Acclaimed Creative Director and Producer Sandiip Sikcand writes about his life, his experience of being a Creative Director and Producer, and the vast influence of Ekta Kapoor on him

My career has not been something that I had planned or expected to go in a way I wanted. I always believed that the ‘Universal God’ will show and open to you few opportunities, and it is up to you whether you pick those opportunities or not. I actually started working at the age of 17, when I had my own Garment Export Business. I did that for a good 10 years of my life. But I did realize that seeing fabrics and prints, doing business was not what I wanted to do all my life. This is not how I wanted to spend my life. I was wondering at that age as to what I wanted to do. The only answer that came to me was ‘acting’ because I loved to act.

I started my own theater company called Masquerade. I started producing and directing plays. I did plays like Oh God, Ask What Father Says etc. In the interim, I got a call from Balaji Telefilms. I thought that my life is set & sorted and I will become an actor. But the point was that the call was for an Associate Creative Head and not for an actor. However, I took it up just because I could be spotted  by Ekta Kapoor and I hoped she would cast me somewhere very soon. And it’s that job that has brought me to where I am today. And I just look at it as an opportunity given to me and I just grabbed it. So it all began in this way and in two months, I was made the Creative Head. Then it moved from one show to another. Then Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii happened and it changed my life completely. Once Kahaani happened, I was in the big league. After that, I did a lot of shows. I also headed a channel in 2006, but then I thought it was not my kind of job at all. I became the Creative Director post that. I also did act in few shows that Ekta was making, but I got very bored with it. I acted in Kesar. I also came into Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii; I came in as an important role. But then I killed myself in the show and came out. I also acted in Kehna Hai Kuch Kuch on Sony, and also gave auditions for films. Somewhere down the line, whatever I had dreamt of happened.

However, I never thought I had any creative bone in me. Frankly, I did not know what a creative would do. But what fascinated me was the fact that I could decide what exactly would happen in a show. The very thought that I can tweak and twist a story was extremely interesting for me. The work of getting to play around with the story, just like the little God, fascinated me. So I felt this was more interesting than acting. I learned from Ekta how a track can change the entire course of a show, how a track can give birth to multiple tracks in the show, and I found that journey extremely interesting.

Speaking about closure and its reactions, the entire team of Dhhai Kilo Prem is disheartened. But everybody has taken it in their stride. Today, TV has become a very unpredictable medium. When you are in a particular line, you will have to know what its ups and downs are. So I guess we all will move on; this end will be a new beginning for the entire team. Life goes on!! Well, people die and we move on; in this case, it is just a show. So we have to move on

Balaji is like my school, it’s like my home. I have learned so much from Ekta and Shobha Aunty and I have learned from the team out there. It is a place where I grew. Balaji is like an umbilical cord that cannot be cut. I always believe that you can get a person out of Balaji, but you can never get Balaji out of a person. When I started producing my first show, I told Ekta it’s all thanks to you. She’s been a source of encouragement for me. To the matter of fact, she’s been an inspiration and encouragement for all of us. Shobha Aunty is like a mother figure, and Ekta is that friend, colleague, boss, all loaded into one. She’s also the one who I can go and cry out my personal problems to. She’s been a very important part of my life. Balaji will never go out of my life at anytime.

Talking about work, every show that I have worked on has been my favourite show. I think Amrit Manthan is a show that stands out, as I told you, the channel had asked us to close down the show in six months as it was not getting ratings. But then we brought in a twist and the show ran for two years. Kasamh Se is a special show because we got Bani in; it was a big experiment with the younger girl and the older man. Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii was also a great achievement; it was on air for many years when I got in. When Ekta gave me the confidence, I needed to live up to Ekta’s expectations. Every show has its own journey. Yeh Hai Mohabbatein was a show that I was not supposed to do. I was out of town at that moment, but it was destined to come to me. We had spoken before about the show, but I had taken up some assignment and had to go out. When I got back after 40 days, the same show was offered to me again. Ekta told me, ‘Sandy, this is in your ‘kismat’’. Touchwood, it has been four years now with Yeh Hai Mohabbatein!! All these shows are special!!

