Five Questions With Charudutt Acharya, Writer Of Aranyak

The writer talks about the life experiences that inspired him to create Aranyak on Netflix and the evolving grammar of the OTT space
Five Questions With Charudutt Acharya, Writer Of Aranyak

It is the time of thrillers and whodunits on the digital space. With Aranyak, starring Raveena Tandon and Parambrata Chatterjee, continuing to be ranked number one in India on Netflix even a month after its release and gaining increasing traction, screenwriter Charudutt Acharya is getting his much-deserved due. An engaging eight-episode thriller, Aranyak delves into the lives of two police officers and the mysteries that surround them in the eerie, fictional hill station of Sirona.

Acharya has been a part of the industry for more than two decades now, having worked on daily shows like Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin, weekly shows including Crime Patrol and films such as Nautanki Saala. With the emergence and evolution of OTT platforms, however, he believes that now is the time writers can experiment a lot more, especially with multiple concepts and characters – something he attempted in Aranyak. "I have many stories saved in my pitora," he says. With the makers being hopeful of a possible second season of the show, the writer talks about how he conceptualized the story, how writing for Crime Patrol helped him get the detailing in police proceedings spot on and why he believes a show's binge-worthiness is a good reflector of its success today.

Aranyak delves into multiple sub-genres – it's a thriller as well as a murder mystery. It also touches upon mythical and supernatural elements. With it dabbling into so many different strands, what was the screenwriting process like?

This story came to me in three parts. A few years ago, during a family vacation in Himachal Pradesh, I had an encounter with a woman like Kasturi Dogra (Raveena Tandon in Aranyak). Incidentally, her name too was Kasturi. There was a mishap with one of my family members because of the negligence of the people in-charge of a tourism service we had availed, after which I thought of filing a police complaint. That's when I went to a police station nearby – it was quaint and there was some morning light falling into the station. A little girl was sitting there and doing her homework, and one lady, wearing a very old, heavy sweater, was sitting there peeling peas. I told her that I wanted to meet the inspector and also informed her about the incident. She helped us, got us chai and pakodas, and started talking to us about everything but the incident – our family, her own family, her issues with her in-laws and even spoke about her cow. After a while, the sub-inspectors came and we realized that she was actually the inspector. That's when I saw a different side of her – she whacked the people involved and made sure we got our money back. She was extremely fair but not very politically correct. I was fascinated with that character.

I always had this idea of writing a crime story which has been done by three different people in three different parts – a proper whodunit where none of the criminals know who did the other crimes. I was also passionate about lower-rung cops too – people who made it the hard way. After so many years of writing crime stories, you do tend to collect some stories.

And then, in the same trip, I had a conversation with a taxi driver, who, very casually, told me that they believed that you shouldn't go into certain mountains. When asked why, he said that there are some entities who stay there and they don't want you to come there. His logic was, atleast that way, people don't cut trees in certain forests. It's a matter of faith and folklore. These stories aligned in that trip, making me think of attempting to put these experiences together organically. It wasn't easy but I tried to keep it real, imagining how Kasturi would deal with these situations while writing the script.

The show has a lot of characters and storylines, so it would have been easy for them to get lost or for it all to have been a mish mash. How do you ensure that the characters don't get lost and there's a seamless transition? Is it an OTT advantage or can it applied to films as well?

No, I believe this is a completely new grammar that is evolving in the OTT space. We have all done television in a daily format, which are soap operas, and they have their own grammar. It's the same with cinema too, it has a 2-hour grammar. With weekly shows on television, there's no concept of binge-watching. You have to wait a week for the next episode, so that too follows its own format. In the OTT space, the grammar is evolving. Here, the primary target is to keep the people hooked for binge-watching. The idea is to write a show that people are willing to invest their weekend on. For shows made directly for OTT, there's a larger scope to tell multiple stories in different genres. The fear of it becoming a khichdi is high, but because you get some amount of time to write, pause and reflect on your material, the trick lies in making sure the sub-plots stay connected to the larger plot of the story. The world that we create has to be unifying and unique. It's also a good space to create more real, honest characters, which again helps in keeping the audience connected. It's an exciting time to be in this space. The challenge is to figure out how we can make a compelling emotional drama that can hold an audience's attention.

Do you plan on making one in the future?

Yes, I would love to. We all get our own specialties – crime has been mine. But deep down, I'd like to explore an OTT show that is more reflective of the society. Violence and sex are niche things; people hardly see gangsters or guns in everyday life, which is why they become very thrilling and attractive to them. But can we go beyond that and tell compelling stories where we don't only have to see people swearing and killing? It should go beyond shock-value; the aim should be to surprise rather than shock.

You mentioned that you wanted to create a series that would be reflective of the society today. Even in Aranyak, there were impactful moments with an element of social commentary involved – be it in the scene when Kasturi fights back when her husband tries to force himself on her or the conversation Angad (Chatterjee) has on consent and rape. Do you think in the current environment, it's important for screenwriters to be socially aware and somewhere convey it through their writing?

Even if we have certain political ideologies or societal views, as writers, we can't force it down the throat of our characters. That would give them a false ring. However, if it's organically emanating from the world of the character or where they're coming from, then its great. For example, if Kasturi would've had the conversation about consent instead of Angad, it would've looked stupid. But it made sense for Angad to do it because he was coming from the city, he's socially aware and has an understanding of the word and its usage. That's why it came in organically. Also, it depends on the genre. If you're telling a realistic story, then while contextualizing the realities of the world around you, your views are bound to creep into your storytelling in some way or the other.

Aranyak drew a lot of praise for the intricate detailing of the procedures that are followed by the police and its depiction. Did your experience of writing for Crime Patrol for so long help in the detailing and getting it spot on?

Definitely. There's no doubt about it. I didn't have to do a lot of research on those aspects because these are standard police procedures. The only thing you have to keep in mind is to execute the storyline sincerely, which the cast and crew did really well. Even in Crime Patrol, the team used to work with a lot of passion and there used to be a certain rigor in the portrayal. You can't always gloss over stuff. Here, in the OTT space, the fun thing is that while a minute, so-called 'not-so-interesting' detailing is taking place, you can pad it up with an interesting scene that is happening around it. So, that gives you the best of both. The attempt of my writing process is to combine the procedural details with emotions.

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