People got to know about you after Special Ops. How much has their perception/reaction towards you changed after Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai aka Bandaa?
Things had worked out for me with Special Ops as the audience appreciated that series. When I started writing Bandaa independently, I had a belief that the film will stand out and that the purpose of this film will be served. I knew that it will connect with the audience but didn’t expect to receive so much love and appreciation. I received a lot of messages from people from the industry as well.
Shekhar Kapur, Hansal Mehta, Apurva Asrani, and Nikkhil Advani tweeted about the film. Also, producer Ritesh Sidhwani, Nikkhil Advani, and director Siddharth P. Malhotra messaged me personally. When the industry stalwarts appreciate your work you believe that you’re succeeding in what you’re trying to do.
How much time did you spend with advocate PC Solanki on whose life the character played by Manoj Bajpayee is based?
We had references to cases of sexual abuse of minors. The closest reference we got found was a similar case where we could talk about the POCSO Act. The judgment of that case is available online for anyone to read. So, when Apurv (Singh Karki, director) told me that he wanted to make a film on this story, I first read the judgment which was 700-800 pages. I did as much research as possible on Google. But then we went to Jaipur to meet Mr Solanki and understood the nitty-gritty of the law and functionality of the court and got them verified to make sure that we don’t go wrong with it.
How much did your writing enhance Manoj Bajpayee’s performance?
When an actor is hungry and passionate about their work, they should get such content. Manoj sir was happy with the script we shared with him. We were on the right path. We wrote draft after draft because it was a very sensitive issue. When we narrate something to Manoj sir, he is just himself trying to understand the story.
But when he plays a character, he doesn’t remain himself. He understands the flow of a story and behaves like the character he’s playing. This is a combined effort. Writing gave Manoj sir a base, and he uplifted it with his performance.
We were trying to decide what should be the path of the story because there are multiple characters. We didn’t want to show only negatives about a character. Our focus was to show the power of a few good people. We set the film largely in court so that people know the proceedings of the court and how good the police investigation and judiciaries were, as well as we wanted to educate people about POCSO via entertainment.
Your stories are inspired by true events. Is there a particular reason behind it? Do you not like writing masala movies?
Writing a fictitious story is one thing. But my friend Habib Khan who initially guided me in writing told me, “Stories are stolen from life only.” The more you meet and understand people and life the more you’ll understand stories and characters. I feel that it is important for the audience to know what’s happening around us in reality. Everyone has their own stories. And I think in India, we need to tell stories of underdogs – a commoner who did something extraordinary.
Capsule Gill is also based on a true story.
Yes. It is called The Great Indian Rescue now. I wrote the story and dialogue for it. We were working on it since 2017. We met Akshay Kumar and narrated it to him during Covid. He was figuring out the time to do it and it’s very close to his heart.
Which other films did you write before this?
In my initial days, I started writing with Jami Jaffery and Faraz Haider. I used to meet senior writers including Rumi Jaffery and Anees Bazmee. I wrote additional dialogue for Anees Bazmee’s Pagalpanti. I also wrote the dialogues for War Chhod Na Yaar.
What were the challenges that you faced in your journey from being a software engineer to becoming a screenwriter?
For someone like me who comes from a small town, we don’t know who the writers or directors are. We only know what the hero said and the songs etc. When I grew up, I got to know about editing, cinematography, and other aspects of filmmaking which make a film. A film can fail at any of these stages but I think if the base is good then everyone else gets the opportunity to show their best.
I worked in Information Technology. But I got in touch with people in Mumbai whenever I came here through the people I knew. But never did I hear from them that I will not be able to do it. They told me that my style was different but I’ll become a writer one day. Never for a second in my journey did I feel that I will not be able to do it. All of us have our highs and lows. I never felt that I don’t belong here and I should leave the industry even during my lows.
I had a 7000-8000 euros a month job. So, when you quit that comfortable lifestyle, sometimes you might regret leaving that job. But I never felt like that even for a second. So, I kept writing whether I got work or not. But the biggest contribution has been by my wife! She has always been my strength. She supported my dream and turned it into ours.
So, how many scripts have you written?
There are scripts that never got made into films. Some scripts were signed but didn’t go anywhere after that. I think every script has its journey. I was also rejected from Savdhan India episodes. It’s not about rejection or selection. It’s about whether the thought process and writing style are finding a similar wavelength or not. I have a couple of scripts ready and I will revive them.
Is there an actor you wish to work with? Have you written a script for any particular actor?
I always dreamt of working with Irrfan Khan but it never came true. I had written something with him in mind but it didn’t materialise. We were mulling over whether Irrfan sir would do Special Ops or not but he fell sick and the talks never began with him. I wished to work with Manoj sir which came true. When Apurv told me the story, I told him it would be great if Manoj sir plays the lawyer in this film. And he told me that Manoj sir wants to do it. Ranbir Kapoor is fantastic actor but I am not in any race.
Do screenwriters get paid what they deserve?
It is about how much producers are trusting your work. When you deliver a hit their trust increases. Then you get paid a decent amount. I feel that there should be a basic amount which I think the Screenwriters Association has fixed. A producer spends on every word written by a writer so the writer should get paid at least a basic amount. Because there is huge competition, some writers decrease their prices. It’s a journey and I think it is the same scenario for writers in other industries too.
How did Manoj Bajpayee react to you?
I met Manoj sir for the first time when we went to narrate the film. He was very concerned about how this film was getting shaped. He would often tell Apurv, “Kuchh achha suna dena. Mujhe achhi kahani karni hai. This story has the potential and we can make wonders with it.” After listening to the first draft, he was so happy that he got this script. He has set the bar very high. I don’t know whether I’ll have a similar experience with other actors or not.
You said that you want to make a difference. What kind of difference do you want to make?
People forget their everyday troubles and come to watch our films which is a medium of entertainment for them. There are comedies that you watch, enjoy, and go back home. Then there’s Rajkumar Hirani’s cinema. It makes you laugh and cry and also gives your something to think about. I like both kind of cinema. There should be entertainment but there should be something layered in the background.
Is writing a series much more taxing than writing a film?
Writing a series for OTT requires you to spend more time with the characters. Every episode’s end is an interval. Writing a series is triple the amount of labour than writing a film. I won’t call it taxing but time consuming.
Do you split your time between India and Denmark?
Yes. Once the primary stage meetings and discussions are done in India, I move back to Denmark for writing scripts. Sometimes, I write here also.