Sunday, 13 August 2017

Celebrating the Release of #Avishi and #MySingaporeFling

This Weekend has been a particularly busy one for two of my #MyNoWriMo author buddies, Saiswaroopa Iyer and Sudesna Ghosh. A book release is no mean feat. Writers, who prefer to be left alone to create beautiful tales, have to come out of their writing dens and market their precious creations. Believe me, marketing can take the mickey out of the best of writers!

While Sai's book Avishi is set in Ancient India and tells the story of a warrior queen, Sue's is a modern romance set in Singapore and is titled My Singapore Fling.

Intrigued, aren't you? Well, I will let Sai and Sue introduce their books to you and what prompted them to write these stories... Over to...

Saiswaroopa Iyer: 

Avishi is the reimagined rendition of Rig Vedic legend of Vishapala, the female warrior with a prosthetic leg. It felt wonderful to work on a relatively unknown character from the ancient lore as opposed to retell the same stories (Nothing against retellings here!). The readers can find an ancient society, full of surprises, breaking all the stereotypes, we have about Ancient India (existence of representative set ups, women holding key positions and so on)

A kickass female warrior with a prosthetic leg from Ancient India? Really? How? What would a world look like where wedlock did not exist yet? How would a world without caste, without patriarchy be? This world looks egalitarian and perfect. What goes wrong in the story? Well, read to find out more! 😊

Some might be intrigued that the source of this story is just a precious couple of hymns from the RigVeda. There were those who cautioned the material is not enough to write a short story, forget a full-length novel. I took it up as a creative challenge than anything else because the story deserves to be told and retold.

To buy the book, hit the amazon link below. 

Amazon Link                                            Goodreads Link

Sudesna Ghosh:

My Singapore Fling is my first ever attempt at a romance. I was writing short stories for children and a YA novella in addition to my non fiction books when I got inspired to try my hand at it. When you're surrounded by romance author friends, it is impossible to not feel the urge to indulge in a little romance. Haha.

My book was rejected as not being Indian enough in character and setting by traditional publishers. Well, I can't help it if an international romance with an inter-racial touch came out of my fingers, I say!

I hope my readers like it because I certainly had fun writing the scenes. And no, Dipa is not me - although a solo trip for a fling does sound tempting...

To buy the book hit the amazon link below: 

 Amazon Link                                 Goodreads Link

Here's wishing both Sai and Sue the very best and looking forward to many more stories from them.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

#MyNoWriMo Writer Buddies Pen 150,000+ Words in May!

The #MyNoWrimo Update

One month after we began the #MyNoWriMo initiative, we are a bunch of Happy Writers.

We motivated ourselves and each other to kick procrastination and kickstart the daily habit of writing. It's amazing how despite our pretty hectic schedules we managed to find the time to indulge our passion.

Along the way, we exchanged tidbits of information, learned from each other, celebrated our writing achievements and bonded over everything from love for cats to drooling over cakes!

While we all had flexi writing targets and each of us was working on different projects of varying lengths, the collective output was more than 150,000 words. That's the power of motivation! 😎

Here's what the #MyNoWriMo Buddies have to say about their key learnings:

Saiswaroopa Iyer

30,000 words in 30 days (Actually a day less!). A month ago, I did not dream I'll be able to declare the early draft of my novella this soon. And what's more, I had delightful company all along the journey. I cherish each and every conversation we had over a variety of topics right from genre writing, self publishing, editing and even cakes and recipes! Further, it is a great case of Social media (dubbed as a distraction to writers) becoming an enabler in bringing committed authors together who in turn kept the motivation high. This peer to peer learning as well as bonding is something unique in the group among all the writer groups I have seen.
I really hope we'll stay together (and grow!) and see each of the written books being published and marketed. Three Cheers MyNoWriMo😀

Devika Fernando

I'm glad I joined all these fabulous writer ladies for #MyNoWriMo because we spent the whole month motivating each other as relentlessly as we were typing away on our manuscripts. Different countries or continents, different genres, word counts and methods didn't matter at all - what mattered was checking in with each other daily in our Twitter group chat and cheering for each and every achievement. It was also lovely to just talk about things not directly related to writing and getting to know our writing buddies better.

Sudesna Ghosh

Participating in #MyNoWriMo has taught me two things - 1) I procrastinate way too much. 2) A support group of authors from any genre or location can be great motivation. While I don't see myself writing every single day of the calendar year, I see myself procrastinating less and learning more about the self publishing world as I continue my friendship with this group of author friends 😊 

Ruchi Singh

As I look back, the month has been pretty happening for me. There have been exceptional changes in my personal life but the only constant has been the motivation and inspiration from #MyNoWriMo. Fellow writers have been a great support. Despite the daily chaos at home I have been able to write most of the days. Wish we continue in the same pattern for days to come. Cheers! 

