top of page

Director Rajeev Barnwal: “It took me 20 years to reach where I have with Jehanabad of Love & War”

This interview was first published in Cine Blitz by the same author.


Sony LIV’s original series Jehanabad of Love & War has received a lot of appreciation since it released on February 3 on the streamer. The series set in Bihar is a love story clashing with a jailbreak and political unrest. In an exclusive conversation with Cine Blitz, the writer-director of the show Rajeev Barnwal takes us behind the scenes of the show. He also talks about the show’s music, mentorship of Sudhir Mishra, his equation with his co-directors, and his filmmaking journey so far.


How did Jehanabad of Love & War come to life?


In 2005, I was shooting a non-fiction show for Sony TV. I was stationed in Chhattisgarh where we shot the show extensively. There, I met a few people during the course of my shooting. Particularly, a girl, whose love story intrigued me. At the same time, a jailbreak happened. The news was all over. I was intrigued by that too. Everyone knew the motive – it was to free their leader.


I could have told these two stories separately. But I am a big believer in love. So, I thought of amalgamating these two stories and seeing whether love can stop a war. I took the story to Sony LIV with my partner Simrat Kaur. They liked the story and approved of it. And now, the series is out for everyone to see.


Sony LIV’s original series Jehanabad of Love & War has received a lot of appreciation since it released on February 3 on the streamer. The series set in Bihar is a love story clashing with a jailbreak and political unrest. In an exclusive conversation with Cine Blitz, the writer-director of the show Rajeev Barnwal takes us behind the scenes of the show. He also talks about the show’s music, mentorship of Sudhir Mishra, his equation with his co-directors, and his filmmaking journey so far.


How did Jehanabad of Love & War come to life?


In 2005, I was shooting a non-fiction show for Sony TV. I was stationed in Chhattisgarh where we shot the show extensively. There, I met a few people during the course of my shooting. Particularly, a girl, whose love story intrigued me. At the same time, a jailbreak happened. The news was all over. I was intrigued by that too. Everyone knew the motive – it was to free their leader.


I could have told these two stories separately. But I am a big believer in love. So, I thought of amalgamating these two stories and seeing whether love can stop a war. I took the story to Sony LIV with my partner Simrat Kaur. They liked the story and approved of it. And now, the series is out for everyone to see.


There’s a Sudhir Mishra touch in the music of the show. Tell us more about the use of music in the show.


When I was writing episode 2, there was a point where I had to intercut between three locations and three situations. I wanted a song to play in the background. I was just writing, and these lines came to my mind, “Kaala suraj, kale baadal aur kaali shaam, iss safar ke oh musafir tujhko laal salaam.” I pitched the idea to Sujeet Shetty, Sumanta Das, and Astha Jagiasi, who created a good song.


We have used songs only to take the story forward. Then Sneha Khanwalkar came on board to do the background music for the series. She is amazing. The title track is made by two talented youngsters Arjun and Raghav. I was fortunate to have three music directors working with me and I got the best from all of them.


And we have grown up on Sudhir Mishra’s films. So, obviously, that touch will always be there, especially when you’re working with him. I wanted to give something nice to him as Guru Dakshina.


Recently, there have been many series and films set in the heartland of India dealing with similar themes of love, politics, and crime. How did you make Jehanabad different from what’s already been seen?


I have seen many such series set in UP and Bihar etc. But most of those have been about crime or politics. But Jehanabad was always a love story for me. I never found a love story in the abovementioned series. I was very clear about the usage of cuss words that they will be used only where it’s needed. I come from Dhanbad. We normally don’t use so many cuss words. I wanted to keep Jehanabad as real and factual as possible. I have not taken sides. The audiences are smart enough to draw what’s right and what’s wrong from what’s shown. I opted for a journalistic approach to tell the story. I have tried to make a clean series that a family can enjoy together.


You directed Vadh with Jaspal Singh Sandhu and Jehanabad with Satyanshu Singh. What is it like to work as a duo?


Vadh was my idea and then Jaspal and I wrote the script. As for the series, it is a long format show. Satyanshu used to work as a story consultant for Sony LIV. When he read the script of Jehanabad, he liked it. So, Sony LIV got him on board. He comes from Bihar, so that was also a positive. Satyanshu helped me make the script better.


If your frequency and thinking match and you gel with each other well, then it never becomes a problem to create something. You actually feel lighter because the work is divided. I had fun working with both Jaspal and Satyanshu.


But there must be some tricky situations because a difference of opinion is bound to happen at some point, right?


It becomes tricky when you go unprepared. Whether it was Vadh or Jehanabad, we were completely prepared before we went to shoot. Even if we had directed separately, we would have made the same thing. When Satyanshu came on board, he told me, “This is your vision and creation. I am here to help you.”


Between the two of us, we divided the shooting days. He directed on his days, but he made sure that I was also present so that things are done the way I had envisioned them. When you’re well-prepared before the shoot, all the differences of opinions, disagreements, and arguments have already happened before you roll the camera.


Vadh was a small-budget film, so we had to be well-prepared. And Jehanabad is a big show, so we had to be well-prepared for that too. And the actors also knew and understood that there would be two directors on set.


The sequence of Harshita Gaur dressed in bridal wear and riding a scooter at night is visually striking. Take us behind the scenes of the filming of that sequence.


In the first ten minutes of the show, what happens is that Harshita is getting ready for her wedding. The baaraat is on its way. But the groom, Abhimanyu played by Ritwik Bhowmik gets kidnapped by some people who were being chased by police. Harshita sees this. She comes down and takes a scooter to go find her love. So, that scene shot of Harshita on a scooter is part of the opening sequence.


What were you doing professionally before Jehanabad and Vadh?


I wrote Besharam (2013) which didn’t do very well. I was also the Chief AD to Abhinav Singh Kashyap on that film. Before that, I was struggling. It took me twenty years to reach where I have with Vadh and Jehanabad. I directed a few short films in the meantime. Because I haven’t had formal training in filmmaking. Whatever I have learned is from watching movies. Eventually, Vadh and Jehanabad happened.


How did your struggle help you in your craft?


My work doesn’t satisfy me. I always push myself to do better. Watching bad films would boost my confidence that, “I can write better than this.” Watching good films would make me think, “If I can write that great, I’d consider myself successful as a writer.” So, I watch all kinds of films.


From Besharam in 2013 to Jehanabad in 2023, my writing has matured. Life has taught me a lot. Life made me mature. I try to add a personal touch to my writing. I am a very good observer of people. If I see someone alone at a social gathering, I try to talk to them. You learn with every film too. But after you’ve been through all the struggle and done the hard work, when you see your film/show in a dark room, it’s the best feeling ever.


How’s the response to Jehanabad of Love & War?


Many reviewers have given a thumbs-up to the series. A journalist who interviewed me earlier was from Jehanabad herself. She really liked the love story in the series. And everyone has told me that it’s a binge-watch series. When I wake up in the morning, I find messages of appreciation on my social media accounts. It feels great. I am thankful for the audience’s love for the show. Vadh was also trending on Netflix. Both Vadh and Jehanabad started streaming on February 3.


What are you working on next?


I have been occupied with Jehanabad for three years. I also got mentally exhausted after working on Vadh. I have a couple of ideas for scripts. A few people have approached me to direct their projects. So, I am meeting people. I’m trying to unwind too because it’s been very hectic for a few years. I have good stories to tell and entertain people. Vadh and Jehanabad have set a benchmark. So, I have to make something as good or better than the two.

Comentários


bottom of page