I’ve been following you on Instagram. The past few months have been really hectic and exciting for you. You’ve been from one film set to another.
It’s been hectic. But what you’re seeing is the result of a lot of work and actually this part – going on the set and travelling – is not interesting. It’s the last 2 years where everything was being developed. As a writer that was important and exciting, when you didn’t see me on the move. I’m enjoying this phase too. I love being on the set. It also depends on my equation with the director. I’m very collaborative and I do own the stories that I write enough to say that if the director wants me, I am going to be available.
You have three back to back releases – Manmarziyaan, Kedarnath and Mental Hai Kya. Did they green lit in succession?
In an ideal world maybe! But not in the real world. Manmarziyaan has been in the making for a while. I write my stories entirely and then I go out to see if I can find someone to make it. It so happened that it came together at the same time but it’s not like I wrote everything at the same time.
You’ve had an interesting journey to Manmarziyaan. You started with Ra.One and authored three books. What lead you to screenwriting?
I was one of the many writers on Ra.One. Manmarziyaan would technically be my first film as a writer. Ra.one was my home. Red Chillies is where I started and learnt everything. I was an intern and then I went on to becoming an assistant director and I learnt everything I could about filmmaking. Then I reached this level where I could be in the same room where writers are talking and discussing. So it was a huge learning process and then in the interim I wrote three books.
It was during Dance of Durga that I had a lot of personal issues – I lost my father and I was dealing with anxiety and mental health issues. Then I came across this line – writing is nothing but converting the worse moments in your life into money. I didn’t want a lonely process anymore. I was advised to not get into the zone. So that’s when I moved into screenwriting, because filmmaking is more about team work.
Anurag Kashyap is a writer himself and has a very strong voice. His actors often talk about how they never know what scene he’s about to shoot till the last minute. What was your experience in working with him?
I’ve had the best time ever. He’s someone I really looked up to. In fact, while I was writing Manmarziyaan, before anyone else came on board and the script existed in the world outside, I would tell my sister that you know if Anurag Kashyap directs this, it would be great. He’ll really get these characters. And then I’d only say – he’s a writer himself so it will never happen. It’s difficult for a director-writer to enter this world that’s already set.
The reason why I was there 24/7 on the set and the reason Anurag wanted me there was that when we are discussing the scene and we want to highlight something, I’m right there. Also it’s not fair to say ‘aap dekh lo. mera kaam toh ho gaya’. Manmarziyaan is a character driven film and I feel the best director would be one who could get actors to access these characters – not play them but to become them. I saw Anurag directing actors in a way where he gets their actual personality out of the way and they become the person, which is one of the most difficult things.
Does this spoil you in a way? It’s not very often that writers find collaborative teams.
Yes! I keep telling him that now I’m going to look for this kind of team work and camaraderie in all my directors and it is very hard to find. This was very special. A lot of people asked me about Anurag being a writer himself – but he is such a generous and secure person. There is one Anurag that people think he is and one that he really is. There’s a wide gap between those two people.
Also he’s so amazing at nurturing talent. There are very few people who like to encourage talent and not hog the limelight. and that tells you about a person’s character. In fact, the biggest thing I’ve learnt from Anurag is to make people grow with you, don’t pull them down, step on them, and go ahead.
Recently, Karan Johar put his writers at the forefront of the Takht announcement poster and the writing community was very grateful for the gesture. Even for you, Anurag has always acknowledged that Manmarziyaan is your story. Are you encouraged by this?
But why should we feel gratitude? Shouldn’t it be this way? When it comes to Anurag, it’s not like he’s done it just for me. He’s done it consistently. I’m appreciating it not because he’s doing it but because in this industry when no one does it and should be doing it, he does it. I’m not saying I feel gratitude.
Another person is Aanand L Rai who also believes in writers and story telling. He knows that this medium is about content creation so the creators can’t be shoved under the carpet, or else you’ll only have set ups. It is your need also to nurture them, so what is there to thank? Your name should be there on the poster. But I’m glad that Karan Johar is leading this trend – you are at least moving in the correct direction.
On Manmarziyaan I’m the creative producer. Both Anurag and Aanand sir have told me that not only will we acknowledge you but also give you ownership of it – it’s as much yours as it is ours. That is more important to me than being on the poster. That is a trend worth following.