Paromita Goswami 

I joined the group in the middle of the month when schools had closed down for summer vacation and most of the kids had headed for vacation or grandparents visit. My family was doing none of it which meant I had added responsibilities. Keeping the kids busy. So I started the summer camp hunting and eventually ended up organizing my own summer camp for the kids for fifteen days. We had space mission, adventure trip, lemonade stall and post office visit and in all that my writing took a back seat. MyNoWriMo inspired me to write--at snail's pace--and I would only announce 50 words or 100 words a day but soon I was hitting my groove. The mini discussions on publication, marketing, plotholes  pulled me back into writing again and finish my unfinished manuscript. Thanks to all the wonderful ladies for making the group so lively and fun.

Esha Pandey

I joined #MyNoWriMo on the 5th of May and by 31st May I had penned 23k words. I am about to finish my first draft in a week's time. All this has been possible because of the constant support and motivation of my writing buddies. We are a strange bunch, with various eccentricities and experiences and different nationalities but the passion for writing unites us. Personally, my takeaway has not only been my wordcount but also a deeper understanding of various nuances of writing, publishing and book promotion. Last but not the least, I made "Cool" writer friends and that makes me cool too! 😎

Adite Banerjie

May 2017 will always be a memorable month for me. It will be one that stands for motivation and writer bonding. Starting on my new manuscript (and writing 25K words in a month was something that I could never have hoped to before #MyNoWriMo) and looking forward to continuing our association over the coming months. 'Coz writers always need that extra bit of motivation and "magical cake". 

And as all writers know, a good book deserves a sequel. So watch out for the next episode of our #MyNoWriMo adventures!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

#MyNoWriMo Update... Writing is a Celebration
Ten days into #MyNoWriMo, each of us have had our epiphanies, our writing triumphs and challenges and multiple mini-celebrations.

The best part of this initiative is that it is completely flexible. We are all working on our own WIPs, with our own targets. Sue is working on a series of short stories while I am writing a 50,000 word book that I had been procrastinating about for a year. Ruchi is working on a half-finished novella while Vandana has breathed new life into her historical novel.

Esha Pandey, the newest member of our group -- please say hello to  policewoman, mum of two and romance writer -- had a semi-finished WIP. But after she joined us on Day 5 of #MyNoWriMo she has already powered through another 6000 words and we have just celebrated the Tenth Day of our Writing Initiative.

So, over to the Magnificent Seven Writers who tell us about their learnings....

Saiswaroopa Iyer: 

The initial excitement when we start a manuscript is something we all cherish as authors. We would all like to power through as far as we can. But initial phases are where we also experience bouts of self doubt. It can be devastating.Thanks to #MyNoWriMo and more importantly, the buddy support, this phase doesn't seem as daunting.

Only an author can understand what another author goes through (that includes cheering each milestone, celebrating it together, supporting each other during down time, giving the much needed nudge). As we all understand it is a sprint, the discipline of writing daily matters. (Whether it is a couple of hundred words or 2000 words). It makes a difference when we declare our daily word counts. Somewhere we feel encouraged to push our selves a bit more.

During the first week, I reached a day-high of 2000+ words. Including two low output days (<600 words), the total output in ten days has been 10,000 words and it feels exhilarating to have conquered the initial fears.

As far as learning goes, writing daily, challenging our own best and plotting beforehand are the keys.

Sudesna Ghosh

I joined #MyNoWriMo a day late (May 2nd). My current word count is just over 10,000. I started my writing with a vague outline chalked out, but now I can see every minor detail in the plot. A daily writing habit and having daily motivation from my hardworking writer friends has kept me going. 

Writing is a solitary job but now I don't feel so alone :)

Vandana Shanker 

Much as I love being a part of the group, I have been the one on the sidelines. I joined #MyNoWriMo on May 2, with a lot of excitement. From the vantage point of April, May had looked free and easy. Just right to write!. Alas, the day job crashed the dream and I have been struggling. There were times when I felt like opting out. But 10 days down, I have hung on. Thanks to the awesome ladies of the group for driving me on. Want to reach the mark of 20K by this weekend. With over 17K today, it looks quite achievable. Touchwood!

