Exclusive: Wakaalat From Home’s Nidhi Singh, Kubbra Sait, And Others Talk Lockdown Shoots And Give Some Couples’ Advice!
This lockdown has proven to me, more than ever, that the grass is always greener on the other side. Here I am, desperately longing for some romantic attachment. And my coupled and married friends are actually envious of my freedom. “You’re so lucky you’re not married, girl,” they tell me, because the lockdown has put a real strain on their relationship. What do you know, divorce rates are rising! Now can you imagine trying to get divorced from your spouse in the middle of a pandemic-induced lockdown? And here’s a question, would it be better if you both were in the same house so you could iron out your differences properly, or is it better to do it over video calls when you’re in different places? We’re about to get all these answers with Amazon Prime India’s new web series, Wakaalat From Home, which stars Permanent Roommates couple Nidhi Singh and Sumeet Vyas and Gopal Datt and Kubbra Sait as their lawyers, in this courtroom-from-home drama!
Now, as you know, court proceedings have been permitted to be conducted over video conferencing in discretionary situations because the country is still in partial lockdown. Borrowing this premise for a unique setup of a couple’s divorce proceedings, Wakaalat From Home seems like a hilarious and novel take on lockdown content, especially because it has also been shot remotely by all the actors, with virtual help from comedian and writer Anuvab Pal and director Rohan Sippy (of Bluffmaster! fame).
Sujin and Radhika are a married couple, but are in separate locations because of Sujin’s work; he’s an actor away on a shoot. The couple decides they want to get divorced, but before things can proceed further, the lockdown happens! Now their respective lawyers, Rajini and Lobo, are conducting the talks and proceedings on video call! You can see how chaotic that gets in the trailer. But what makes things even funnier is that their virtual court proceedings are plagued with the most basic WFH (work from home) glitches like bad connectivity, everyone talking at the same time on the call, dressing in formals just form the top up, and constant interruptions when the phone or doorbell rings! There’s even a judge presiding over the case (Akarsh Khurana), and His Honour is pretty much sailing in the same messy boat as the rest of these folks!
Naturally, shooting this ten-episode series must’ve been even more chaotic than what we’re seeing on the screen. In an equally interesting and exclusive conversation with the cast—Nidhi Singh, Sumeet Vyas, Kubbra Sait and Gopal Datt—we cross-examined them about their crazy experience, with all the fun and the learning they’ve had, and their own lockdown drama IRL. And since we are talking about couples here, I couldn’t help but wonder what advice each of them would have for couples who are stuck indoors during this pandemic! Let me say, it would be criminal if you missed out on reading what they had to say!
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Q: What happened to Sujin and Radhika’s love in the time of Corona? Why do they want a divorce?
Sumeet Vyas: My character, Sujin Kohli, is a struggling actor who hasn’t managed to get much work. He’s been doing all sorts of little jobs to make ends meet, because of which he’s gotten himself into much trouble. He’s stuck somewhere away from home for many days, unable to contact his wife. And they’ve already been having problems, which is why the divorce is happening.
Nidhi Singh: Sujin and Radhika are one of those couples who’ve been together forever, got married pretty early on and have been living together ever since. And now, things have gotten a bit out of hand because of the pandemic. Radhika’s issues with her marriage stem from a place of childish insecurities. But of course, she has this fantastic intuition that all women have. She knows something is off, even though she can’t pinpoint what’s wrong!
Q: So, who are these lawyers? Just making sure we’ve got the best on the case!
Gopal Datt: So, my character Lobo Tripathi, is not a very successful lawyer, mostly because he has a lot of other jugaads going on on the side, as you’ll see. He has his own intention, so he’s trying to manipulate the couple! Both Kubbra Sait’s and my character also have their own personal life arcs intertwined in the story.
Kubbra Sait: So every other character, including my fellow lawyer Lobo, is going in their own tangent. And my character, Rajni, is just trying to bring everyone together, like a disciplinarian. I think I was thinking of my mother while playing this character!
