The space in between films isn’t always downtime for filmmakers. There are bills to pay and households to run. From working at call centres to making documentaries for the government – here’s what filmmakers did before their big break or what they do to earn a living until the next big project comes along:

Hardik Mehta (director, Amdavad Ma Famous, Roohi Afza)

There are independent filmmakers and then there are Gujarati independent filmmakers. We’re much more industrious. We try and get all kinds of jobs. One thing that has always kept me afloat was Dolby. The company would do a lot of ‘Behind The Mix’ videos where you’d interview the director and the sound designer of the film. Every month or every once in two months, they’d publish a video on their channel explaining how the sound was recorded and mixed etc. We did Baahubali and Bajirao Mastani – a lot of corporate videos that were also for film enthusiasts. So they’d call me first whenever they needed someone to shoot and edit these videos. That helped me meet a lot of filmmakers and understand how differently they use sound.

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The company was also coming up with Dolby Atmos which is regular now, but three or four years back it wasn’t. They wanted to create videos so filmmakers and film enthusiasts would get interested in it. I got the opportunity because one of the Dolby seniors Vikram Joglekar, who did sound for Mani Kaul recommended me. Even if I make a 100-crore film today, I’ll still do a Dolby video because I love it but it also got me my bread-butter.

Shashank Khaitan (director, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, Dhadak)

It’s tough. Especially after your first film. Your first film is never your highest paid – it’s sufficient, you’ve made your mark in the industry. But then there’s this reality of the bills to pay. If you’re a director who writes his own scripts, you have to invest enough time in your writing before you can pitch it and start directing. So I see if I can balance it out with one or two ads. I try and see if there is some work where there is no conflict of interest with the company that I’m in contract with, which is Dharma Productions. So I can’t direct or write a film for somebody else, but I can do ads. I’m a judge on a dance show, which helps a lot. That takes care of your finances and profiling and you can just focus on the writing and not have to worry about the money coming in.

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Before Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, I was working as an assistant director. I was blessed with great family support – my parents, my wife, my siblings, my in-laws all supported me. The toughest thing is when you decide you want to stop assisting and work on your own script. What happens is that from working regularly, you go six to eight months without a salary. Assistant director salaries aren’t high anyway. So then every penny (spent) in Mumbai just starts feeling like torture. After you finish writing, the pitching part begins. The day I went to meet Karan Johar for Humpty after his creative team had read it, I had only 60 bucks in my bank account.

Navjot Gulati (co-writer, Dostana 2)

I came to Mumbai in 2009 and was doing odd jobs to make money. I worked in a couple of call centres. They have this training period where you don’t do any work but you get paid. I trained at two of those. I didn’t want to do the actual work. I’d done that in the past and was not fond of it. Six months into doing this, I managed to crack a job at a production house called Cinevistaas. I worked for about a year and nothing really took off. They were making content to pitch to TV channels.

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I started to freelance write scripts. I had this rule that I’d never write for free. Even if someone paid me 10,000 rupees it was fine. This rule was more out of necessity because I had no other way to earn money. I’ve written more than 30 bound scripts over these past 10 years. I think four or five have become films. But I’ve always taken money for them because that was the only way I could survive. Sometimes, I would just get the signing amount. But that has ranged from Rs10,000 to 5 lakh. A lot of writers don’t do that. They just write hoping someone will pick it up. But I made it a rule. Now also, I find it really hard to write without money.

Bhaskar Hazarika (director, Kothanodi, Aamis)

I also work as a professional screenwriter so I get commissioned gigs for web series and films in between developing and writing my next projects. I am working on a couple of film scripts and one web series for a major OTT. Before Kothanodi (2015), I would make institutional documentaries for NGOs and the government; so that helped. I have a very loving family which gets what I’m trying to do, so they pitch in whenever I get into a sticky situation.

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Hitesh Kewalya (director, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan)

I don’t take up any other projects. I manage with whatever I have because I like to do one project at a time. If I’m invested in something, there’s no point in doing another project because I won’t be able to give it my 100%. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan was my big break. Before that, I’d written many scripts but none of them happened. I wrote songs for a film Aagey Se Right (2009), which was a UTV production. I was an associate director and co-writer on this film called Siddharth – The Prisoner (2009). I was working at an ad production house before I found my way to writing. I also did a lot of television work for 8-9 years, wrote dialogues for Miley Jab Hum Tum, Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon? and lots of other big shows. My wife and I also have an animation production house, which she largely handles. I’m usually an executive or creative producer on the ads and music videos she directs.

(As told to Gayle Sequeira)

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