Director Ashish R Shukla on mixed reactions to Undekhi 2, why Rinku turned soft this time

Undekhi’s director Ashish R Shukla says his priority while making its season two was to connect the dots from the SonyLIV show’s debut season. Undekhi, which premiered its second installment last week, received mixed reviews with many pointing out at the show’s new plotline, character graphs and loose ends.

Undekhi had a quiet release in 2020, in the middle of the lockdown. The director agrees that it shone despite any promotions or popular faces, due to good writing and a positive word of mouth. He, however, added that the makers took a “leap of faith” in terms of writing in the second season.

In a chat with indianexpress.com, Ashish R Shukla deconstructs Undekhi’s second season, and discusses things that are being called out by fans and critics.

Here are excerpts from the conversation:

Undekhi promised to be back with vengeance. Are you happy with the mixed response?

Response is good. Just that we’ve taken some leaps of faith. Some people are liking it, some aren’t happy about killing of a few characters. That’s because they’ve remained invested in the story. Either I get very good DMs on my Instagram, or very nasty ones. People are fascinated with bad people. Like the characters from Money Heist. They are possessive about Rinku or Papaji, more than those who are fighting the good fight. Now that Rinku is married, people are fighting over protecting their sister-in-law Muskaan too (laughs).

undekhi surya sharma rinku muskaan Surya Sharma and Shivangi Singh play Rinku and Muskaan in Undekhi, respectively.

Considering Undekhi emerged as a sleeper hit sans any big actors, did the pressure to deliver again take a toll on the team this time?

My priority was to be able to connect the dots… whatever I left incomplete in the first season. So every character shows some kind of shift. We started right after lockdown and hence faced date issues with the cast. As compared to the first season, these actors had become bigger and known with more commitments. Whatever shortcomings were there in writing or production, were also because we didn’t get time for workshops.

So, you agree that there were issues with the writing part?

We knew that we had to deliver on the promise of season one, that was about set-up. Season two was about revenge. Season one was the story around a wedding over 5 days, in which things happen with Rishi and others. We cannot stretch it for another season. We cannot have DSP Ghosh sitting in Manali forever.

ashish r shukla undekhi Director Ashish R Shukla with the team of Undekhi. (Photo: PR Handout)

But I feel introducing another parallel plot around the drugs cartel run by the Atwals sidelined the main story of Koyal’s revenge. It seemed as if the writers were trying hard to keep the two tracks connected.

We wanted to show what Atwals do when they aren’t celebrating a marriage, their real background. The idea was to show how things they did during the wedding affect their personal life. That’s where the second plot came in. If you are a hero who always keeps winning, you end up making several enemies who you underestimate because of your ego. So Rinku made a lot of enemies during first season – Saloni, Shashwat, Teji-Daman, Koyal, Ghosh. Samarth is now its byproduct. In second season, the bad guy inside him gets cornered. You take Narcos. Pablo Escobar also got cornered because all his demons came to haunt him. Similarly, we wanted Rinku and Papaji to suffer the burn due to the situation they’ve created.

We also had to take the drama forward. How long can you have Koyal taking her revenge? And once her revenge is over, what’s next in the show? If it was a finale, it would’ve been different. It paid for some, and backfired at other places.

Meiyang Chang undekhi 2 abhay Meiyang Chang plays Abhay who helps Koyal, in Undekhi 2. (Photo: Instagram/Meiyang Chang)

We also think Abhay lacked a proper backstory. Was Meiyang Chang’s character chopped off on the editing table? 

In fact Abhay’s track was increased during the shoot. It was even less on paper. He was a medium of revenge. We couldn’t make Koyal meet any guy who could carry out a crime. We increased the track that Abhay was ready to take bullet for Koyal because of a certain empathy they developed. Also we wanted to leave it to the imagination. That’s why we didn’t show what happened with Saloni and Shashwat. You never know they might return in the next season. We had such a huge story that opening up every character, like Samarth, Arjan Singh, those Israeli gangsters, would’ve been difficult. In 30-32 minute episodes, you cannot do many things.

When Undekhi debuted, it had little known faces, barring few. In fact we could never imagine Harsh Chhaya playing Papaji.

When I came onboard, the cast was already locked. It was the first acting gig for five of them. Someone else was directing it before. If I reveal season one’s budget, you’ll be shocked. People cannot believe that all the interiors of Undekhi were done in Mumbai. They think it’s Manali.

Harsh’s casting was hanging for many days too. We needed someone like Rishi Kapoor for Papaji. Harsh comes with a certain perception. He’s a neat and clean looking man. Then he’s a Gujju. So when his name was suggested, I was doubtful. I didn’t know he’s born and brought up in Delhi. Plus he had already got stereotyped on TV. Harsh improvises a lot. He’s such a brilliant actor, I only tell him what I don’t want and leave the rest to him. Harsh created Papaji almost on his own.

And what about Surya Sharma (Rinku) and Anchal Singh (Teji)? What change did you notice while working with them this time? They were new faces in 2020.

During the first season, Surya, Anchal and even others were new, so they submitted themselves. There wasn’t any tantrum as they all were hungry to do good work. This worked in favour of the show. I could tell them anything and they’d just follow. Now, since they had grown, they demanded certain amount of respect. Subconsciously an actor demands certain things and we also understand that. But they didn’t let their characters get affected. They’ve earned it all.

Rinku’s graph expanded too. He also became softer post marrying Muskaan. How did you see the change in your characters, including Daman and Lucky?

I deliberately showed Rinku a bit soft this time, now that he’s married. Though being Rinku, he comes back powerful in the end. Also for Daman to look like an Atwal was important, to show that he can do anything if he gets a gun in hand. Rinku and Daman should look like brothers. I also wanted a female gangster who loves guns and those who use a gun. Hence we made Muskaan that way. A girl for Rinku cannot just be a good looking face. The whole show is about a patriarch family dealing with strong women. Now to see how Teji and Muskaan, both powerhouses at different levels, will collide in the next season will be interesting. I love when relationships remain on the edge. Muskaan, Lucky and Daman are also like loose canons.

Do you plan to make up for the absence of actor Dibyendu Bhattacharya in the next season? Season two really underused DSP Ghosh.

Dibyendu and I know each other since DevD. And fans will demand that we bring back Ghosh. I did get the complaint that he disappeared for several episodes. Now he has revenge in his mind with whatever happened.

Are we set to move out of Manali and enter Punjab in season three? You really made the silent valley of Himachal echo with gunshots, didn’t you?

We’ve already entered Punjab in terms of plot. Because Himachal is such a beautiful place, I loved that contrast. When I got to know that I have to show the entire mayhem in Manali, I thought I’ll use the coldness of the place and make it colder. Manali became a graveyard for me in Undekhi.

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