As Hotstar’s Applause Entertainment show The Office continues to delight the audience, the key cast of the show, Mukul Chadda, Sayandeep Sengupta and Samridhi Dewan, talk to Team Box Office India about bagging this huge opportunity, the inspiration from the US version and the vibe on the sets of the show
Box Office India (BOI): The Office is a unique show that you all are a part of. How did this project come your way?
Mukul Chadda (MC): Let’s start with the boss, who is me. (Laughs). I got a call and they asked whether I would be interested in auditioning for this role and I was like of course, I would; why would I not?! I actually had not seen the original The Office series. I had heard of it but not seen it. Then they told me that since I haven’t, I should watch season 2 because the tonality of show changes from season 1 to season 2. So, I watched that and then I went for several rounds of auditions, which meant that I was doing something right. But maybe it was not right enough as they did say yes right away. (Laughs). It was a long process, during which I fell more and more in love with the character. And as I watched the US version, it not only gave me a feel of the character but also of the show. It is a very different kind of a show, the way it is shot, the mocu-mentary style, the long awkward pauses and much more. And the humour in it could not easily be translated into a two-page audition script. But then as I said, I liked the show and the character so I was wishing that this happens and it did. It was a long wait but it was well worth it.
Sayandeep Sengupta (SS): As new actors come and audition for things, I also did all of that. There was a post for the auditions by the casting director, Kavish Sinha. He posted it on Facebook that the official adaptation of The Office is being made and to send our pictures and profile to him. I hadn’t seen the show but it was like ‘a project has come, just send it and give it a try.’ But he didn’t call me back. Then, I was coming out from a different studio where I was auditioning for something else and Kavish was auditioning for this show right next to it. He told me to come in and test for this part. I went in and I saw this monologue that my character Amit had. It was two-page long where is just talking to the camera. That was already a very exhausting day for me as I was doing something else before and I told Kavish that I will come down the next day. I went and I gave the audition and a month or so after that, we were called in for a ‘chemistry test’ between the Amits and Pammis. There were other actors trying for the same parts. We had to do it with each other. I did the scene with two more actresses apart from Samridhi and then you just feel how much more can you do. Then a week after that, I got a message from Kavish saying that I was his Amit and he told me he was very happy for me.
Samridhi Dewan (SD): My process was a little similar to Sayan’s. I also read that notice and messaged the casting director saying that I wanted to audition for this to which he said okay. And then I went in for the auditions and it was three rounds for me where I first I did a monologue and then they wanted me to do something differently. It was initially not a big thing for me because I had not seen the show but when I told my friends about it, they told me that it is huge. Then I built it up in my head and I would message Kavish asking was there any update because it was a very long process. Then we had the chemistry test and it seemed that both Sayan and I were the only new people there. The others had done some work and were slightly known.
SS: I think that was where we gelled also.
MC: Because both of you were new.
SD: Yes! When I walked into the room, I was like it is either these people or me. I kept thinking that it is probably not going to happen so let’s just do the audition.
BOI: But that’s the best feeling, when you get something you weren’t expecting.
SD: Yes, but even if you are not expecting, there is still hope.
MC: I was hoping and expecting right from the beginning. Especially by the second and third round.
SS: But you do that, right?! When it is such a big thing and you are so close to it, you hope that it works out. It was like we have to give it our all.
BOI: As you said the show has a mocu-mentary feel to it, which has not been explored much in Indian entertainment. Any apprehensions of taking on this risk?
MC: I think you raise a fair point because I felt that it was a different format when I was watching the US series although I did not have any apprehensions regarding it. It is a unique format to get used to because you suddenly wonder, ‘Iska production value kam hai kya?’ And there is no background noise but a lot of camera movement. In fact, the camera is a character. It is not just the clean edit that you are cutting from this and that angle. The camera is panning across as if it is part of the show. It feels like it is a home video in some ways, which is the point of the show. My wife was watching the US show with me and she told me that it is a very old show and looks very dated in that form. Once we started shooting, I did not have any apprehensions because when the script is good, the story is great, in my opinion, it will work. It is a different format and I have gotten the feedback that sometimes for some people, they take a couple of episodes to get in. They feel it is different in the beginning but once they get used to that, they love it.
