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Gaurav Solanki co-wrote Ayushmann Khurrana‘s latest film Article 15 with its director Anubhav Sinha. Article 15 is an unsparing thriller, which shows us the brutality of the caste system in India. The film has been a critical and commercial success, earning more than Rs50 crore at the box office.
My heart wasn’t in engineering, even from the beginning. I thought I’d give the entrance test and come to Mumbai on that pretext. I was more active in my college’s literary magazine. Eventually, I became the chief editor. I tried to join the drama society but they wouldn’t have me.
After that, I applied to the Film and Television Institute of India. I gave my entrance exam for the direction course, got selected and then thought that I couldn’t study for four or five more years. Also, I would’ve been dependent on my family for those years. So I took up an engineering job at a networking company in Gurgaon. I thought I’d work for 2-3 years and then return to Mumbai. The first six months felt like six years.
I tried to watch two films a day and write about them. I started watching (Akira) Kurosawa, (Pedro) Almodovar, Wong Kar Wai, (François) Truffaut. I was putting myself through this film school. After six months, I couldn’t do it anymore.
HIS FIRST WRITING JOBS
I started writing for Tehelka Hindi magazine. I became their film critic at 22. For the next four years, I reviewed movies, wrote about culture. I started writing short stories, published a poetry collection. I was a full-time writer, I never looked back. I thought that if it didn’t work out, I’d at least be able to coach children. But after two years, I gave up that backup plan as well.
I met Anurag Kashyap at the Delhi premiere of Udaan, we spoke and I shared my work with him. He said, ‘Do you want to come to Mumbai?’ I said, ‘Yes, please give me some work.’ He said I should come and meet him and we’d figure something out. He was making Gangs of Wasseypur then. He bought the rights of one of my stories, which didn’t get made. He asked me to write the lyrics for Ugly’s songs. It wasn’t a tough job, but the film took a lot of time to release.
HOW TO WRITE A MAINSTREAM FILM ABOUT CASTE
We knew how Hindi cinema talks about caste. They don’t mention it by name, there isn’t much detailing. From the beginning, it was clear that we didn’t need to worry as much as those films did. We wrote whatever came into our minds. When I came on board, I told Anubhav, ‘Hollywood makes such good social issue films. They’re engaging and commercial. So why don’t we make ours a thriller?’
There were a lot of Dalit protests, angst and upsurge during that time. Normally, we don’t talk about contemporary incidents in mainstream films. People either make arthouse films or documentaries on them. So we wanted to talk about these incidents, but organically and not in a fragmented way. We wrote draft after draft. After a while, we grew confident that it was coming together.
ADVICE TO YOUNG INDIE FILMMAKERS
Have some backup plan. There’s no one straight path. It’s not like you get a degree and start working. Sometimes, it happens quickly, sometimes it takes time and it’s mostly the latter. During that time, don’t starve yourself, don’t get frustrated. Some people come to Mumbai and say that their family has given them a year or six months (to work things out). I tell them that it’s better for them to have not come at all. Also work on your craft. You need to keep sharpening your weapon right up till the war. You won’t get time when it starts. Find a way to make money till films start paying. A lot of aspiring film writers don’t read. Literature helps with screenwriting.