Achievements if you speak of, success of the show that you start off with is a big achievement. When you see the immense love your characters get, like Bani in Kasamh Se, Ishita in Yeh Hai Mohabbatein, it brings joy. Amrit Manthan was a show which was to wrap up in six months, but it continued for two years. That gave me a great high. When you see a show like Bandini, when people still remember Bandini, I feel good. In today’s time, when shows are shutting down, including mine, in six months, the entire team headed by Ekta has kept YHM surviving, and that is a big achievement. Sometimes, even cracking an episode is an achievement. You are mentally blocked and you suddenly get an idea… it’s an achievement.

I have always been a fat kid and this has been with me always from my school days. The concept of Dhhai Kilo Prem came out of this fact. This concept has come from my own life. In today’s time, we pay a lot of attention to how a person looks, and not on how a person behaves. I have strong views on this

However, I don’t think I have got my ‘eureka’ moment as yet. I feel the moment I get my eureka moment, it will be the end of my career. I want to constantly grow, constantly learn, do more and more things. Being the producer was not the eureka moment. The day I say eureka, it will be the end of it. I want to keep learning and working for the rest of my life.

Sandiip Sikcand is still a child at heart who does not want to grow up ever. I am very passionate; I am impulsive sometimes and that is one that I try to work on. I am God fearing. For me, what I do as a job is my job. It does not define me. I don’t carry the weightage of being a Creative Director when I am at home. I don’t like people who hang around me just because I am a Creative Director. I like to hang around with people who want to hang around with Sandiip Sikcand, and not Sandiip who is the Creative Director. That’s why I have friends who have been with me for 20 years and beyond. I have friends who have lasted so long. So once I am out of work and sit in my car, I leave behind in office the tag of me being the Creative Director. I never switch off from my work, but yes, I leave my tag behind. Otherwise, I notice a lot and observe people and have incorporated what I have seen in my characters too.

If you look at it, my career has always been ‘unplanned’. So what inspires me is the unplanned factor. Now, lot of people asked me whether I am disappointed with Dhhai Kilo Prem shutting down with the afternoon slots closing down on Star. I will tell you that I am not at all disappointed. It was just my first journey; I had great fun making it for six months. We put up a great show. I cannot do anything if the afternoon band closes down. There’s nothing in my hands. I am happy that everyone took notice of Dhhai Kilo Prem. The faith coming is that if this is shutting, there is something new that’s coming. My mother instills a lot of positivity in me. When you wake up every morning, it is a new day and a new adventure for you. She believes that only when an old thing closes, a new thing will start. So my inspiration comes from the fact that I wake up every morning, with the strength and excitement to do everything. I have never had a day when I have told myself ‘Arre yaar, I need to go for work’… That’s an inspiration to me that I love to go to work, I love to do my work…

My favourites at work are Adaa Khan, who played Amrit in Amrit Manthan. The character of Amrit is very close to my heart. There is Ishita; Divyanka has given Ishita really a very fantastic shade. I don’t think anybody could have played Ishita better than her. Then there is Prachi as Bani. I thought her innocence and sweetness just enhanced the character brilliantly. Then there is Ashwini Kalsekar whose first major TV show was K. Street Pali Hill which was of Balaji’s. She was fantastic, beyond brilliant in that show. She is one person I am proud to be associated with in TV shows. There are a lot of other actors who you work with and feel good with. Tisca Chopra is another one; she started her career with Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii. She is a fantastic actress and it was great to work with her.  Of course, there is Aasiya Kazi who was in Bandini. These are my favourites.

The journey of being a Producer has been very good. I have enjoyed being a Producer, not that I did things differently. The feeling and work was the same, and I never felt like the boss. Yes, the subject of Dhhai Kilo Prem was very close to my heart and I put in a lot of hard work. So yes, the six months have been very satisfying. I would have loved if the journey would have been longer. But yes, no regrets, if given an opportunity, I will do Dhhai Kilo Prem the same way and will not change actors, and will not change story. I want to do two shows that will be differentiators. It should be shows that will stand out from the milieu. For example, Dhhai Kilo Prem really stood out as a differentiator in the afternoon band because it had a different concept. The responsibility of doing something different will be always with me. Otherwise, the journey has been great. We got a lot of freedom from the channel team. I have been very lucky with the channel giving me a free hand.