SS: While auditioning, Kavish told us to watch one episode of the US version to understand how the camera and humour works. While shooting, we did a lot of one takes because a lot of things were happening and you have to be there, present in that moment in order to figure out what you need to do next. And I was like the show is great, the script is great so the only variable factor is me. I have to be good too so I have to work on that.
BOI: Mukul, your character is unabashedly saying things which are politically incorrect…
SS: (Cuts In). We were actually very scared about that. (Laughs). We worried that people wouldn’t get it because in reality, it is done out of what one shouldn’t be saying. But then we are saying it because that is how the humour works.
MC: What I think is that sometimes, in the promos you end up playing the character and you say things, which are obviously not politically correct. When you see the show, you understand where he and the things he says are coming from. But in a promo, you have to be careful because you are showing only a little bit and people might start wondering. But I think it is a great character. For me, it is a joy to play a character like that because he says things that I wouldn’t say. That is what makes it exciting and wonderful to portray.
BOI: But the humour in the Indian version and the US version is quite different. It is Indianised here.
SD: It was different and we did put in bits and pieces here and there but for the most part it was written that way. I feel like the writers did a great job in trying to adapt that.
MC: But we did improvise while the camera was going on but mostly as she said, it was the script. I think all of us improvised. The show is such that you have to. Even the camera people improvised because we are playing with it, as I said, it is part of the cast and crew. Somewhere, when you are doing a scene, it just merges in to it. What started happening was that the director stopped saying cut and if the moment was good, we would just keep going to see where it takes us. The format of the show is such that you acknowledge that the character of the camera is part of the team of The Office.
SD: I think if you look closely enough, you will recognise how our relationships with the camera develop. It changes accordingly. For me, for Pammi, what is she going to say to this person, she doesn’t reveal too much about herself and then eventually the camera becomes a friend and a confidante for her.
MC: Even Sayan’s character has a very strong relationship with the camera.
SS: It was important for all us, for the show, that we all get along. And I am not only talking about the cast but also the crew, the technicians, the DoPs, directors, everybody has to be on the same boat so that it all goes well. As Amit’s character when he is looking into the camera, giving the expression of wonder regarding where he is stuck, it was important for me to have that bond with Dhavalika and Kavya who were our DoPs. You have to be unaware of the camera but at the same time be aware of it too.
BOI: We recently spoke to some key players on the web and they said that the boom in the digital space has been a huge boon for creative people. What do you have to say about it?
SD: I think lots of things have changed significantly because many things are happening on the web now. More things, interesting things, newer genres are being explored on this platform. There is more opportunity for us. It has made times more exciting.
MC: The medium of course is different but that doesn’t matter when you are shooting in front of a camera. But the biggest different for me is that with films, you have a very tight timeline between 90 minutes to 180 minutes. All your stories have to be told in that fixed period. TV shows are a different ballgame when you get 22 or 44 minutes (per episode) to tell your story. But when it comes to the web, there is suddenly a medium where you can have an episode of 10-15 minutes or 80 minutes, you can have a story that can be told in four episodes or those that go on for 8 to 9 seasons. It has freed up the kind of content and the kind of stories we can tell. In films, sometimes we become a tad formulaic but here on the web, you experiment with everything, including the format.
SS: I think the competition has also increased tremendously. It is not only important right now to make a good show but it has to have so many other elements for someone to remember that show. There are so many portals generating so many shows, that in order to stand out of the crowd, you need to have all the aspects in place. You want people to remember your show and to come back for the next season of your show. So recollection value of a show is very important.
BOI: And when will we see the second season of The Office?
MC: Soon, very soon. I am more excited about season 2 actually! I think it has got better storytelling, we have got better stuff in season 2 so I am very excited.
SD: You see the characters and their arcs grow.
SS: I am super psyched because a lot of different things come in. Several other arcs enter in The Office, which makes it crazier.