Producer HumaraMovie’s latest web series The Story of Nukkad exists because of two reasons. One is that its director, Kireet Khurana, is hugely fond of the television series that was broadcast on Doordarshan in the 1980s. The other is that the iconic show’s co-creator and co-director Saeed Akhtar Mirza is Khurana’s neighbour.
Mirza and Khurana live in an apartment block in Mumbai’s Bandra neighbourhood. “Saeed is my next-door neighbour, and when the lockdown happened, he was getting bored at home,” Khurana explained. “We were chatting and decided to do a couple of series together.”
One is the upcoming Gyani Ban Gaya Deshdrohi, in which Mirza, architect Romi Khosla and actor Puja Swarup chat about the state of the nation over the video conferencing app Zoom. The other is up on YouTube. The Story of Nukkad is a weekly series in which Mirza revisits the making of the hugely popular serial.
Telecast on Doordarshan in 1986 and 1987, Nukkad explored the lives and experiences of a cross-section of working-class characters. Drawn from different religions and in various stages of employment, the fictional residents of the Mumbai neighbourhood represented the diversity of India itself. From a tea seller to an alcoholic, an electronic shop owner to a tobacconist, a jobless poet to a barber, Nukkad covered the gamut of the Mumbai street corner experience.
The series that revisits Nukkad comprises 17 episodes. Four short chapters will be uploaded on HumaraMovie’s YouTube channel every week. In each of them, Mirza will reflect on the back story of a key character.
The first episode gives an overview of the TV show. The second revisits one of the most-loved characters, the permanently drunk Khopdi, played memorably by Sameer Khakhar.
“Nukkad is so iconic and has great resonance for a particular age group,” Khurana said. “I watched the serial as a kid and have extremely fond memories of it. I am sure millions of others do too. People will now get to know about the thought process and the thinking behind the serial, its inclusiveness and progressive ideas.”
It was Khurana’s idea to make the series. “Saeed doesn’t live in the past,” he said. Khurana isn’t merely Mirza’s neighbour. He made a documentary on the acclaimed director, titled The Leftist Sufi, in 2016. The feature-length film explored Mirza’s philosophical approach to filmmaking and writing and revisits his movies, including Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastan (1978), Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai (1980), Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho! (1984), Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro (1989) and Naseem (1994).
The Story of Nukkad was filmed in Khurana’s apartment in April. “The idea was to be self-contained, otherwise it would get complicated,” Khurana said. He also wanted to ensure that the web series was as well presented and slickly packaged as was possible in the circumstances. This is why The Story of Nukkad, despite dealing with an ensemble production that featured a sprawling cast, has only Saeed Mirza’s voice in it. It was easier to focus on a single person than include interviews with the cast, Khurana said.
“To set up a good composition is quite a big task,” said Khurana, who has made animated films as well as the features Toonpur Ka Superhero (2010) and the unreleased T For Taj Mahal.
Aziz Mirza, Saeed Mirza’s elder brother and Nukkad’s co-creator, was ailing and could not be interviewed for the series. Kundan Shah, the Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro director who left his own mark on Nukkad, died in 2017.
The time is just right to revisit a serial that is over 30 years old, Khurana said. “In the times in which we are living, it is important to bring out that inclusiveness and empathy and humanity,” he said. “It’s important to talk about the 75% of who are disenfranchised and marginalised.”