- Sharmila Dharmarasa Fonseka on the creative direction of the drama
Amidst all the chaos of real life, it’s always nice to sit back, turn on the television and get lost in a fantasy of someone else’s life. If this is something that resonates with you, then you’re in for a treat with the new season of the teledrama Podu.
Set in university, portraying a tale of love, tragedy, and political undertones, the much awaited Podu season two is here. The show, directed and co-written by the TV Derana Director Programming Sharmila Dharmarasa Fonseka, Dhammika Wijewickrema, Gayathri Heenetigala, and Sudesh Udaya Kumara, is to feature 14 episodes, and will leave one with the idea that anything is possible, once you put your mind to it.
Brunch had a chat with Sharmila Dharmarasa Fonseka on the show, the filming and more.
‘Podu’: A series for the youth
Sharmila’s main motivation behind this drama was her need to create a series targeting the youth and leave them with an inspirational message at the end of the show. “With that thought process, we started the project – themes like love and politics became intertwined into the show and it progressed from there,” she said.
For all those of you who haven’t watched season one, Sharmila shared a little recap with us: “Podu season one was about a simple boy who was a union leader that fights against injustice – he eventually became a media secretary and brought down a minister in the end.” She told us that the way the story was written was meant to inspire young people and prove that one does not have to be a big name to achieve something; if you have the brains, you can do it.
When Podu season two was initiated, Sharmila along with the other writers, had already created a larger than life image for a character by the name Aadhi, so there was a question of whether they would bring him back. In season one, Sharmila told us that there was a minor character – named Primal – who played a negative role and his backstory was never explained. “Usually, when you portray the antagonist; it takes a lot for someone to be the bad guy and nobody talks about their backstory,” she explained, adding that this is why they decided on beginning season two with Primal’s backstory.
Eventually, the story merges into season one, and the audience begins to understand the characters and how their brains work a little better. Season two focuses on what happens when the main character from the first season meets and works together with Primal – once portrayed as the antagonist.
“As creators, we wanted to keep the characters distinctly different from each other as the two mains have distinct character traits although they are both starting their university life,” Sharmila informed us, adding that as characters, what they believe in, what they are and their backgrounds are starkly different.
She also noted that although the female leads – played by Michelle and Aishwarya – are friends, they notably stand for different things. “As writers, we believe we have done justice to the script and the message we want to portray,” she commented, adding that they are still waiting for the end of the drama to hear the feedback, as only four episodes have aired as of yet, to see what the audience has perceived from the show.
Reality vs. fantasy
We asked her how the reception has been so far. Now, beyond the initial stage of the story, it’s a lot about life, falling in love, and the differences between the characters. Sharmila told us that the storyline will develop this week, with the main character Aadhi’s entrance and the story will change. “So far, it has focused on falling in love, so the messages online are all similar to ‘Oh, Primal has two girlfriends and I don’t even have one’, the audience teasing each other, comparing their university life with the show, and such comments,” she told us, but at the end of the day, she highlighted that the show is a fantasy, and the feedback they have received so far is positive, which they are happy about.
The writers kept a bit of realism surrounding uni life, Sharmila added that if she was to write realistically about university, then it would have to be a documentary which nobody would want to see. “I wanted to create a fantastical show where when you watch the series, you forget real life and immerse yourself in the story and the characters’ lives and enjoy the one hour that you sit in front of the TV,” she told us, adding that she feels they have achieved that.
Since it seemed to have been a while since Sharmila had attended university herself, we asked her how she made the show relevant to modern times. She told us that she had actually attended university in India, acknowledging that it was a while back, but explained that she believes that university culture doesn’t change. “Nowadays, kids are more tech savvy, and have mobiles and access to the internet. When I studied, there were no mobile phones and we were not so knowledgeable on things but the culture doesn’t change,” she said. She described that when you walk into university – you have seniors, juniors, unions, festivals, and the works, so the culture continues; the only difference is the knowledge and maybe the clothes. “Like myself, the other writers too have passed university years ago, and it’s based on our experiences that we wrote the script,” she said.
She also added that since social media is all the hype right now, the show touches on aspects of social media and how one can use it to better their life.
Taking us back to the filming days, we spoke about what challenges they faced when the film was in production. She told us that both Podu seasons one and two were shot during the pandemic; season two was filmed during the time the lockdowns were taking place. “It was a huge challenge because here we are, trying to film a fantasy story, and in the background, everyone has to wear masks,” she told us, adding that they couldn’t shoot in a lot of places because they can’t tell the public to not wear masks. She told us that it took immense effort from the whole team; they had to find extras, stay safe and follow guidelines, and stay within the bio bubble.
The series was shot in 43 days, but due to the lockdown, the 43 days spanned over three-and-a-half months, as they had kept having to put it on pause due to unavoidable circumstances.
Despite all the obstacles, everyone on set enjoyed themselves. “As writers, we write 70% of it and the other 30% comes from actors.”
Sharmila found joy in the fact that when she sits in front of the monitor as a director, the actors do more than what she has written. “It was a pleasure to work with these actors; we became like a family in the end – we understood each other and they gave more than what I had asked on the script,” she expressed.
With the show only four episodes in, we asked her if she could guide us in the direction where the show was heading. “I don’t want to say,” she laughed, but added: “A twist awaits. We want to deliver a certain message to the youth, and we want them to understand that it is possible.”
For more, one will simply have to watch the drama.
Podu airs every Saturday and Sunday at 9 p.m. on TV Derana. It is also available on YouTube, for anyone that wants to catch up.