Confessions of an Assistant Director: Simran Gursahani

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

"Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life - Confucius”

Simran Gursahani, an assistant director at Dharma Productions, has been working in the film industry since she was 19 years old. She boasts 4+ years of experience in her work on renowned films such as Good Newz, Takht (currently working) Bazaar, Satyameva Jayate, amongst others. She boldly dropped out of Jai Hind College in her last year to pursue her dream and invest time in what she calls her very own “Disneyland” - film sets.


When was your interest first sparked in the industry?

I first fell in love with the art of film-making, when I was 7 years old, at my summer

animation class called “Toon Club”. It was in this very class that I learned how to make stories, storyboards, short animation films amongst other 7-year-old achievements. This whole new world was beyond fascinating to me, where everything you sketched could come alive - flying puppies, rainbow colored skies, etc. My interest extended through the age of 10, and was further revived at 15 when I went to meet my animation teacher and her husband - a live action film maker. They both pushed me to tap into my creativity and gave me exposure to the life of an Assistant Director (AD). Even though I’m sure this was illegal at my mere age of 15, they brought me with them on a film set.

I vividly remember that 7am-7pm shift and how unapologetically happy I felt while being there - like grandmothers when their grandkids have eaten, like teenagers with 500+ views on their tik toks, or like little Sim on all her visits to Disneyland. It’s been 4 years now since I’ve lived on film sets and I cannot think of any other place I’d rather be.

What are some films that you have worked on?

I started my first film project at the tender age of 19, before which I assisted a casting director - namely Panchmi - on advertisements and projects such as KaalaKaandi. I then interned with Nikhil Advani on “Lucknow Central”. Soon after, I joined Emmay Entertainment where I worked on Bazaar as a second second AD and on Satyameva Jayate as the director’s assistant. Due to my performance and work ethic on these projects, and a recommendation from Panchmi, I got an opportunity to work with my dream production house - Dharma Productions! (Even though I was thrilled, I was leaving my 2-year long comfort zone, and this demanded I prove myself from scratch again). At Dharma, I worked with Raj Mehta on Good Newz and got - quite literally - blessed to work on Takht with the very own Karan Johar himself!

Which one of these films has been the most challenging, and why?

You know one thing that has been challenging, across all my films is my obligation to constantly prove myself. By virtue of my young age, bubbly personality and gender, I’m not blessed with immediate credibility. But to answer your question, Takht has been my most challenging film so far mainly because it’s a period film, which requires a deep understanding of the era it is set in.

The intimidating environment consisting of a distinguished director, and co-workers with far more experience than you, surely does not help make it any easier. Bazaar, for a host of different reasons, was also as consuming a project, if not more. It comprised of long hours (17-18 hours shoots), hectic schedules, location changes, actor changes, among others. Not coincidentally, did I realise that I have also learned and gained my most valuable experience from these films.

Your successes at such a young age are surely inspiring to many, including myself. As they say, with success comes challenges. Can you share some of the hurdles that you were forced to overcome?

At the age of 18, I would spend entire days, in a row, in the casting office. There were days I was barely able to get through- with 100+ auditions or taking additional responsibilities when my boss was away. This was also my first year of college when all my friends were enjoying their weekly parties, trips, or sleepovers, while I was working or resting (for the few hours that I was blessed with). By the time I was on my first movie (“Lucknow Central”), I would shoot all night until 7am and go directly to lectures without bathing. I’d sleep in class and book a cab back from Churchgate to Goregaon, to get to work again. I can’t deny that this schedule took a massive toll on me, and not to forget my family as well.

When I entered my third year of college, things got significantly harder. This was the year I lost all my three remaining grandparents, and both my dogs, had my first break-up, and faced academic issues regarding attendance and final exams. This mental, emotional and physical exhaustion obviously burdened my already minimal personal life. I noticed that I was living in two dimensions- depressed and glum personally, complemented by my bubbly and extroverted professionally. Like a cherry on icing, this also marked the year that I decided to drop out because I realized I could not bear it anymore. I found myself continually struggling to balance my work hours, personal affairs and academics.

Being absent in a teenage culture where everyone is constantly connected, socializing and celebrating was gruelling. I had to come to terms with losing friends, fighting with important people in my life, and managing academic pressure, all at such a gentle age. The current me only gives thanks to these experiences because it taught me the important people that deserved to stay in my life. It also taught me how fiercely passionate I felt about my work, because there is nothing I would do differently.

I’d really appreciate if you could shed some light on your decision to drop out and the reaction it garnered from others, considering we live in a society where education is considered a prerequisite for success?

I’ll confess that it was one of the most challenging and confusing decisions I’ve been forced to make. I reached a stage where I just could not do it anymore- I wanted to spend all my time learning about films, cinematography, graphics and could not spend another minute studying the 6 organized subjects routine every semester. And so I went for it.

This time was when I was my most vulnerable self, because everyone, including my very own friends, parents’ friends, teachers, heads of departments at college, friends’ parents, were criticizing me. They believed that “I had made the most stupid decision of my life”, that “anyone could become an AD”, and that “passion changes, but education stays forever”. Back then, I had lost all my confidence and would shy away from the world. It was ironic because I was doing what made me happy but the rest of the world was more concerned and pessimistic about my decision. Through this all, I had my few pillars of strength (parents, sisters, Shanaya, Anne) that believed in me which, I felt was more than enough, for me to go ahead with the decision.

It’s only since last year that I have been comfortable in openly talking about being a “college dropout” without the fear of being judged or looked down upon. But do I regret it? Absolutely not. Ofcourse, there are some days where I feel uncertain about what I would do if I lost my job, but thankfully that has not happened so far and hopefully never will. I don’t mean to be cliched, but the weight of my experience on set and working with technicians, companies, directors, and others, can faintly be compared with any degree or diploma. I’d not change a thing if I did this all over again.

What have you have learned from working in this industry?

If you knew me before this, you’d know how soft I was. Being in this industry has definitely taught me to be very thick skinned because of the constantly high pressure levels on set causing people (including myself) tend to lose their fragile tempers. Seeing Raj Mehta (Director of Good Newz) be patient and composed no matter any hiccup, has taught me to be calm, and confident in every action I take. Along with picking up new technical skills, I find myself being a lot more empathetic and compassionate towards everyone. Only then would I take up the opportunity of sharing my dabba with dress-dadas or spot-dadas, while learning from their years of experience in the industry.

What advice would you give someone looking to being successful in your role?

With respect to advice, I would say - and any AD would confirm - always have your own opinion and be true to what you believe in because nobody appreciates a “yes ma’am”. Secondly, always stay grounded, because, in an industry that seems so glamorous, it’s easy to go above your head with all the parties, premieres and actors that you are attending. Lastly, just like any other work that you take up, always let your diligence and work ethic define you. It's safe to say that I attribute a large part of my success and good will to my constant commitment towards my work, and ceaseless drive towards improving my performance.

What do you hope to achieve as your end goal, after gathering such valuable experiences?

In this demanding and competitive industry, it is my dream to be a director before I turn 30. I feel like I’m so driven by emotions and I wish to transform this into my film. I have found that these emotionally-stimulating movies stick with me, and I want to pass that on to my audience. I want to make a movie that takes them on an emotional journey with me and that’s all I truly hope.

One day I hope that all the people that did not believe in me are proven wrong, and all those who stood by me understand that they have put their faith in the right place.

Experiencing something similar? Interested in the film industry? Want to know more about her?

Reach out to Simran!