All in all, despite the pressure, it has been wonderful to be a part #mynowrimo. I started with a manuscript of 12K, a historical set in India at the turn of the twentieth century. The manuscript had hit a block and I did not know where I was going. With the push from #mynowrimo fellow writers - it has surged ahead and it feels good to be productive once again. I can see the story, the characters, and their evolution. Isn't that the job half done? 

I am being a little realistic about the goals now but I hope by the end of the month, story would be at its last stage if not finished.

Devika Fernando

I love being a part of the #MyNoWriMo circle of writers. We're a rather international lot, writing about various topics and in different genres - and yet we have one thing in common: We motivate each other. We try our hardest to get words onto paper every day, we celebrate even small progress, and sometimes we bare our writerly hearts on a platter. Banter in between keeps the mood light and the muse entertained. It's been one week now, and we've all come far. I wrote around 10,000 words and I'm very happy with that. Can't wait to see what the second week brings us.

Esha Pandey
Esha Pandey

I joined #MyNoWriMo on the fifth day and  I am proud to say that I have accomplished about 6k words. It's a big deal for me as I have very busy days. I am really happy with all the support that I am getting from my fellow authors who are seniors in the business. I hope to finish my novel by the end of the month.

Here's to more and more words on pages.

Ruchi Singh

The week flew by in happy anticipation of completing my long forgotten MS-in-progress. I wrote about 3500 words and all the scenes are now clear and written down. #MyNoWriMo team rocked Twitter the whole week giving me much needed motivation and support to complete the outline of the said MS. Now I see myself completing the novella this month. Cheers!!

Adite Banerjie

Sometimes in our effort to achieve our writing goals, we forget the real reason we write--because it brings us so much joy! Our fears and anxieties with a double dose helping of procrastination often ruin the pleasures of writing. The mini-celebrations at achieving small goals, the competitive spirit and the fact that we inspire each other have all helped in bringing back the joy of writing for me.

Do join us in this Festive Celebration of Writing and follow us on Twitter to cheer us on! :)

Sunday, 30 April 2017

#MyNoWriMo - Because all manuscripts don't get written in November!

If you are a writer you probably know about NaNoWriMo. Unless of course you have been living under a rock or have been writing away furiously in your Writing Cave. In the latter case, you probably have no need for a NaNoWriMo!

Of course for lesser mortals who are juggling day jobs and household chores and dreaming about writing that wonderful novel that has been playing out in our heads, NaNoWriMo is just what the Muse ordered. A whole month you can prep for (and it comes in November) and work on your manuscript. The sheer thought of millions of writers plugging away at their manuscripts all over the world is itself hugely inspiring.

But.... (yes, the dreaded 'but') life always doesn't always turn out as planned and for many of us, writing simply doesn't happen in November. So, what's the alternative? Well, what if you could create your own Novel Writing Month and join hands with some writer buddies for the much needed writing support? That's an idea worth exploring, thought Saiswaroopa Iyer, a writer-friend. Says Saiswaroopa,"November is not one of those months where I get to sit back and write. Hence, I set out to make this month of May as My Novel Writing Month. It's fabulous that Sudesna supported my tweet calling upon other interested writers and I got connected to some really awesome writers--and all girls! Can it get better?"

So Sai's idea of a MyNoWriMo (My Novel Writing Month) in May caught on and five of us joined in to a month long writing session in May. Better still, unlike NaNoWriMo where everyone has to write a 50K word manuscript, we have decided to keep it flexible. So each of us will choose her own word count and the idea is to support each other in meeting our writing goals.

Meet the Six Writer Buddies of #MyNoWriMo. Wish us luck and I hope you will follow us on Twitter to keep pace with our progress and cheer us on....

Saiswaroopa (Last Book: Abhaya)

I am the kind of writer who lets her stories and characters brew, ferment and refine themselves in her mind before I find the confidence to type the story away. But in the course of writing my second novel, as I tried to cultivate a discipline of writing, I tasted the magic of being focused and persistent till the end. As someone who would like to challenge herself on every project, I want to write a short sequel to my debut Epic/Puranic fantasy Abhaya for my third work of fiction. Tentatively titled, Daughter of Mura, it traces the story of the orphaned daughter of the commander of Narakasura who was killed by Lord Krishna and her pursuit of vengeance.
I hope the sequel gets written during this sprint. Really excited to pursue this new way of writing.

Twitter handle: @sai_swaroopa

Sudesna Ghosh (Last Book: Just Me, the Sink & the Pot)

I did NaNoWriMo in 2016 for the first time. The result was a first draft of my romance novella (to be published). I joined the movement because I was inspired by all the enthusiasm on Twitter. Also, I wasn't getting much writing done with personal strife.

