Siddharth P Malhotra is a prominent name in the Indian film and television industry.
Being the grandson of legendary actor Prem Nath, whose sister (the late Krishna Kapoor) was married to Raj Kapoor, the filmmaker is closely associated with stalwarts in the fraternity.
But more than anything, his craft has always spoken louder than words.
He is known for working on renowned serials like Sanjiavni (the original series), Dil Mil Gaye, Ek Hazaaron Mein Meri Behna and Ek Hasina Thi.
Serials backed by Siddharth always guarantee quality, reality and poignancy… Regardless of the genres.
However, his credibilities are not solely limited to TV.
Even as a director of movies like We Are Family and Hichki, Siddharth’s work has always struck a chord with audiences globally.
Recently, Malhotra also plunged into the web-space with the humanitarian series, Kaafir – featuring Mohit Raina and Dia Mirza.
Now, with the re-boot of popular Star Plus show, Sanjivani, success has once come knocking at his doorstep.
Filme Shilmy catches up with Siddharth on Sanjivani and how his career is transpiring so far.
Congratulations on the launch of Sanjivani. When was the deciding factor for you to produce the reboot?
Thank you! After Hichki and Kaafir, I wanted to do something on television back again because I am a TV guy and that is my alma mater.
I wasn’t happy with the kind of stuff that is being produced on TV, I am not capable of delivering Saas-Bahu dramas.
The only things that come naturally to me are revenge dramas, emotional stories like Ek Hazaaron Mein Meri Behna Hai or a medical show because that comes naturally too me.
So it all came back to my roots and what I enjoyed doing the most. Hence, if I question when I enjoyed television more, it was during Sanjivani.
I told Star Plus that I would like to do a medical show. They liked the idea and I told them I want to bring back the show – they said great but asked what new angle would be covered.
It took me about a year to bring the entire story together, to pitch the year of each character. In the meantime, we started our casting process.
It took a while, but at least it’s come together at least the way we’ve envisioned it.
There’s always pressure in re-creating a classic. How do you – as a producer – overcome that apprehension?
The pressure has only mounted on me within the last few weeks. It was never on me before that… Sanjivani is my baby, my child.
When I was 21, I created it back then, 19 years later – when I’m 40, I’ve recreated.
But the madness of fighting over characters, creating memorable scenes that give you a high… When that passion overtakes any kind of pressure or fear, at that point this adrenaline is way higher.
The only time pressure occurs is when you put the product out to the market and when people start talking about their expectations.
In life, when you experience success and failure, you will hopefully know how to be level-headed and never let anything get to your head.
You’ve got to keep delivering work that you and your employer are proud of.
Whilst we see some of the original characters in the series, how challenging was it to decide the fresh cast?
So the rest of the cast fell into place within the phone call. These were the people I wanted and the word Sanjivani was enough for them to say “I’m in”.
This journey has been like Ek Hazaaron Mein Meri Behna Hai.
For the longest time, I knew I needed to work with Krystle, so she waited about 7 months for me and I kept testing her for Maanvi and Jeevika… I knew she’d be a part of the show.
I wasn’t finding the right actor for Maanvi and then Nia Sharma came into my life just a month after shooting.
The same thing happened here. We tested Namit (Khanna) with over 70 actresses… All of them are well-known, huge actors from television fraternity.
We tested him with each one of them but were still not finding the chemistry. As television is a creative medium, I needed to get buy-in from all the key players on the show.
Surbhi Chandna’s Ishqbaaaz ended and I am a huge admirer of her work. She entered about a month before shooting started and we decided to work with an actor who is hungry.
When we met a couple of times, we spoke and had queries about each others’ process. I needed her to surrender to non-TV acting in order to make it very organic and real.
That’s the kind of narratives I like.
Namit and Surbhi tested with each other (for my sake) and did 4/5 photo sessions then I got Prashant (who trained the kids for Hichki), to do a workshop with them for week/10 days.
I told him to break them down as actors so that they unlearn TV acting because that is usually loud and hamming.
I wanted Surbhi to be real, subtle and heartfelt. They went through a process.
After this, we went through the process of the whole cast/crew, reading 10 episodes together and doing a proper series reading.
We booked a place, did workshops with all of them and got three qualified doctors on board… Even asked them to do a training programme with them.
Then everything fell into place.
You also produced Haasil on Sony TV. In what way does producing content on a small screen differ from directing a feature film?
For me, there’s no difference. I actually differ between the mediums.
Haasil is a baby that will be dearest to me… I’m still proud of the show and proud of it, immensely.
