Bandana, Sharad and Bhavesh at a Mumbai restaurant with their friends. They started their journey at Balaji Telefilms as writers and moved on to work independently.
Bandana, Sharad and Bhavesh at a Mumbai restaurant with their friends. They started their journey at Balaji Telefilms as writers and moved on to work independently.

Entertainment: Pulp fiction in real life

Three showbiz writers narrate their own tales of personal triumph that could well be movie scripts some day
By Dinesh Raheja
PUBLISHED ON MAY 09, 2021 08:11 AM IST

Penning pulp fiction can cause gasp-inducing twists and turns in the lives of the writers too. These are believe-it-or-not success stories of three writers who embarked on their career as interns on pulp fiction TV. What makes their individual stories  material for a potential sequel to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction?

In Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, three disparate stories, each of which appears to have an independent plot, are intractably intertwined. Similarly, the individual real-life plots of showbiz writers Sharad Tripathi, Bandana Tiwari and Bhavesh Mandalia have a bearing on each other and are part of a bigger mosaic. These three forayed from small towns in different corners of the country into the world of entertainment in 2005 with Balaji Telefilms, working as assistant writers on the same show, Kasamh Se. This was the same show for which I too was a writer.

I knew the three newbies then as wide-eyed eager beavers sharing their dreams while awaiting their turn at the coffee machine during scriptwriting breaks. I see it as a triumph of the human spirit that all three have fought against the odds and achieved their ambitions today. And they still hold fond memories of each other.

Twists and turns abound in real life. Truth is as strange as pulp fiction.

Sharad Tripathi, 34

The boy with the ‘milkman’ bicycle now owns a Jaguar

Sharad, who’d go to school on his dad’s cycle, now owns a Jaguar
Sharad, who’d go to school on his dad’s cycle, now owns a Jaguar

“My trajectory is very filmy,” Sharad laughs. He harks back to the time when he and his brother would cycle enviously past the shiny new bungalows of Kanpur on their way home to their lower middle class one-room apartment.

“There was a kitchen in one corner, a pooja corner and one bed. The rest of the floor space was for all of us to sleep on,” he remembers. A particularly bitter pill that Sharad had to swallow was that even this one room was rented.

Parinde bhi nahin rahte paraye aashiyano mein, hamari umar guzari hain kiraaye ke kamron mein (Even birds roost in a nest of their own, but we live in rented abodes),” Sharad says.

But his family had always dreamt of being upwardly mobile, even though finances had been eroded by the marriages of Sharad’s three sisters. Sharad’s bauji (father) enrolled him in an English medium school where his fellow students arrived and left in swanky cars and sniggered when he rode in on a “doodhwale ki cycle (milkman’s cycle).”

At 19, Sharad moved to Mumbai when a talent contest fetched him a job as an in-house writer for Balaji Telefilms at a salary of “ 6,000 minus TDS”.

After taking dictation from senior writers and secretly making notes about how they wrote, Sharad was overjoyed when he was appointed as the dialogue writer for the popular show Kasautii Zindagi Kay and began earning 50,000 a month!

Four years later, Sharad ventured out of the Balaji cocoon to become an independent freelance writer – and his fortunes skyrocketed. He says with pride, “Soon, people were asking me how many shows I was doing – not which show I was doing.”

The gruelling work paid off. By 2015, Sharad had as many houses as shows on air. Well, almost. He had a residence in Mumbai, one in Delhi and a house in Prayagraj for his parents. By 2016, the man who had only been to Kanpur and Mumbai was heading off to places like the Maldives, Mauritius, Indonesia, Bali and Dubai. And instead of a milkman’s cycle, he had a Jaguar XJL.

“Twice, I made travel plans for the US, but my visa was rejected,” he says and adds: “But, I am going to try again.” 

Bandana Tiwari, 38

She had to study clandestinely. Now she has five houses to her name.

Bandana’s love for spinning tales has made her an accomplished showbiz writer. Seen here in Johannesburg, South Africa
Bandana’s love for spinning tales has made her an accomplished showbiz writer. Seen here in Johannesburg, South Africa

“My parents encouraged me to study clandestinely because had my grandfather or uncles learnt about it, they would have created a big problem,” reveals Bandana Tiwari about her traditional upbringing in a Bihari family in Kolkata.