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Q: Shooting Wakaalat From Home in a ‘work from home’ situation sounds fun, but not at all easy. Under the RTI Act, you gotta tell us how was that experience!
Kubbra: When you have Anuvab Pal writing the show, it’s never not going to be insane! Every time we thought of something quirky to do, three days later, someone had actually done it! And our mouths would just drop thinking, Anuvab was thinking so ahead of time! Shooting used to be very interesting because we would react to everything—the time lags, the glitches in the video call and internet connection! We used to remember everything like a play. Maximum chunks were a one-take.
Gopal: I won’t say it was difficult but it was exciting because we were working like a team. We had to do our own hair, makeup, and even art direction, which made us realise how valuable it is to have a good art director and makeup artist. Luckily, we were involved from the writing process itself, so we decided everything during rehearsal, and would take everyone’s opinion on what was good, and what wasn’t.
Sumeet: It would take an hour to just adjust everything, the laptop, the camera, the light…. Doing everything on our own was quite tedious but also felt liberating because we were able to do all these technical things and put together the show.
Nidhi: You can imagine, we were camera people, light men, technicians, art directors! WFH is actually a debut for all of us in those departments! On top of that, all of these were supposed to be single takes, because all proceedings had to look like they happened on one video call. We almost did one month of rehearsal for this. It was like a play; the minute the video begins recording, it’s like you’re on stage. You cannot drop a beat, you’ve to be in character. It felt so different than from being on set.
At this point, my call with Nidhi dropped, and it just struck me how this would’ve happened a lot when they were shooting! Which led me to my next question….
Q: I bet some of the chaos we see in the trailer was inspired from the glitches and interruption you guys faced IRL while shooting!
Nidhi: I think the glitches in the rehearsals actually gave us ideas! I was in a literal lockdown and alone at home, coming to terms with being lonely and I got the call from Rohan. And it turned out to be a blessing in disguise! So inadvertently, these guys literally became my therapists and counsellors, listening to everything I had to say!
Kubbra: In the trailer there’s this one scene where I scream “STFU everyone!” Now I want to slam my table, but I can’t because if I do that, my phone will fall and I am recording on it! We also tried to use my cat for one of the shots, and it was so funny because my cat wouldn’t land on time! Usually when you’re on the set, there are like 200 people screaming for a 100 people to be silent. But when we are home I just told people to not interrupt. I would set up my table every night for the next day like going to school, and I had a blast shooting!
Q: Sumeet and Nidhi have been Permanent Roommates for quite some time, so that must’ve made it easier to bring out the chemistry on screen, right? But what about with the rest of the cast and crew?
Nidhi: With Sumeet, I had that familiarity, and it’s something we both took absolute advantage of. Even with Gopal, it was the same, since we have worked together before. With Kubbra, behind-the-scenes we were getting along so well, and whatever little unfamiliarity there was actually helped on screen because our characters aren’t friends on the show and she plays my character’s husband’s lawyer.
Even Rohan Sippy, the captain of our ship, would be so patient with us, and let us do our thing, then later on tell us we did something good and we didn’t even remember. I was so excited to be working with him, because he was so sharp and patient with us. As artists, we play off each others’ energies, not being physically present can be daunting. But it worked because the story was such, and we were all able to use it very organically to our advantage.
Sumeet: I wouldn’t say harder, but it is definitely more fun to work with friends. I’ve known all of these people for many, many years and have great affection for them all. Work doesn’t feel like work, it feels like you’re having a good time. It takes the load off of you. We were just fortunate to work during the pandemic lockdown, and create something fun and lighter!
Q: Precedent says, it is hard to get the comic timing right even when in a regular setup. Is it harder to do it in a virtual shoot like this one?
Gopal: It was like a theatre play, and our director, Rohan Sippy, wanted us to do it in one take. It was difficult at difficult at first, because if we missed even one line, we had to do it from the start. So we rehearsed a lot. Since all of us have a theatre background, we knew how to improvise things. Sometimes, a lot of interesting things can come out of improvisations too!
