Notes From A Screenwriter's Diary - The Show Must Go On!

By Jyoti Kapoor. Posted on February 08, 2016

Several years ago, as I waited in the office of one of the biggest Bollywood Producer-Director, I noticed something very interesting. The office, which was  the part of a plush residence, was done up very tastefully. Between the wall- to- wall bookshelves that contained the must- have classics, the books/DVDs of the films of the said Producer, were scribbled, some very insightful inscriptions.

Buried between the profound quotes by Hitchcock, Bergman, Tarkovsky and the  likes, was something very mundane that caught my attention. “Family comes first, Films come later!,” the quotes said and since it wasn’t credited to any of the masters, I assumed it was more like a ‘note to self’ by the filmmaker.

After almost a decade of having done the rounds of a majority of these good, bad and ugly Bolly offices, mostly situated between Oshiwara and Bandra (Godard forbid if you have to go all the way to South Mumbai), I had a chance to visit his office again. This time though, I realized that what I had dismissed as a self- indulgent note, back then, was something very profound, very meaningful, the biggest mantra of surviving in this industry or any for that matter; something that we need to keep reminding ourselves, over and over again. “Family comes first, Films come later!,”

adaptation stiil

Still from the movie Adaptation (2002) where Nicolas Cage plays the role of  a struggling screenwriter.

And that’s not a skeptic speaking, that’s me trying to be realistic. That’s the gist of a very limited and mostly gratifying experience of a decade spent in the big, bad and recently corporatized gullies of Bollywood; the kind of existential stuff that hits you when you have already wasted a lot of time ping-ponging between ‘projects’ and put all your eggs in one basket (literally) .

I think what most of us are chasing here is a dream, a dream that keeps shifting away. Just when you think you are very close to achieving it. It’s something like chasing a mirage. Before you know, you have been living under the same pin code for ten long years, without really achieving anything worthwhile. Of course it’s all relative and subjective. You have kind of managed to become a cog in the big Bolly wheel, managed to move from a Studio apartment to a One BHK, then to a Two BHK; perhaps bought a house as well (assuming you’re a burnt out TV writer), but the struggle is more or less the same.

There is always a huge gap between what you thought you’d achieve and where you land up eventually when it comes to the filmy dreams. Well, more often than not! What’s interesting is, that, no matter how far others think you have reached, you are caught in the same rigmarole, flitting between projects, living your life between feedbacks, getting lost in the Studio maze, waiting for the right director, for the right star, for the right funder, for the right planet to be discovered.

And while you are perpetually waiting it out, life slips by. You don’t visit your family so often, you don’t take the holidays you imagined you could take because you know, you’re a freelance writer and all; because every time you pack your bags, the goddamned phone rings. The bound script that was rotting in some sarkari studio has been moved a level above, thanks to the new boss, who thinks, this is his next big project.

And just like that, you are back in business! Your hopes soar higher than ever. This is it, you think. This is your biggest Bollywood break! You imagine your solo Credit rolling down the screen in slow-mo, practice the speeches you will make at those crappy award ceremonies (which will eventually be edited out during the telecast), calculate the exponential increase in the number of times you will get laid because of your newly acquired fame.

You burn the midnight wifi as you vehemently abuse your laptop keys, postpone that surprise proposal you’ve been planning all this while, and thereby the wedding, and as a result your unborn kids, your honeymoons, your yoga retreats. You ignore your crooked backs, your pending root canals, your school reunions, your parents’ anniversaries, your ascending and descending libidos, your greying, diminishing hair; and while you are in the 'Film hi Ishwar hai' mode, the pesky Studio boss switches jobs, after having crapped all over your script, the Star who'd said yes to your 'oh so zany’ script suddenly develops amnesia, the genre that was hot until a month ago is passé and the directors' spouse doesn’t like your face any more. Basically Murphy’s Law fucks you all over again. Back to square one!! Finito! Finished!!!


You mourn, you binge watch shows that you had sacrificed while the entire world was having orgasms on Game of Thrones (and other kickass stuff), you vegetate, you SOS friends and family, you finally join the Gym/Yoga, you find a sasta and tikaau shrink and by the time you plan your next holiday, well, the phone rings again.

Okay, let’s take a pause here and breathe! This is the time to prioritize before you fall back into the rut! Put things in perspective. If you are wise, you’ll ask them and their baaps to wait. You’ll disconnect your slow as hell internet, put the dreaded cellphone in a blender (unless it’s the latest model of I-phone), give your bai her much needed holiday, pack your bags and go, go, go!!

The moral of the story being, life will not wait until your film gets made. Your knees won’t remain as agile, your jawani will not pause, your friends will move on and your loved ones won’t live forever!

So let life happen to you as you continue to work towards your filmy dreams. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Take some time off every once in a while, try to live a little, go talk to the mountains, swim with the dolphins, go make love, go make babies, go propose to your girlfriend/boyfriend, buy gifts for your siblings, go celebrate your parents’ 38th wedding anniversary since you were too busy during their 25th, and waiting for Godot during their 30th and you don’t want to risk waiting till the 50th, realistically speaking.

And after you are well healed, well rested, totally pampered with maa ke haathon ka gajar ka halwa and flooded with some new story ideas, come back and (before you open your laptop), make yourself a nice cuppa, put on your favorite song and repaint your house. And when you do that, write a note to self. “Life comes first, Films come later”! And Repeat!!

Jyoti Kapoor is a Mumbai based screenwriter and former journalist. She worked as a correspondent with publications like The Indian Express and Mid-Day before she crossed over to fiction. She also taught screenwriting at Whistling Woods International, a film school based in Mumbai, before starting out as a full time writer. An alumnus of Film and Television Institute of India, Jyoti has co-written scripts for films like 'Kaccha Limboo' and 'Dawat-e-Ishq' and TV shows like 'Left Right Left' and 'Jhoome Jiya Re'. When she is not staring at the blank page, she indulges in food.


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