When Saiswaroopa, author friend I met on Twitter, thought of #MyNoWriMo, I found her enthusiasm contagious and said yes. My latest book, Just me, the Sink & the Pot, is self published and I have been amazed at the support that indie authors provide each other. 

I am taking advantage of that network and attempting my first draft for a children's story that I plotted in mid April. It is like having a gym buddy so that you get your workouts done. I'm going to get my word count running.

Twitter handle: @sudesna_ghosh

Devika Fernando (Last Book: The Prince's Surprise Bride)

I'm a German (and half Sri Lankan) romance novelist with currently more than 10 self-published books. My main focus is contemporary romance on the sweeter side, and I love writing about different countries and ethnicities. 

I recently released my first three royal romances, but during #MyNoWriMo I will be working on a sequel to the 'Forbidden' books, a romantic suspense series I coauthored with Amazon-bestselling author Mike Wells.

I write every day and try to be very disciplined about it, but I love initiatives like NaNoWriMo or #MyNoWriMo where authors get together and motivate each other to strive even harder.

Twitter Handle: @Author_Devika

Ruchi Singh (Last Book: Jugnu) 

#MyNoWriMo has come at the right time for me. I am really excited and looking forward to work in the company of such accomplished writers. 

Unlike my past projects, I have decided to keep things simple this year and concentrate on an unfinished manuscript. The objective for this month is to complete the novella I had started during the November 2015 NaNoWriMo, which was abandoned due to Jugnu, my latest release. 

The focus is on total entertainment folks!

Twitter Handle: @RuchiWriter

Adite Banerjie (Last Book: No Safe Zone) 

Many years ago I had participated in the ScriptFrenzy initiative which used to be a scriptwriting version of the NaNoWriMo. It had been a fun and frenzied month and along with a writer friend I had managed to put down 100 pages of a first draft screenplay.

However I haven't had much luck with NaNoWriMo and despite several attempts November just doesn't seem to work for me. So, just as I had finished plotting the idea for a new manuscript, Sudesna pinged me about #MyNoWriMo. Serendipity, right? So here I am, all raring to go on this new ride!

Twitter Handle: @adite

Vandana Shanker (Last Book: Dust of Ages)

My first books (a non-fiction and a fiction) were published the traditional way. The last novel 'Dust of Ages' was a long one - about 110K words which I published as a series on Amazon. It is a historical set in India during 1857 and self-publishing has been quite satisfactory.

I would most probably be working on a historical again - this time set in the 1890s during the Great Game. But then it seems quite ambitious and I might work on my romance novella in May. But the good thing is writing alongside everyone. 

Twitter Handle: @VandanaShanker

Monday, 3 April 2017

Confessions of a Screenwriter and Filmmaker: Charudutt Acharya

Charudutt Acharya is a film and TV writer who has written two dozen television shows, four films and a web series in a writing career that has spanned 18 years. He has donned the director's hat for his debut film Sonali Cable (which was produced by Rohan Sippy) In this interview, Charudutt shares his journey as a writer for the film and television medium... which has been "full of drama",  just like his writing! 

Over to Charu....

Charudutt Acharya

Hi Charu. Tell us a bit about your journey as a screenwriter. How and when did you start off? And what were the initial years like. 

After my BA from Mumbai University, I did a few odd jobs and got into a film unit as a trainee in the directing department. There some of the technicians were from the FTII and encouraged me to apply. I got in and trained to be a director. 

During my time at the FTII (1993-95) there was no separate screenwriting program, but we were taught screenwriting as part of the directing program. I loved screenwriting as a subject and often collaborated on scripts of fellow students besides my own. Within a year and half of graduating, while I was assisting in direction, I met with a very nasty accident which confined me to bed for a long period of time. 

To pay my bills and kill time, I started writing for a TV drama show. And have been writing since then. So I can say I became a professional writer ‘by accident’.

When did you get your first breakthrough in the screenwriting world? And how did it happen?

As mentioned, I had this accident. One of the persons who came to see me in the hospital was a TV channel executive for whom I had written a few in house promos and was supposed to direct them in that week. Since I would not be able to direct them, he had hired somebody else for that job and offered me a writing gig for a mini –series on his channel. 

I actually wrote the first episode from the hospital. Full drama! 

I went on to write several episodes of that series called D –LINE on Sahara TV.  Since then I have written for around two dozen shows and four films over 18 years.

You have been writing for one of the most popular shows on TV for more than 10 years. How has that experience been? Do you get bored sometimes keeping at it? And how do you find the inspiration to carry on?