Bandana’s family didn’t lack money, but higher studies and career ambitions were simply not encouraged among women. Money that could have been invested in her education was saved for her dowry instead.

In this constricting ambience, Bandana began jotting down what she felt as a girl child in a male-dominated environment. She was motivated when her writings found their way to the local Hindi newspapers. Her mother sold her jewellery to pay Bandana’s and her sisters’ fees at a reputed English medium school.

“I couldn’t even write a complete sentence in English earlier,” says Bandana as she recalls the arc of her career.

A financial crisis proved to be a blessing in disguise. Bandana began shouldering the running of her house by coaching younger students and doing part-time writing jobs. She aspired to be a crime journalist then and was doing a masters’ degree in journalism when she landed the opportunity to flesh out a script. The story she turned in could “run on air for one year in the television industry!”

This led to a job at Balaji. When a senior asked her, how she had pulled off the coup, she simply replied, “Whether it’s fiction or real life, I love to tell stories.”

Her love for spinning tales saw Bandana’s career burgeon. She attributes her early accomplishments to Ekta Kapoor, but she continued to prosper when she found her wings and left Balaji in 2010. Her fee per episode escalated from 2,000 to 40,000.

Today Bandana owns a residential house with a terrace in Mumbai, a three-bedroom weekend getaway in Pune and three more rental properties spread around the two cities. She adds, “This pleases me as much as writing one of the biggest shows, Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai and meeting the challenge to keep it interesting.” 

Bhavesh Mandalia, 38

The IT engineer wanted to write and won a National Award

Bhavesh says he enjoys writing for films and plays, more than television
Bhavesh says he enjoys writing for films and plays, more than television

“I have a good sense of humour, which comes from my father. He is a civil engineer and can crack you up,” says Bhavesh Mandalia, the writer of the 2012 laugh riot, OMG: Oh My God!

There is little else about his roots, however, which could have indicated that he would end up in showbiz. “I was raised in a middle-class family in Vadodara. After graduating as a computer engineer, I came to Mumbai to work at a software firm. But a nine-to-five job wasn’t for me. I wanted to be a part of the arts, but till my twenties, I had never written anything creative in my life.”

Then happenstance drastically altered the course of Bhavesh’s life. “I lived in Lokhandwala with some struggling actors and that’s how I met writer Aatish Kapadia, who I helped with an episode of Sarabhai vs. Sarabhai,” he says.

This led to a job offer from Balaji at 20,000 per month.

“The work culture there required me to work on multiple shows with many other writers. It was team effort. Soon, I decided to quit. Had I stuck with TV, I would have had a lot of money, but I wouldn’t have been happy. You have more creative freedom in movies and plays,” he says.

Bhavesh immersed himself in learning the craft of writing. He read books, met a lot of people and tried his hand at Gujarati plays.

“My first play was dramatised in 2006. I wrote five or six plays, one of which, Kanji Virudh Kanji, was a huge hit. Paresh Rawal wanted to make it in Hindi so I wrote it in Hindi. Then Akshay (Kumar) came to see the play and they decided to make it into a film called OMG: Oh My God!. I won the National Award for the best adapted screenplay.”

After that, the writer resourcefully decided to start a production company called Bombay Fables with director Sejal Shah and writer Gaurav Shukla, and was offered the chance to write the Irrfan Khan starrer, Angrezi Medium (2020).

“Subsequently, we made our first film, Serious Men (2020), which was headlined by Nawazuddin Siddiqui and was well received,” he says.

Now Bhavesh has his hands full. He is penning an ambitious film based on the life of public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam, besides writing and producing shows for Voot and Netflix.

Material benefits have accrued over time.  Bhavesh has a house in Mumbai, drives a BMW and writes in 5-star hotel rooms to facilitate the right atmosphere. But he insists, “Money is a by-product. I get an immense high from creative freedom.”

Dinesh Raheja is a reputed film historian, columnist and TV scriptwriter who has been writing on cinema for over three decades

From HT Brunch, May 9, 2021

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