The new normal

The new normal

Bollywood buzz

The new normal

I am not normal aur mera shit bhi normal nai hai!’ I thought I should write one of Juhi Chaturvedi’s epic lines from Shoojit Sircar’s Piku, and see how it reads from the computer screen.

It’s super crazy, to put it mildly, and has me chuckling to myself. It’s also something that has fetched her two National Awards — for Best Dialogues and Best Screenplay this year. In fact, the movie prompted Sanjay Leela Bhansali to mock-criticise her and Shoojit. “Sanjay sir actually loves us for Piku,” laughs off Juhi, as we manage to carry out an interview amid mounds of work.

She’s already done with the accolades for Piku and has unmistakably immersed herself into writing. “Cinema is a sensorial experience,” she says. “It’s like a fragrance; maybe you like it, maybe you don’t. And there is no written rule for what exactly can affect people, disturb them or excite them. Every time I begin to write, it’s always from point zero. None of my past writings help me. No award helps me. All I am aware of is that if I have to write, I must get rid of my prejudices, my layers, even my identity, and just dive into the story like a naked person in the river. No amount of cleverness works. I am thankful to everyone who has noticed my writing. It’s their appreciation that gives me the confidence to write more.”

Juhi hit Bollywood on its head with her unusual choice of subjects — sperm donation and constipation — and then made it fall hook, line and sinker in love with her. Both Vicky Donor and Piku were not just commercial hits but also stories that moved audiences. She says that her director, Shoojit on both occasions, needed no convincing about Vicky Donor, even though it was her first script.

Or so she assumes! “I really didn’t think how anyone would react. Shoojit, I guess, just trusted his past advertising experience with me, my thinking capacity and his own instinct before he agreed to the sperm donor idea. It was obviously a risk that I took when I shared that idea with him because a subject like that could make anyone cringe, but I was sure that if he liked it, I would give it everything in my capacity to not let him down. He was taking a bigger risk. Once Vicky Donor happened, it wasn’t that difficult for him to trust me. Maybe he did have sleepless nights. Maybe I just assume that he knows my mind.”

From the world of adfilmwallahs to Bollywood, is it the chaos that fuels her writing. “Thing is that I am fighting my own chaos, most of my time goes in trying to survive that. The advertising and film industry have immense talent and that makes things a bit eccentric. So yes, creativity and chaos are two sides of the same mountain. Shoojit has helped me recognise which side is creativity and which side is chaos,” she says.

Juhi has written for newbie Ayushmann Khurana as well as for veteran Amitabh Bachchan and the actress currently reigning Bollywood — Deepika Padukone. But she says that knowing the actor would have made no difference to her writing nor added pressure on her to write to succeed. “I didn’t know which actor I was writing for when I wrote Vicky Donor. It was just Vicky and Ashima for me. Same was the case in Piku, though Shoojit and I did think during the discussions that what if we could have Mr Bachchan playing Bhaskor.”

While she confesses that this thought did motivate her to a great extent, her focus always remained the story and the character. “Big, known actors certainly bring in better production budgets and there is an audience waiting in anticipation, but it may sometimes happen that the work done by the actors in the past might limit the writing and one may not explore out-of-the-box, uncomfortable roles for the actor. If done thoughtfully, you can write a character what he or she has never done before and his craft can push you to write better.”

The big leap into Bollywood has liberated the writer in her even though it is an unknown path. “Bollywood has traditionally been more about actors, about directors, whereas in advertising, if an ad does well, the writer gets the credit completely because the responsibility lies completely on his shoulder. If it bombs, then too. So to leave a place that gives you this kind of importance is not easy.” Another factor is the comfort of a salaried job versus contract-based earnings from projects that may or may not take off. “Yes. It’s too much of a risk. I also waited for a long time before I took the plunge.”

While her new project is under wraps, Juhi says that her writing will find its takers. “If they find me worthy of their projects, I am sure they will call me. Now who are these ‘they’, even I don’t know right now. Actually, it will be interesting for me also to know if I am on any good director’s wish list — desi-videsi,” she signs off, leaving behind a hint of mystery.