For the last seven years, I have been co-writing CRIME PATROL SATARK. I took a break for a year in 2013 when I was making my feature SONALI CABLE.  I mainly write dialogue for the show and occasionally I write the screenplays as well. All our cases are real life cases which our fantastic research team puts together. The series writer and director of the show then expertly crafts out a screenplay (step-outline as the West calls it) and then I dialogue the scenes. 

At times I outline the case too, based on the format set by the series writer. The experience has been fantastic because each case is different and we have explored various cinematic devices, thematic approaches, structural experiments with the show and touch wood, most of it has worked well. Also, the actors and the team out there is one of the most talented and hardworking one. So what one writes, gets translated rather well, making it all come together at the end.

Boredom I have never felt because I constantly feel privileged that I have work to do and work that in its genre and market, is considered good critically and commercially. But yes, it is exhausting work and takes long hours.

I watch movies, spend time with the family and cook something in the kitchen daily as a hobby and de-stressor.

You have written screenplays for Dum Maro Dum, Nautanki Saala! Among others. What would you say is the basic difference between writing for movies and TV serials and which is more challenging? Why? 

I have NOT written the screenplay of Dum Maro Dum. I only wrote the dialogue for that movie. I have written screenplay and dialogue for the horror movie VAASTU SHASTRA and co-wrote both for NAUTANKI SAALA! And wrote my own movie SONALI CABLE.

The basic difference between the two, I would say is selection of the subject. Some stories lend themselves better to serialized story telling where as some stories are best told as stand-alone big screen experiences. Feature film structure and TV drama structure differ. Also cinema generally tends to have lot more cinematic non- verbal storytelling and TV is heavily dependent on dialogue.  

Personally I find writing film more challenging because I have written more TV and don’t get very anxious with it. Film also needs far more economy of writing and expansion of imagination.

You recently wrote a web series on extra marital affairs. Do you think that people are tired of watching TV soaps and are looking at new kinds of content?

I wrote IT’S NOT THAT SIMPLE which plays on VOOT. It’s been well received. I am not sure about people getting tired of watching TV soaps. Mainstream ‘saans bahu’ soaps are primarily watched by women and families in single TV homes. That core audience is YET not watching streaming shows to in LARGE numbers. But of course we are in a state of flux and sub-sets of content and audiences are being constantly formed.  I think there is space for all kinds of content across all kinds of platforms. Well-made stuff that connects with the core target audience and marketed well, with a dash of good luck, will mostly do well.

A lot of filmmakers write their own scripts. But you moved from screenwriting to direction. Did your experience as a screenwriter help you when it came to direction? Why/why not?

Writing and directing are very different skills. It’s a no brainer that you need a good script to make a good movie. But conversely a good script HAS to have a good director to become a good movie.
Having said that, what the inexperienced director in me brought to the table on the project was the script I wrote. So I was able to communicate my ideas and vision to the team better and they helped me bring it to life. Also, being a screenwriter, re-writing, improvisation and such is easier. But yes, I feel, a screenwriter transiting to directing must develop some directing muscles before going on floor. Working with actors is prime among them. Followed by shooting for the edit.

The pitfall of writer-directors in my opinion is, at times, you can fall in love with the material and lose that ruthless objectivity that is required to serve the story.

What's next on the cards?
Besides my regular Crime Patrol work, I have started work on a new feature film script that I hope to direct in 2018.

What's your top three pieces of advice to writers who want to make it in Bollywood as screenwriters?

1.     Learn the craft well. You don’t have to go to formal film school, but there are plenty of books and online resources to learn the craft of screenwriting and film making both. DO NOT ignore learning the basics and more of film making. That is hugely going to help the writing process. Never think, ”Oh I am a writer! I don’t need to know the technical stuff.” You need to know all that makes your writing better. Editing and sound are KEY.

2.     Get a foot into the door in the industry in any capacity. You need to be among people who generate work. You need to know the pulse of these folks. Keep abreast of the broad genres, budgets and kinds of scripts that are getting made. Be ín the moment’ and ín step’. 

3.     Live well. Good life experience and a sound understanding of a cultural milieu,   is both the sponge and the icing on the script cake. 

Thanks so much Charu for your insights into screenwriting. And good luck to you in all your future endeavours. 

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Interview with Bollywood Screenwriter Pubali Chaudhuri

This interview with Pubali Chaudhuri was done a while back but am re-posting it as it is a one-of-a-kind interview that discusses the craft and business of screenwriting.... Enjoy! 

