Making head of tales

Neeraj Udhwani talks about his first break in Bollywood and why he doesn’t regret dropping out of college

A script in Bollywood always comes after the director’s whims and the actor’s ambition. In the thriving film industry, which churns out more than 100 films a year, the script gets a step-motherly treatment and only the stars matter. Unless you are a high-flying writer, breaking through in Bollywood is a tedious process. For an industry where connections matter more than talent, script writers are the ignored lot.
“It is difficult for a new writer to get a break because the industry is closed knit. You can only reach somewhere if you know someone,” says Neeraj Udhwani, writer of ‘Mere Dad Ki Maruti’. This is his first solo film as a writer. Earlier, he had co-written ‘Dil Toh Bachcha Hai Ji’ with Madhur Bhandarkar and assisted Anurag Kashyap and Sudhir Mishra. In a free-wheeling chat, Neeraj talks about his first break in Bollywood and why he doesn’t regret dropping out of college.

Excerpts from the interview:

How did ‘Mere Dad Ki Maruti’ happen?
I met Ashish Patil and pitched two ideas. He instantly liked one of them and asked me to come up with the first draft and within a month, I showed him the draft. He told me that he had received 100 concepts from outside and this is the first one which wasn’t developed in-house. It was a bit of luck and opportunity. MDM took one year with various rewrites and drafts. I stated writing in March 2011 and closed in April 2012.

How did you get your first break?
Actually, I was always interested in films and wish to make one in the future. I always felt that college was huge waste of time because I wasn’t learning the craft of film making. I wanted to be on the sets and get first-hand experience and by fluke, I met Anurag Kashyap. At that time, Anurag wasn’t the established director that he is today and none of his films had released then. So he took me on-board to work on a film that he was directing called Alvin Kallicharan with Anil Kapoor. I became the junior most assistant on that film and worked with him for two months. For that, I had to drop out of college in the second year which upset my parents. I had to make them understand that I wasn’t quitting studies; I was just leaving college. Unfortunately, the film he was directing got shelved. I found myself sitting at home so I took to writing. I showed my first script to Anurag who encouraged me to better myself. He passed me on to Sudhir Mishra and I worked with him for year and half in ‘Kal Yesterday and Tomorrow’. When I had gained sufficient knowledge, I decided to branch out and test the waters. I started writing for television and the first show I wrote was for Shekhar Suman’s Great Indian Comedy.

How did you end up co-writing Dil Toh Bachcha Hai Ji?
While writing for television, I kept assisting on films, till I got a break with Madhur Bhandarkar’s ‘Dil Toh Bachcha Hai Ji’. I narrated him the idea of the film and he really liked it. He was looking to do something different. I co-wrote it with Madhur and within three months, he sounded it off with Ajay Devgn who loved it as well.

But hadn’t you written Dulha Mil Gaya as well?
I was the associate writer for ‘Dulha Mil Gaya’. I had met Vivek Vaswani through Sudhir Mishra who introduced me to Mudassar Aziz. But the film didn’t work out as various things went wrong with the film.

How important is networking in the industry?
It works both ways. It is difficult for a new writer to get a break because the industry is a very closed knit. You can only reach somewhere if you know someone. Networking is very important.

What are your influences while writing a script?
I derive inspiration from what I have been through-in life, in relationships etc. ‘Mere Dad Ki Maruti’ is based on an incident in my personal life whereas ‘Dil Toh Bachcha Hai Ji’ is about the different phases in a man’s life.

So did you also steal your dad’s car?
No, I officially took it from my dad. When I was in my junior college, I took a girl out to play dandiya on Navratri. We had a Maruti 800 and before reaching the venue, we had a few shots of tequila. I parked my car outside the venue and went for the function. By the time it ended, I was so sloshed that I forgot where I had parked the car. I kept looking frantically only to realize that it was parked somewhere else. Though I got my car in two hours, the idea stayed with me.

Which is more difficult- writing for TV or films?
Television script writing is a craft. There are certain things you need to take care of while writing. For example, you need to know when they are going on a break for an ad you need to keep your audience on tender hooks in the last scene before the break so that they come back to watch the rest. Writing for TV is challenging and doesn’t give you time since there is a telecast waiting.

Do producers come to you and ask you to copy another film?
I have had producers who have given me DVDs and said that they want to make a similar script. Though there is nothing wrong in getting inspired from somewhere, if you are not able to tell the story your own way, then there is no fun. Films can go either way. If you have Italian job, then you have Dev D on the other end of the spectrum. That story has been told so many times, it works fantastically. In the 80s, Rajanikanth has made a lot of films that were re-makes of Amitabh Bachchan’s films. Boney Kapoor also made south Indian remakes.

Once I was given a DVD of a Tamil film by the producer. I saw the film but I wanted to tell it my way as that had a very linear story line and I wanted to tell the whole story through flashbacks. When I pitched the idea to the director, he said people in India don’t understand flashbacks.  May be he is right in his own way but for me, it didn’t work. I told the director that they should find someone else. For me, I will do it if I think there is enough scope for me to re-tell the same story in my own way. I will not be excited to make a scene by scene copy. Then, all you need an assistant and get it transcribed. For me, the exciting bit will be to take the same idea to some other level. I have had experiences when director wasn’t not on same page with me. It is important to have similar sensibilities.

Mere Dad Ki Maruti - Theatrical TrailerIn Cinemas: 2013 Starring: Ram Kapoor, Saqib Saleem, Rhea Chakraborty & Ravi Kishan Director: Ashima Chibber Producer: Aashish Patil Music: Sachin Gupta