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“Writers are getting credit but that comes with responsibility”

Writer Juhi Chaturvedi talks to Titas Chowdhury on being a juror at Cinestaan India’s Storytellers Script Contest, writing for October and Shonali Bose’s next

How did Cinestaan come up with the Storytellers Script Contest and how did you become a part of the jury?

Rohit Khattar along with Mr (Anand) Mahindra conceived this idea at some point. They sat and had a discussion with Anjum Rajabali, who is clearly working towards ensuring good writing and storytellers to come up the ladder. They were trying to figure out how to find good content. But where is the good content going to come from? That is when they thought about the contest. It is a great collaboration between them. Thereafter, Anjum sir told me about this idea. And I thought that we really needed to take content very seriously.

There is a second edition coming up too.

Yes, right. I will be a juror for the second edition too.

Why do you think platforms like this are important?

First, it’s a very watertight process. I was a part of the contest throughout and I realized that till the last day of the contest, which was the awards ceremony where the winners were announced, we did not know the names of the writers. We only had their IDs. When you are hunting for good content, you have to maintain certain ethics. Often, writers do not write because they assume things have already been decided. Somebody knows someone who must know someone.

Things are easier for people living in Andheri, Bandra, Juhu or Borivali. But what about the rest of the country? What about the guy sitting in Benaras? What about the guy in Himachal Pradesh or Kerala? What about a guy living in a small town? How do you get everybody’s participation? Where else will you get the stories from? This is a platform to help them and give them confidence.

The five people who emerged victorious in the first edition are amazing. We had 3,000-odd entries. That is a lot! Finally, after the entire process, which included reading, selection and elimination, we got five amazing stories. Aamir Khan and Raju (Rajkumar) Hirani gave so much of their time. This is a privilege that is not available to someone sitting in Kerala. These are esteemed, thinking people in our country, and to get your work read and corrected by them, discussed by them, having one-on-one conversations with them, is good for any writer’s growth.

The benefit of this platform is: the writers got to showcase their craft and the industry got some good stories. They all need to work and maybe rework their drafts, but the basic crux of the stories that they proposed were heard. In a year, if five different stories come out and people invest their money in them, then that’s great.

With October, Raazi, Stree, AndhaDhun and Badhaai Ho earning accolades this year and their writers getting widely credited, do you think that the golden period for writers has arrived?

It is both, a good time and a bad time. It is a good time if you are doing all the hard work and are ready to take the onus of the work. And it is a bad time because you are under the scanner. You cannot say that nobody will pay attention to what you write and get away with it. That’s not really the practice anymore because people are paying a lot of attention to us writers, which is why it is also a good time. You have to ultimately stick out your neck. It is a good time because you are being allowed to shoulder the onus. The fact that you are being given responsibility now more than ever before is amazing.  

Your last release October, was high on emotion. It had old-world charm and traced an unspoken, innocent love story between two people. How did you make sure it resonated with the younger audience?

I feel like this kind of innocence and profound emotion is experienced mostly by younger people. As we grow older, we tend to become cynical about these things. If Dan was older, he would have thought twice about going to the hospital. He must have thought, ‘You know what? Let it be!’ The older lot is more careful, very precise and calculating.

While writing, did I think about all this? No, I did not. It was not about whether the story of the film would resonate with people because not everybody has gone to an ICU and had somebody in the family in a coma. The thought of the film is that when a situation like this arrives in your life, do we rise to the occasion or not? Do we give ourselves selflessly to that situation and surrender ourselves willingly without any expectation? That, I think, resonated.

Young people are extremely driven. They have a fire in them to do something, to make a change and be part of the change. This film needed to show that. The kind of drive that Dan has is extremely selfless, emotional and innocent. He just wants to be there and ensure that Shiuli‘s daily routine goes on like any other girls’ normal day. For him, Shiuli is not an unconscious person lying there in a coma. It’s that thought which perhaps everybody has in them to rise to the occasion. That is why, maybe, they could relate to the film.

You have written the dialogues for Sonali Bose’s next film. How different is it when you are translating a book based on real life, to celluloid?

Writing something that stems from inside you, when it is your idea and your characters, is very different from working on someone else’s vision. There is a thin line between them. You have to be always conscious of what you, as a writer, have set out to do. The film is based on a true story and she wrote it according to the vision in her mind. You are always aware that you should not cross that line. You should never tamper with the vision of the person who owns the work, whether it is the director or the writer.

It is a careful, measured, structured work versus your own work, where you try and go all ballistic, write, delete, agree with it or disagree with it. In this case, you start on an agreement and try to achieve that. It is a bit of a task when you rework something written by someone else. At the same time, it becomes slightly easy because they have thought everything through and they know why they are doing what. You just have to go ahead with their vision. 

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