Pubali Chaudhuri is a Bollywood screenwriter who has had two of her scripts turned into blockbuster Bollywood films. Rock On!, a movie about four friends who reunite to relive their moments of glory as a rock band, which released in 2008 was Pubali’s debut screenwriting effort for the Hindi film industry. This was followed by Kai Po Che four years later and was directed by Abhishek Kapoor who had helmed Rock On! as well. Like Rock On!, KPC is a story about friends but the tone, mood and feel of the film is totally different. It tells the tale of three friends, Ishaan, Omi and Govind who start a training academy to produce the country’s next cricket stars. Adapted from Chetan Bhagat’s novel 3 Mistakes of My Life, the story is set in Gujarat during the turbulent times of the Godhra riots. The film recently won a clutch of awards and earned Pubali her first Filmfare Award for screenwriting. Here she talks about her writing, discusses the story decisions she took while writing Kai Po Che and ponders on life as a sceenwriter in this candid interview. But a word of caution to readers who haven’t yet seen the film, there are a few spoilers…so first watch the film and then come back and check out this interview. And now, over to Pubali….

You did a film screenwriting course in FTII and you land a top assignment, writing Rock On! for a top production house in Bollywood! That sounds like a screenwriter’s dream come true. Could you tell us a bit about that journey?
Perhaps you never know when you’re living a ‘dream’ … but yes, there was hard work and happy coincidence behind it. A friend and colleague Aditya Kripalani had introduced me to Abhishek in 2006, who had a story idea about a music band reuniting after a gap. At that point there was no producer or actor attached to the project, so I started the project as a spec thing that the director is trying to mount. The fact that Abhishek could rope in Farhan and Excel Entertainment and the film got made was good luck for us. And perhaps some merit in the script?

As a writer of a “hit” film you should have been flooded with screenwriting offers. But there seems to have been a bit of a gap between your first and second assignments. Care to talk about it? Were you dejected? Or were you taking it cool and doing other things? 

Define ‘hit’ film! Rock On! certainly wasn’t a blockbuster hit like the Rs. 100+ crore plus films are touted to be. It did fairly well at the box office and was noticed for its difference in content and treatment. I think Rock On! gave us recall value and a certain branding more than commercial success.
Maybe it’s just my awful networking skills or maybe it has something to do with the position of a writer in the film industry that my phone stayed steadfastly silent after the film released, at least as far as job offers went!
I’m sure I had one or two assignments but I certainly wasn’t well known in town… I started working on Kai Po Che in 2009… the fact that it took four years in the making is the story of how unpredictable and uncertain the process of film making can be! In between I had also worked with couple of other directors, was hired by studios for couple of other assignments but none of them made it to the shooting floor. I was also teaching part time at Whistling Woods while writing KPC. I’ve been working consistently …well, as consistently as freelancers can or do! But the number of scripts you write and the number of films that happen are rarely equal for a writer.

Kai Po Che has established you as one of the top writers in the Hindi film industry and you have the Filmfare Award as testimony. a) How does that feel? and b) how scary was the prospect of adapting a popular book by Chetan Bhagat?
I have one Filmfare Award to show for KPC. But it definitely felt like an acknowledgement from the industry for the hard work one puts in. It also felt, in many ways, as if it’s the end of a chapter of my life – since my move to Bombay, starting off a new career to finally getting a public acknowledgement for my work. Honestly, my first thought was if I can retire from “Bollywood” now. LOL. Or it’s just the beginning of the miles ahead.

To answer your second question, I don’t think I was daunted at the thought of adapting 3 Mistakes of My Life. Having been a literature student, you would feel daunted if you had to adapt the works of a literary giant like Tagore or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I think my bigger concern that the film should not be a total embarrassment for me in front of the discerning audience.

Did you have a brief from director Abhishek Kapoor on the adaptation? Can you tell us a bit about your process for adapting the book into a screenplay. And the inputs provided by Kapoor and Chetan Bhagat?

With three years of writing and rewriting the process has become somewhat of a haze for me. I know I wrote a hilarious piece recounting that journey when KPC was about to release. My own writer’s journey through development hell! Maybe you should share that with your readers as ‘additional reading’  Abhishek proposed that we take up the novel for adaptation and both him and Chetan were open to changes that would be required to make the film work. Abhishek suggested that we change the ending (which is different from the book). That of course meant rewriting half the story… and was exactly why I said yes to the project. That changed ending made it a challenging project and left me room to play with the story, develop Omi’s character and flesh out the friends’ journey, which would lead to that climax. We were always struggling with length in KPC and Chetan did a marvelous job of chopping off about the first 10 minutes once we get into the flashback. And this happened as late as after 15 drafts were already done!