There were certain things that didn’t go as planned and we’ve learnt from it. But we did something different with that show.
It’s all about the honesty and commitment to any kind of work you put in. A story is a story, regardless of the platform.
If you’re in love with the story, then you will show it to the best of your ability.
The only difference, if one has to say, is budgets. The TV would be about 8-10 lakhs per episode, an OTT would be about 1-2 crore per episode and film would 12-20 crores a film.
It just depends on the kind of ammunition you’re provided within the given circumstances of what your spend is.
Hichki was a critical and commercial success last year. In what way has that evoked a change in your career?
Oh, in a huge way. I’m from a privileged family in this industry and still, after one failure with a film, I was unable to tell the story of Hichki for seven years.
I went to every producer/actor and narrated the story, songs and everyone said no, “it’s a story of a demented teacher” and things like “are you mad? why are you making the film? If you want to make a film, make a commercial one.”
Some even called me at 2 am and told me to take the Tourette’s Syndrom angle out, but I couldn’t because that’s what made the film.
Everyone had a point of view but no one was willing to commit until Aditya Chopra heard it and said:
“I don’t know what you’re going to do ahead, but the way you narrated it, you’ve got a winner on your hand. Just make it the way you want to, I’m backing you.”
It took me seven years to reach Aditya Chopra’s doorstep. It was literally the light at the end of the tunnel.
I can only understand the pain strugglers/newcomers face who don’t have access to the film industry.
In this industry, even your friends just cut you off… People don’t pick up your calls, you become irrelevant, so Hichki has made me relevant again.
How did you overcome that rough 7-year patch?
My wife and Sooraj Barjatiya helped me a lot. Sooraj-ji is a mentor, guru and father-figure to me.
My family supported me too but there were times where I did (attempt) things that I shouldn’t have done.
I went through very dark phases because at this point I was questioning my abilities.
I used to question myself: “Okay, I created Sanjivani/Dil Mil Gaye, Ek Hazaaron Mein and Ek Hasina Thi… But am I worth it? Do I have it in me?”
Then I would just think that “Maybe I am not worth it” or “Maybe I’m just a fluke”. That’s when you go to the darkest points in your life and think maybe we should just get it over with.
When you go through that amount of evolution in life, then all you can have is gratitude towards the people who helped you and those who haven’t.
See, nepotism gets you to a certain point. It’ll never get you success. It’s only your work that will get you success.
Prior to that, we had never seen a Hindi film based on Tourette’s Syndrome but yet it didn’t win at the National Film Awards. How do you feel about this?
I felt that we had a chance. However, when Mahanati won, I didn’t feel that bad as I loved Keerthi Suresh’s performance.
I thought she was fabulous. The only person in my life, along with Rani Mukerji (who gave a good performance this year), is Keerthi.
Had Keerthi not won, then I would’ve felt like we deserved it. But she is a lovely actor.
Both your films We are Family and Hichki are quite female-oriented, sentimental ventures. What drives you to choose such a style of narratives?
They’re all about families and I’m a family man… That’s what I represent in my life.
I am a very emotional guy. For me, romance and emotions are what drive me. Plus, stories that move me are what drive me.
In fact, Kaafir was a story that stayed with me for 7 years. When Hichki emerged as a hit, I approached the OTT platforms to do that project.
Some thought it was ‘pro-Pakistan’ when it was really a story about humanity, a triumph of the human spirit. No one was really getting it.
Only Bhavani Iyer and I were at it until Tarun Katial met me as Aditya Chopra did and agreed for me to do it and supported us.
Since you’ve entered the digital space. Going forward, what style of projects will you be most interested in backing?
After Kaafir, there’s another show now for Zee5 called Pavan Pooja starring Mahesh Manjrekar, Sharman Joshi, Deepti Naval, Gul Panang and Natasha Bharadwaj.
It’s a huge ensemble in which three couples are named ‘Pavan’ and ‘Pooja’. It makes a comment on love/relationships at the ages of 70, 40 and 20. That’s happening.
In addition to that, there is a project we are working on for Amazon Prime, Hotstar and all of these are commissioned.
I’m sure platforms will announce it at the right time. There’s also a Telugu show for Gemini TV which we are launching next month.
Then there is also my next feature film. I’m really enjoying it.
Siddharth P Malhotra’s journey is no less than an inspiring film.
He has faced a great deal of triumph, failure and everything in between.
But despite all curveballs from life, he rose like a phoenix, stronger and more positive.
Whilst Naina Mathur was a great teacher in Hichki, we all ought to learn a lesson or two from Siddharth’s school of life.