Sameer Saxena, the man behind the compelling Netflix series Kaala Paani, is recognized for creating some of TVF's most acclaimed series. His portfolio includes Panchayat, Kota Factory, Gullak, Yeh Meri Family, among others.
In a conversation with Film Companion, Saxena discussed the creation of the Netflix show in collaboration with his frequent creative partner, Biswapati Sarkar. The inspiration for the series arose from Sarkar's visit to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where the idea sparked during a light and sound show at the Cellular Jail.
Here are edited excerpts from the interview:
Tell us about the process of casting Ashutosh and Mona.
Mona was an obvious choice. She's a friend and I've worked with her before. We did a show called Yeh Meri Family. So we have a very strong bond and we have a fantastic understanding. We really wanted her to do this role because we knew that she fits the character perfectly. …
Ashitosh Gowarikar was a very interesting choice because I think that came from Vaibhav Vishant, from Anti-Casting, who is our casting director. … When we met him, whatever we had imagined, we could see in him that when you meet him — yes, this is a guy who you can trust. He will sort all issues and that's the leader that you always want. We were very happy and very fortunate that he immediately said yes to it.
You shot the show in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Were there any specific cinematic influences that played a role in shaping the visual style and the atmosphere?
I personally hate using any references actually. Whenever I'm making something, I just hate to watch anything in that space because I kind of believe in creating my own vision and the own visuals that I want to see. And then for me, it becomes very interesting. … There was no reference to this show at all. We knew that, okay, it has to look mysterious. It has to have that vibe that there is something happening. What it is, you don't know. We have to capture the jungles beautifully, yet it should look a little claustrophobic. It should feel like you are not safe here. While doing all that, it should also not feel like a sad show at all. …
Also, we haven't used any color difference. If you would have noticed — in the past, in the present. That's how we wanted to keep it now because we wanted it to be a more immersive experience. I actually hate when we use a color palette to show that oh, now we are in the past. It's a less interesting way to tell a story.
How do you maintain the balance between the intense emotions and the larger themes so that none of it seems forced?
Yeah, I think that's actually a very hard thing to do. …To maintain the balance was extremely tricky. We actually had to spend a lot of time to get that balance. What helped is that all the episodes have been designed on a theme. If you look at the episode name, that name kind of is the theme of the episode. So we just put that as a base for the episode.
How did you go about creating the people of the fictional Oraka tribe?
We were very very conscious of (not) making them exotic or regressive. Not doing any of those things. We are very clear about that. We wanted to make a tribe which should also feel human. They should feel just like other human beings. The only thing that we wanted to make very clear about the tribes is they don't want to interact with the humans much. They respect nature. They have their own world. They are happy with that, and that's it. They have their own flaws. In fact, they have their own arguments. In the last episode we see that they are discussing and arguing. You see them as human, as any other character. That's the approach. And we were, again, very clear that there's no black magic.. There's no trying to make them typical in any sense. We wanted to just treat them as any other character. And again, we didn't take any inspiration from any of the existing tribes because we obviously did our research. But we were also very clear that this has to be a completely fictional tribe just because of the kind of story that we are seeing and the kind of drama that we wanted to play.
Can you tell us anything about season two? Is it underway?
Yeah, we have started thinking already. There are some really exciting things that we have in mind. But an official announcement will be made very soon. But whenever it comes out, we have a feeling that we have something really, really solid. I'm really excited.
Will we see Mona Singh in Season 2? (Spoiler alert: In a cruel and unusual move, Saxena killed off her character. In the first episode. Gasp.)
(Laughs) That's exactly what we wanted. That's the exact response we wanted. I'm so happy. I'm so happy that you felt that way. Because that was the intention. That was the intention to cast Mona. That was the intention to create that part. It's our Ned Stark moment that, you know, you create a hero. You know, that okay, she's the one. She will help everyone out. She will sort out the problem, she will figure out a solution. But we killed her.
Now you are on your own. Like, of course Mona saves the day, right? We are cruel that way.