Many screenwriting gurus insist that the protagonist of a film should always “drive the action”. However, in Kai Po Che, the three protagonists are kind of victims of circumstances, things happen to them and they react to it. Your thoughts? 

Umm, I think in KPC you have a balance of characters driving the story and things happening to them. And that’s closer to life, isn’t it? The boys decide to open a sports shop to take charge of their future; Ishaan specifically goes out to spot Ali and makes it his mission to train the boy; it’s Govind’s ambition that drives them to book a store at the upcoming mall. Vidya drives the romance between her and Govind. Omi is perhaps the most passive of the three lead characters – but that’s part of the design of the story. It is because Omi is the ‘lackey’ amidst the three friends that he finally gets swept away by the importance he finds in the political party, thanks to his uncle’s influential position. The external events that impact the characters’ lives shape up into a specific form of dramatic situation because of who they are. For example, after the earthquake, when Ishaan takes Ali and his family and neighbours to the relief camp, it is Ishaan’s secularism and Omi’s latent communalism and weakness of character that leads to the big fight between the two friends.

It’s often said that the antagonist is just like the protagonist except that he/she doesn’t have the moral core. Ishaan’s character was almost similar to Bittu Mama in terms of his zeal and passion but of course while Bittu is obsessed about religion, Ishan’s passion is cricket. Even so, it seemed to me like Ishaan’s character has something less than noble about it — given that he is motivated also by the fact that Ali’s success will translate into money and fame for him as well as help him redeem himself — Omi even hints at it when he says: “Ishaan only cares about himself”. Did this flaw in his character bother you during the writing? Did you worry during the writing that Ishaan was too much of a grey character/anti-hero? Your thoughts about the crafting of a nuanced character such as Ishaan.

Well, to begin with, flawed characters fascinate me. Nice guys not only finish last, they make for boring stories! Nobody is perfect and neither should our heroes be, for them to become relatable and identifiable as characters. You look at Mahabharat and each and every character is nuanced… the Pandavas have their faults and Krishna is a manipulator. That’s what makes it great story telling.
It is interesting that you mention Ishaan’s interest in Ali’s cricketing career as ‘less than noble’. The Ishaan-Ali ‘love story’ so to say, is the emotional core of the film for me – it’s the purest relationship I have within the plethora of characters. Ishaan brings Ali under his wings not because Ali’s cricketing talent can someday bring rewards to Ishaan (and that would have been a really weak motivation to drive the film) but because Ishaan spots the potential in Ali and believes that the boy should get a chance to realize it. Ishaan himself has not been able to succeed in cricket and perhaps it is his sense of failure that makes him passionate about Ali’s chances at the game. In that sense, his motives are ‘selfish’ to the extent that he wants to relive his dream through this boy. But a coach–protégé relationship goes much beyond personal gains… do you think Ramakant Achrekar’s fame or riches compare with Sachin Tendulkar’s?! So it is certainly not material success that drives Ishaan.

As for Omi calling Ishaan selfish, it’s actually Omi’s hurt talking. I wanted to build Ali-Ishaan-Omi almost like a ‘love triangle’. Omi is Ishaan’s trusted shadow and he suddenly feels his position usurped by this two bit Muslim boy. He in fact says that how could Ishaan hit him in front of so many people just for the sake of that boy…that’s jealousy talking!
Ishaan is more self absorbed than selfish (though the lines can be blurry) …but I guess people who are dreamers and have a passion like a malaise (as cricket is to Ishaan) can be like that – the world blurs out and you only have eyes for your goal.

Real life events — like the Gujarat earthquake, the riots, the India-Australia cricket match — anchored the story and yet didn’t overwhelm the fictional story. How hard was it to achieve this balance? 
The real life events impinging on the fictional lives is one of the reasons why KPC is more than just a buddy film. I suppose we had two kinds of problems – on one hand finding how something like the earthquake would affect the personal stories and on the other hand, how the riots should not overshadow the personal stories. The Gujarat violence is still such a raw scar on our nation that it took quite a bit of effort not to have it overtake the entire narrative. It was well possible to make a sharper political statement with KPC but Abhishek was sure that he wasn’t making a ‘political film’. When your film’s climax is set against the genocide it’s tough to stay away from the politics of it. But on the other hand we were in no way making a propaganda film – so the idea was to stay focused on the characters and how the events impact their life paths.

One of the most visually and emotionally dramatic moments in the film is the scene where Ishaan and Omi resolve their differences and it’s cricket that provides the bonding force. What is your special moment in the film and why? 

