Of contract killers

The official poster for Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein

In this interview, Sidharth Sengupta talks about the success of Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein, how he conceived it, the creative vision behind naming the series after the famous Shah Rukh Khan song from the ‘90s, and what can be expected from the second season of the show.

Sidharth Sengupta is an industry veteran with over two and a half decades of experience in Indian television with shows like Balika Vadhu to his credit. His latest offering, Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein, which he has both created and directed, has ranked #6 in the global Top 10 for TV, and has been on the Top 10 row in 11 countries. As far as the web is concerned, he previously created and directed the shows Undekhi and Apharan.

Sidharth Sengupta

Q1. Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein has ranked #6 in the global Top 10 for TV and has been on the Top 10 row in 11 countries including Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, Maldives, Oman, and Qatar. What do you attribute its success to?

Well, I am a little surprised myself. I think it can be attributed to the fact that the subject is not country-specific, but it’s actually universal. It’s about love and revenge. I feel the pace, grittiness, and constant twists and turns have kept the people engaged. The idea was to take the viewers on a roller coaster of a ride. And that has appealed to the audiences all around. 

Also, the manner in which it’s divided into various chapters has fallen into place. That’s how it was intended and it’s really heartening that it’s been appreciated and taken so well. 

Q2. How did you conceive the series? Did you have any references to begin with? 

I used to do television. I and Anahata (Menon) have been working together for over 20 years. We used to thrash out story ideas, and often, we would keep them aside hoping to use them later on when the right opportunity would come. A lot of the places it’s written that we had worked on it for 20 years. Well, the truth is that we never worked on it. We simply decided to keep it aside till the opportune moment. 

When the OTT platforms came in, it occurred to me that they would be very conducive to pulp. Now, I am very fond of pulp as a viewer, and so, I am audience first. I have grown up reading pulp and am also influenced by movies that are inspired by pulp fiction. Speaking of Hindi cinema, I really love the pulpy flavour and the gritty dream world that films like Kaminey, Yeh Saali Zindagi, and Ishqiya have. 

So, it’s always fun to start with something pulpy and then explore different routes for the same story, daring the other to come up with the next turn in the plot and so on. Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein is just one of many such stories that we have conceived in this manner over the last couple of decades. The same is true of Undekhi.    

A still from the popular 90’s song Yeh kaali kaali ankhein

Q3. What’s the creative vision behind naming the series after the famous Shah Rukh Khan song from the ‘90s from the Abbas-Mustan film Baazigar? Also, tell us about the trippy remixed version of the song that you have used as the title song for the series.

The series is about a guy trying to take revenge. After we finished writing it, I wanted a name that has a lyrical quality to it. I didn’t want something in-your-face that elicits a sense of unease. That’s when the song struck me and I realised that “Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein” perfectly fits the bill. It’s such a popular song, and like millions of Indians, it has been a favourite song of mine. 

Now, Netflix was a little apprehensive at first. Monika (Shergill) didn’t give her nod until she listened to it herself. Of course, Venus Music had the right to the song, so we had to take their approval.  

Q4. The first season ended on a cliffhanger. What can we expect from the second season? 

You can expect it to be bigger. There will be a novelty that I can’t reveal right now. But my endeavour of course would be to raise the bar and make it as entertaining as the first season. 

Q5. A lot of the successful Indian shows have faltered in their second seasons. What do you attribute it to?

Well, let me tell you that writing is really the toughest job and that’s where you got to put in the hard work. That’s where some of the shows in the West have fared so well. Take, for example, the case of Breaking Bad. Each new season kept on improving over the last. 

Now, the thing is that when you come after a season break, the psyche has to be different. Usually, within a season, the hooks work on an episode basis. But the thing is that the earlier hook wouldn’t work as well if there has been a long break. That’s where you need a novelty feature in order to get the viewer hooked again. That’s the whole thing. 

Q6. The series has two very unique characters: Purva as well as Arunoday’s nameless contract killer. How did these two characters come into being?

The thing with Purva’s arc is that I didn’t want a stereotypical character. I wanted someone who is true to one’s heart. What if she really loves that guy? What would the guy do in such a situation? For the part of Purva, I wanted someone very real and I think Anchal (Singh) was just right for the role. 

Yes, Purva is driven by her family’s political power but she also has the innocence of a girl who is truly in love with someone. You have to understand that the possessiveness and obsession that you see in Purva for Vikrant is equally matched by the possessiveness and obsession that Vikrant has for Shikha. 

In fact, Vikrant’s drive is much stronger and he is willing to cross all limits. I mean, when he runs out of all options, he goes on the Dark Web to hire a contract killer in order to bring an end to his agony that’s caused by Purva’s possessiveness for him. 

Interestingly, it was while writing the screenplay that I myself discovered the Dark Web. I remember I had got stuck at that point and I was looking for something to take the narrative forward. Since I didn’t want to glorify it, I decided to tone it down a little. But if you google for a contract killer, you will find it all there. 

That’s how Arunoday’s character came into being. You see, a hitman is supposed to get the job done. But then it would have been a little predictable. So, I wanted him to be a little unscrupulous even for his profession. Of course, the character’s layers will all unravel in the second season. 

Q7. What are your upcoming projects?

For now, my major focus is on the second season of Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein. Also, there is another show which is getting shot but I am not in a position to reveal anything about it right now.

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Murtaza Ali Khan has been a film critic since 2010. He has curated and presented retrospectives and film festivals for various embassies and high commissions in New Delhi. He has also served on the jury for a variety of film festivals. He tweets at @MurtazaCritic