Tales of reel & reality

scriptwriter

Tales of reel & reality

After a series of women-centric serials, author and scriptwriter Gajra Kottary is making a conscious effort to move out of that mould.

“And I am quite enjoying doing it too,” says the 51-year-old creator of soaps like Astitva...Ek Prem Kahani and Balika Vadhu, whose current shows — Khwaabon Ki Zamin Par (KKZP) and TV Ke Uss Paar — are enjoying a successful run on the small screen.

Having made an entry into the telly terrain more than 18 years ago, Kottary remembers meeting Mahesh Bhatt with her collection of short stories. “Having taken a break from active journalism, post motherhood, I decided to try my hand at creative writing,” she explains. That meeting with Bhatt proved providential — Kottary was roped in to write the content for shows that his wife, Soni Razdan, was looking to produce. That was the time when the weekly shows were still around, and Kottary got the opportunity to pen Hamare Tumhare and Panaah, among others, for the small screen.

And when the trend of the dailies started, “it was a mad rush,” she laughs. “Despite the initial success and enthusiasm, many realised that it was neither enjoyable nor healthy, just profitable for everyone,” she states matter-of-factly.

Of course, a few years down the line, the mother of all serials, Balika Vadhu, happened. Focussing on the persisting social evil of child marriage, it went on to become a cult with its 2,175 episodes, “having started in the year 2008 and continuing till April this year,” informs Kottary. “Despite it being so close to my heart, I would say that with all such shows, fatigue does set in.”

And when Zindagi channel, which became such a rage with its Pakistani serials, decided to introduce Indian content too, Kottary went across with her ideas. And was immediately on board. “What is so refreshing about the brief here is that these shows are finite. So, you have a story with a beginning, middle and end,” she smiles.

KKZP is about a small-city guy who has dreams of making it big in showbiz. “Having been privy to the dreams and aspirations of youngsters who just pack their bags and come to Mumbai, I wanted to make a serial that was dedicated to them — their hopes and happiness, their disappointments and desperation when things go wrong, their angst at leaving happy relationships behind, their changing equations with their fellow ‘dreamers’, and the way the city they’ve made their new home changes them... I was clear that the serial had to be realistic and fortunately, got the green signal for it,” says the scriptwriter.

Her second show, TKUP, saw Kottary in a new avtaar — of a creative producer. “It was fun putting our heads together to produce a spoof on the saas-bahus, the daayans and naagins through this elderly lady who is representative of millions of those obsessed with soaps,” laughs Kottary who counts herself lucky to have never been associated with serials that can be counted as regressive. “The effort with TKUP is to hold a mirror up for those who get so involved with the telly fare of make-believe that they think of it as real — through ‘dramedy’ (a combo of drama and comedy),” she explains.

Ask her if the banning of Pakistani serials has proved to be a blessing in disguise for our serial makers and she says, “Although there is no dearth of talent and good ideas here in India, there ’s a lot one can learn from Pakistani serials too — like the necessity of a focused script and the realistic portrayal of characters. And the fact that grand, ostentatious sets and elaborate costumes do not always court success,” says Kottary.

What also stands her in good stead is her training as a journalist. “For a journalist, facts are sacrosanct. Whereas for a TV scriptwriter, it’s the imagination that reigns supreme. It needs to fly high and then has to be reined in and placed in a certain grammar. You take direction from facts to add some bit of logic to your story.”

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