My favourite would probably be when Ishaan goes to make up with Ali, after having slapped the boy. I always had a mental picture of Ali’s den…a room on the terrace that is the boy’s own personal world. Ali has locked himself in that room and Ishaan asks him politely if he can come inside…in answer Ali rolls out a marble and then as we enter Ali’s room we see that Ali has drawn the same diagram of the cricket field that Ishaan had drawn to explain on and offside to the boy. It’s a small little moment, but I have always felt that it conveys so much of the relationship between Ishaan and Ali without having to take recourse to dialogue. In like about 15 seconds I am able to convey the crux of the bonding between these two characters – that Ishaan does not ask Ali to come out but instead requests to be let in- thus signaling that he is ready to give up his ‘top’ position to reach out to the boy. And in turn Ali trusts him enough to let him enter his personal space …and through that diagram we get a sense that the boy hasn’t been blind to Ishaan’s lessons – that he is in fact trying to learn and ingest the passion that Ishaan shows for the game.

Did you ever toy with the idea of giving screen time to Ishaan’s back story (his failure as a cricketer)? 

No, never. Too much of lame screenwriting happens because filmmakers don’t trust the audience’s intelligence. I do not agree that the audience has to be spoon-fed.

This film is about three friends who have known each other since childhood and we catch them in medias res…in the middle of the action. Or rather at a critical juncture when they are getting together to start a new initiative. It was imperative that we have trust in our story telling and not fall back upon lame flashbacks to explain what happened before. We don’t get into how their friendships were formed -we just see 3 characters and through their current day interaction we come to know that these boys have known each other for ages- they exude that kind of familiarity. Similarly Ishaan’s passion for cricket is signaled right from the first scene and then in subsequent scenes we get to know that he failed a selection test. When Omi tries to flatter Ishaan by reminding him of some brilliant match he played earlier, Ishaan simply responds with a half sarcastic comment ‘world famous in Belrampur’. Effective writing exists between the lines and in the nuancing of characters and actions. So, no, I never considered giving out back-stories through flashbacks and resisted using voice over to retain the tone of the book in the film.

You said somewhere that you wrote 18 drafts of the script… how do you keep going and not lose focus and motivation during the revisions? 

Lately I’ve realized that there hasn’t been a single project where I haven’t felt like it’s beyond me; I cannot do this and I should give up! As a writer when your project doesn’t get greenlit, when actors repeatedly turn down the roles pointing that the script isn’t working for them, it just adds to the huge shadow of self doubt that anyway a writer battles on a daily basis while writing. Somewhere around the tenth draft, I realized, thanks to a meeting with Mr. Javed Akhtar, why the script isn’t working. A year’s work had already gone in and I guess I was both daunted and challenged by what lay ahead to make this story work on screen. So I went back to the drawing board and rewrote the story first – because we had a fundamental story problem with three characters having three different goals.
Rewrites can be painful but it’s an essential process. It tests the writer’s grit and conviction in the story. I realized that the script is not working but I guess I had too much ego to give up on the project – I had to get it right. Or somewhere close to right.
A still from Kai Po Che
What are you writing next and when does one get to see the next Pubali Chaudhuri written film? 
A career in films is a career in ‘speculation’ …especially for directors and writers who start from scratch and have no idea what the fate of the project will be. Somewhere along the line, you dismiss making any plans for the future. Its like Krishna’s famous saying ‘work without expectations of results’. So frankly, I don’t even know, that there will be another ‘Pubali Chaudhuri’ film, as you so kindly put it  The Rock On sequel has been an on going project for more than 2 years – maybe it will some day become a film. Maybe I shall quit midway. Like a good plot, you never know what’s coming next in life!

Your advice to women scriptwriters who want to break into the Hindi film industry.
Hmm, to begin with, I don’t like being labeled as a ‘woman’ in my line of work. That way, I have been a ‘woman content writer’, a ‘woman line producer’ etc etc. I would like to believe that in the work arena, I’m a professional first and a woman second.
Having said that, I would be lying if I said gender politics doesn’t play a part in our everyday lives or in our professional dealings. In that sense you should be ready to face a double ‘handicap’.
Generally speaking, a film writer is not regarded as an important position in the film industry. Over and above that, if you’re a woman it will be tougher to get yourself heard or taken seriously in a room full of men who are sure they know better than you! I’d say you need a hide as thick as a rhinoceros, the tenacity of a long distance runner, and over and above all, humility and a dedication to your art that must be safeguarded against everything else you face in the industry.
Thanks a million, Pubali, for taking the time to do this interview and all the best for your future writing assignments.