Sandiip Sikcand is still a child at heart who does not want to grow up ever. I am very passionate; I am impulsive sometimes and that is one that I try to work on. I am God fearing. For me, what I do as a job is my job. It does not define me. I don’t carry the weightage of being a Creative Director when I am at home. I don’t like people who hang around me just because I am a Creative Director. I like to hang around with people who want to hang around with Sandiip Sikcand, and not Sandiip who is the Creative Director. That’s why I have friends who have been with me for 20 years and beyond

I have always been a fat kid and this has been with me always from my school days. The concept of Dhhai Kilo Prem came out of this fact. This concept has come from my own life. In today’s time, we pay a lot of attention to how a person looks, and not on how a person behaves. I have strong views on this. The people who do not look good are also talented and good people. So it was about talking about them. Body shamming is something that I oppose. They too have a right to live. Piyush is one character which is close to my heart.

Talking about my leads, Meherzan has really surprised me also. This is his best work. I never knew that he is such a fantastic actor. Anjali is OMG a real find. She’s so pretty and gorgeous and shes done so much justice to Deepika’s character. Both these people have surpassed my expectations. I never expected this. If I had expected them to give me a performance on the scale of 6 on 10, they have given me a 15 on 10.

The best part of Dhhai Kilo Prem is the different way in which it was written. Writing is the backbone of every creative medium, whether it is a film, play or a TV show. Writing needs to be good. And I am always inspired by the writers I have worked with, be it Sonali, Anil Nagpal, Rajubhai, Vibha Singh. How you create an entire scene in your mind and then bring it on paper is a fascinating journey. I do a lot of writing, because I got inspired by all this. Yes, I am not that successful as a writer as I have been as Creative Director. But I have written a short film now, and hope to write more films. I hope that will enhance my growth as a writer.

Sadly, the art of writing has not evolved as much as it should have in television. We have very few shows that attempt to write different stuff. I really want writing to improve. Somewhere down the line, we all come back to the basic of ‘Ghar’, ‘Saas’, ‘Bahu’, ‘Pyaar’, ‘Pati’ etc. This is one area where I am disappointed. We don’t want to experiment much. Even if we want to experiment, we don’t know how to experiment. We are so used to seeing the gharelu drama that even if we start differently, we tend to get back to the same gharelu elements. Guess one has to clean the mind completely in order to experiment correctly. We need to unlearn everything that we have learnt, and unfortunately that’s not happening. Unless that does not happen, we will not get good fresh content.

Speaking about closure and its reactions, the entire team of Dhhai Kilo Prem is disheartened. But everybody has taken it in their stride. Today, TV has become a very unpredictable medium. When you are in a particular line, you will have to know what its ups and downs are. So I guess we all will move on; this end will be a new beginning for the entire team. Life goes on!! Well, people die and we move on; in this case, it is just a show. So we have to move on.

Balaji is like my school, it’s like my home. I have learned so much from Ekta and Shobha Aunty and I have learned from the team out there. It is a place where I grew. Balaji is like an umbilical cord that cannot be cut. I always believe that you can get a person out of Balaji, but you can never get Balaji out of a person

Web is the way of the future. I love the shows of ALT Balaji ; Ragini MMS which is going to come now is my favourite franchise. I should be working on ALT also very soon. I simply love Netflix and Amazon Prime. I feel lot of web-series made in India are very shoddily made and are concentrated on sex. We don’t have to use abusive language for no rhyme or reason; we don’t have to show sex for no rhyme or reason. That’s a bad path as we just can’t do nonsense. But yes, these are initial stages of web. The way in which ALT and Netflix and Amazon are making way for new content, I believe many will follow. Web is the medium of the future. I feel in the next 8-10 years, we will stop going to the theatres and there will be films made only for the web. This means you will have the liberty of watching films at your own time.

My favourites include – House of Cards, I know Ragini MMS will become my favourite as I love that genre. I am one of those people who has not yet seen Game of Thrones, so I will want to start that. Narcos, Madam Secretary, 13 Reasons Why have been very good. I also saw Kissed which was nice but I thought it dragged a little at the end.

As for me well, there are lot of things happening. There are few new scripts, talks with channels are happening. There are web-series that we are talking about. As I told you, I have a short film to be shot. Also, I am working on film script. The aim is very clear, I want my share in everything.

Thoughts for the future is that I should be making a lot of good shows, to be loved an appreciated for the different work I do. I will always be a Balaji baby, there are no two ways about it. I want to definitely make a mark and I want people to always look up to me and say, ‘if it is a Sandiip Sikcand show, it has to be good’.

(As told to Srividya Rajesh)

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