Kubbra: I laugh at every joke, and I had to control myself so much during the shoot. Nidhi and Sumeet would go off on a tangent, and Gopal Datt would go on a tangent, and I was supposed to be the sane one but I couldn’t stop laughing! I honestly think the writing of the show is excellent and I’d be so excited if we got a Season 2 of the show!
Q: Has shooting for Wakaalat From Home during the lockdown changed you as an actor?
Kubbra: I think acting is never easy; it takes the mickey out of you. But I think it was both interesting and exciting to do everything on your own—hair, makeup, and then go and do what you’re supposed to to. I really enjoyed it.
Gopal: For me, handling the technical aspects of making the show was a great learning experience. We learnt the working of every little technical aspect and its value, and that was quite an eye-opener.
Nidhi: Every single day makes us better, as artists or even as people. Luckily enough, when you’re doing something you love, you will end up imbibing the good things from it. The experience has definitely made me a stronger person, and I hope that I become an artist who endeavours to be better. I’m so happy that the project is coming out finally and in such a grand way! We were in the middle of a pandemic, with loneliness, unemployment, the migrant labour crisis… and in the midst of all of that, someone decided to tell this story, and chose us four to do it. I’m so glad that we all came through!
Q: How has your lockdown experience been?
Kubbra: I have been thriving on homemade food, I’ve never loved it as much as I have, it’s a whole new realisation! I have also started judging people who say things on social media like, “I’ve just bought myself a cycle, I’m gonna cycle now!” I don’t find the necessity to put up a video everyday!
Gopal: I loved that we used to be so busy all day when shooting. We’d do a reading in the morning, then Anuvab would incorporate changes and we’d do another reading in the evening. For almost more than a month, we’d be doing this. And I remember talking to the others about how we had so free time like others were having during the lockdown!
Sumeet: We began shooting for the show before my son (Ved) was born, my wife Ekta was in the ninth month of her pregnancy. But since she is from the industry, she was very cooperative. I have a study room which became my office, where I would work from 12-6, and then I would emerge and not look at my phone and spend time with my family. We had a timetable for the day, and were able to crack some sort of schedule which is new for me and only possible because I was working from home. So it felt like a good retreat for me.
Q: Since our country is getting touchier by the day, do you think any lawyers and judges might get offended by the crazy antics on the show?
Gopal: The show is fictitious. Most of this is Anuvab’s writing, but he had shared some articles on real incidents of virtual court proceedings, so it was all that, plus whatever we’ve seen in movies! I think the legal professionals will enjoy it a lot because even though it is fictional, it is also very relatable and funny!
And now for some closing statements….
Q: Since all four of you are coming fresh off a fictional divorce proceeding, what’s the one advice you want to give couples cooped up indoors with each other?
Nidhi: I’m as single as single can be! But from whatever wisdom I have garnered, I’d say be authentic, be real, and be honest. There are so many times when, while trying to protect each other, we brush things under the carpet. And that collects over time, and when you least expect it, it will blow up. But in every relationship, authenticity and the right communication is so essential. Be sensitive about it, but definitely address it. Even as an artist, I have realised that being authentic reflects in our work. I’ve seen couples get into big fights because of derived opinion so just be authentic with each other and say the right things at the right time!
Kubbra: Please don’t go to bed with unresolved matters, no matter how annoyed y0u are with your spouse, sort it out. And keep a smile on your face, it’s really important right now!
Sumeet: Keep yourself busy. People have this misconception that if you’re a couple, you have to do everything together, but that’s not possible always. Your partner is also an individual with their own routine and things to do, and it is important to give them that space. Artists and actors in general, like me, require a lot of space and time for themselves. So if you give them that time and breathing space, they’re wonderful people to be around!
Gopal: I think my character would be the last person to ask for advice! He’d probably want couples to fight more and then seek his legal assistance, which is not quite right! But from me personally… just try and understand each other from a place of empathy.
Well, the jury has taken note of all the statements made by the cast here, and so far, it sounds like a show we’d really enjoy watching. But our final verdict? You’ll have to wait for that, as Wakaalat From Home begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video on September 10, 2020.
The court is adjourned!