He never said this to me but if I am not mistaken, he has based his performance on his own father, his abba and how he would have reacted to such a situation.
In reality, Naseer saab are three brothers and he has been a rebel while the others are more conventional and orthodox in life. He was the one who did theatre, went to films. He was the least academic among his brothers. He would equate himself to Salim and Akbar to his father. They were his real life instincts and that’s what makes it very real. He has done it incredibly well.
Aashim Gulati told HT that he didn’t get any time to move from his fun loving character in the first season to play a rebel in the second. How did you help him out?
The good thing is I never saw anything from season 1. There were even days when Ronald was shooting his bits and I was shooting my bits, maybe with different actors. The credit goes to the entire team, especially Aashim who did it with so much ease. I interpreted characters the way I could. Aashim is a lovely actor with great potential. He is so educated and so professional, I really love him a lot. The way he transformed his voice, his gaze, his body language is incredible. He has been able to blend it so well.
Were there any challenging scenes during the filming?
I like Akbar’s death, it got a lot of drama because it was all about what would happen next. I like Manbai’s death and the scene before she died by suicide when she breaks down, Daniyal and Salim’s last face off to Dharmendra and Naseeruddin’s last meeting; there are so many emotionally-charged scenes. The scene when Khurram meets grandmother Jodha when she is praying to the moon and asks her if his father was always a rebel. Also when Akbar apologises to Salima for Behram Khan’s death. I had lovely actors who did all of it with such ease.
Taj released at a time when Mughal history was removed from textbooks. This will have a very different impact on kids. Your reaction.
I would say this was more politically motivated than anything else. Rulers change and have their own set of rules and likes and dislikes. This has been true with history. Bhagat Singh is our martyr but was somebody else’s terrorist. That’s the beauty of history that you need to reinvent it and keep relooking at it with different perspectives. At the end of the day, it’s important for kids to read it. I don’t think Mughals were plunderers. They came with an intention to rule and they did. They made this part of the world their home. They were not like the British who came, looted us and one fine day went back again, dividing the country.
Akbar was very secular, he never asked Jodha Bai to change her religion and founded a religion called Din-e-Ilahi which was for everyone. He opposed his kingsmen who said he should tax the Hindus. His main man Man Singh was his confidant, his army general. His chief advisor Birbal was Hindu. We have very subtly tried to put all this in our show.
History teaches you how to be harmonious. It teaches how to avoid battles and be more tolerant about each other’s faiths and practices.
Don’t you think history will now be how it’s shown in films and shows?
History is very open. If I call a star a star, 20 years later, someone may call it a meteorite and someone else may call it a planet. History and science are always evolving, they are not hardcore truths we need to believe in. We need to keep questioning, redefining things and keep taking it in our stride. One must learn goodness from it.
Is there an update on season 3?
I am sure because we have planted so many things, the anticipation is so high. Expectations are high, we are working towards it. If we are able to write it well, we will be eager to be back.
Disclaimer: Except the headline and synopsis, this story has been taken from the HT News Service