It's difficult to initiate a conversation with Goldie Behl without the mention of Drona. The widely panned 2008-release (starring Abhishek Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra and Jaya Bachchan) was something that shook the two-film old director so much that he took a sabbatical from films at once. He switched onto production work, tried his hand at television and tasted reasonable success later. And now, before his digital debut with ZEE5's RejctX (that he's produced and directed), he's surprised and pleasantly overwhelmed to receive a flurry of messages from his journo friends about Drona. The messages precisely underline that Drona probably did not deserve the bashing it got and they were happy to see him direct all over again. The timing of the morale-booster couldn't have been any better for the filmmaker.
Ask him if the digital medium is kinder to storytellers unlike films that can make and break careers every Friday, he says, “I think nobody can break you, only you can do it to yourself. I didn't handle failure as well as I could have back then. There's an age where you can handle criticism and I've got that maturity now. It's not that something very bad has happened to me. When you're telling a story, people are entitled to have an opinion on it. Probably, I've seen the worst criticism that any director has ever faced, so my benchmark would be certainly low. (smiles)”
The web-series story
Incidentally, his time away from films has strengthened his understanding of the television industry. For his digital debut RejctX, the blend of these two media works just right. He doesn't call it an outright advantage, but says, “Everybody has got their advantages and disadvantages. Now, everyone is dabbling with web series. It's a blessing to have worked both on television and films though. While web-series demands the narrative skill of a film, the logistics are comparable to television. It's good for a start.”
RejctX is a thriller revolving around the story of five rebels in a high school, who form an underground music band while one among them goes missing all of a sudden. But for Sumeet Vyas and Kubbra Sait, the series marks the debut of several newcomers, whom Goldie thoroughly enjoyed grooming. “It was a wonderful experience (grooming them). They were grooming me in the process as well. Working with newcomers is a big responsibility. You see so much of faith and passion in their eyes. You've got to bring a bit of your age into the table and revisit your elementary skills, that you had taken for granted. You've got to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch all over again.”
Sumeet Vyas, who's often been stereotyped to funny, slice-of-life roles has something edgy and dark on his table this time around. This has been the filmmaker's conscious effort of 'anti-stereotyping' him. “We end up typecasting our actors into one shell, that's why they keep doing the same work all the time. He's such a nuanced actor and it was important to explore this dimension of his,” the director mentions.
Talking contemporary issues
A peek at the pre-release promos and you will realise that RejctX talks about a gamut of issues, probably a tad more than you can chew – of dysfunctional families, gender fluidity, porn addiction, anxiety problems among a few. “I am not trying to tackle these issues but the characters have these complexities in them. The plot, otherwise, is very simple and uncomplicated. It's about a missing band member and the journey towards finding him.”
The series also has shades of violence, sex and darkness, a facet that has become more of a stereotype in the digital space. Goldie Behl promises there's more to RejctX than the promotional material though.”I think more than dark, it is layered. The world in which it's set is aspirational, although the treatment of the story in a global world high school is quite realistic. For somebody who is in India, the setting may be larger than life. When you decide to show reality, there are no-holds-barred. RejctX has a sense of music, romance in it as well. We decided to project the plot in the trailer than the fluff. These opinions would diminish upon the release of the series,” he feels.
The backdrop of a world school in Singapore, the high-brow attitude of its protagonists remind you of a certain Karan Johar universe. The only intention Goldie had here was to ensure an inclusive backdrop where he could have characters from various backgrounds. He felt it would have a distinctness to it in comparison to any other educational institution within the country. The making involved quite a bit of nostalgia as well.
“My nostalgia may have helped but the world has changed a lot since my school days. I took cues from the younger kids that I know today, some from my son, some from my nephew and the actors in my series (who are quite young) too. The writers whom I worked with, are millennials. My experiences in life came in handy and it was interesting to see how would the current generation react to such situations. It has been a mishmash of a lot of people and a lot of experiences. When you're doing original content, you always dig into your life, something you've read or heard of. One of our writers is a best-selling thriller author and his world was twisted too,” he adds.
The music of RejctX
Music is the lifeline of RejctX, something that provides an identity to all of its protagonists and creates a conflict too. Goldie finds music to be a cathartic influence in anyone's life, one that helps deal with anxiety and translate something negative into positive. “The characters in the series have their problems, come from different backgrounds, nationalities, so we needed something universal to unite them and serve as a binding factor,” he shares.
All along, the series a melting pot of insights he's gathered from his production stints which he calls a 'long learning curve'. When he was a director in his early days, even though he was a part of the production team, he admits he couldn't understand the deposits involved in a project. “I think I now have a balance of understanding my parameters and dealing with that. When you're responsible for the budget, you know how much to push yourself, where you can spend more on and when you need to cover up. Those distinctions provide more clarity.” Next, up his sleeve is a romantic comedy, something that's in the lighter vein, but he reminds, “ Even Rejctx isn't without comedy and romance.”