Experiments with Storytelling: Meet Anuraadha Tewari

Experiments with Storytelling: Meet Anuraadha Tewari

by Vinta Nanda March 26 2018, 7:02 pm Estimated Reading Time: 10 mins, 32 secs

In a freewheeling conversation, Anuraadha Tewari, screenwriter of films like Rahul, Fashion, Jail and Heroine, tells Vinta Nanda about all that has gone on in her life between when she decided to become a filmmaker many years ago, and where she has arrived at this point of time in her life.

Vinta: I interviewed her after watching her gripping experiment The Harvest of Hurt (which she calls a screener for a larger project to be written, co-produced and directed by her soon); in which she explores grief through several piercing lenses and leaves you rivetted with an emotion-filled thought that while grief can be devastating, when if accepted with a fair amount of hope, it can be transformative as well.

I leave you to explore the idea of Karma from Anuraadha Tewari and to understand its several manifestations which she says, can drive you to the depths of self-expression, often making you more compassionate than you were before and at other times separating you from your craft to learn something new, which in her case was psychotherapy.

This is one of those interviews you will want to read many times over. 

Q. Give me some background to the Harvest of Hurt. The genesis of the idea?

A. I’m a huge fan of the multi-plot genre and inspired by the work of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu who has done it the most gloriously in recent times. Earlier it was Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express that had explored the genre so beautifully. We still havent done it that sucessfully in India, its not a popular genre yet, so I just wanted to push the envleope a bit. I also wanted to explore the idea of having the same actors in more than one story and not find it confusing. That is / was my challenge as a Director and that’s part of how it all started. This need to do something beyond Bollywood.

Q. What is driving you to explore grief from across its various manifestations?

A. It’s my own belief as part of both the Hindu as well as the Buddhist Philosophies (both similar at core) that we are responsible for our own suffering and if those are the seeds we sow, the harvest will be Hurt. I also find it very pertinent in the New World where everything is in conflict, there is grief all around us and that we must be empowered and equipped in some way to understand that suffering is really a choice or a set of choices we have made and that one single choice or action can change the Life Story.

Q. Some thoughts on why you felt like experimenting with an idea in the form of a 24-minute screener before you decide to expand on it further and before you take it to another medium?

A. This is an accepted format worldwide, to be able to pitch your script visually. Where people can see the vision come alive instead of mere words or stills or such like. To be honest, this version is more of a showreel, a bit more experimental. I have another version that is closer to the film’s original script but that would be giving the story away ☺.

Q. Karma? Is there a personal connect there?

A. That’s a great question. Well, technically every single person has Karma as a personal connect, isn’t it? Its simple and complex at once. Our lives are created out of this beautiful network of Karma. As part of the Philosophies mentioned above, I do believe that Karma is not simply ‘action’ or even some divine retribution of some past sins. Karma is Energy in action, like Newtonian Physics. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. What you sow, so shall you reap. That is one part of it.

The other is that Karma is also therefore a pattern, a repetition of sequences that have the same challenges at the core, again and again. Till you can rise above and make that one choice to learn a life lesson and break the pattern. Its therefore seemingly a helpless situation but actually you are the one in control all along. I find that very comforting and empowering.

Q. Share some stuff about your collaboration with the actors, Kirti, Arjan and others? 

A. I was fascinated by Kirti’s perfomance in Pink as well as Shaitan. I was like whoa, what is this girl doing, not being seen enough? I instantly took a script to her and she was on. Except that we havent found a financier for that one yet, ha ha. Its still a bit ‘out there.’

I was still keen on working with her right away and had this mad idea that I wrote literally overnight, had no money to offer, but an adventure that could take us anywhere. And wonder of wonders, she agreed. No prep, no workshop, no dialogue reading, nothing! We were shooting in less than 5 days with lots and lots of support from friends. I guess she just believed in my crazy passion at the moment, trusted me and went along. Saahil Sehgal, who is also Kirti’s real life husband, was the one on next and seemingly even more adventurous and was willing to push the envelope further.

Meanwhile, Arjan Bajwa, a friend of mine since Fashion (the film) had given me a carte blanche to act in whatever I pitched to him. So, he was anyway on and probably grateful that I actually had a good role for him ha ha. I feel he hasn’t been explored enough. Jyoti Sethi happened to be Arjan’s find and what a lovely one! Im hoping she gets more work here. The main support however was Mayukh Ray, an Actor himself and an awesome Producer who put in his resources (and money) to support my vision. That’s what I call loyalty!

Basically, it’s a bunch of us who felt we needed to showcase ourselves better than the straitjackets we have all been fit into and I guess everyone went along to see if this crazy experiment may just bring us closer to the work we actually want to do. For a larger, global audience. Right here from India.

Q. Many of our readers would like to know you better. Where did your journey as a writer and filmmaker begin from?

A. I am a trained Director from MCRC, Jamia with an M.A. in Mass Comm (gold medallist please) and started my career as a Director after being an assistant to Mahesh Bhatt.  As Creative Director for Anupam Kher’s Television Co., I directed various fiction shows as well as Award Nights and Events. It was in the year 2000, that Ravina Raj Kohli (the then head of SET India) pointed out that everything I was doing was somewhat experimental or simply ahead of its times. She was right but what I realized was that I hadnt worked on audience connect at all and was simply telling a story in a way I wanted to, playing with the craft instead of concentrating on emotion.

So, I quit direction, went on to head Companies as a Content Head and started teaching myself screenwriting as a Craft and watched every single release to watch out for audience reaction and connect. I realized that it wasn’t that I didn’t know it. I’m a small-town girl, having grown up on Bollywood as a lifeline. I had simply forgotten it with an elitist education and exposure. So, I went back to that gene along with learning the craft formally. That’s when I turned a full time Writer. Rahul, directed by Prakash Jha was my first release as a Screenwriter.

I have been a Writer for 14 years now but at some point, the desire to direct came right back but I now feel equipped to explore my own genres, playing with the craft but not losing sight of the emotional connect. The Harvest of Hurt is one such example of this learning.

Q. Are there particular moments in your journey which you can identify as tipping points? Those which changed you and moved you away from the direction you were previously heading in?

A. Again, a fabulous question. I think every artiste's life, if not externally, then definitely internally, is a choppy one. There are just so many change points on the life story graph. Mine weren’t that drastic or dramatic but it really can be split into a 3-act structure already… hahahaha.

Act 1 was being a Director and the Head of Content, experimenting with the Craft and being my young, defiant somewhat naïve self. The tipping point then was that I felt like I needed my own voice to be heard and create my own stamp as a creative person, not a chair. So, I quit my job, refused to write films for others and turned a freelancer overnight.

Act 2 was being a full time Writer and being the Development expert on TV, having created or done the new season story for 25 Shows (including writing the shows I liked in their entirety ie Story and Screenplay). This was also less defiant, more understanding but still carefree and adventurous Me. TV also gave me the discipline of writing every single day. The interval point however was the frustration constantly having to ‘dumb down’ and holding myself back. I quit a show one fine day and went off to Ladakh for a trek.

Almost magically, as if the Buddha heard me, came Fashion, Jail and Heroine as three releases back to back and my faith in the magic of life was completely restored. It was back to Lala Land again.

Yet, Act 3 began with the sudden realization that I have still not found a proper outlet for my self expression. I still haven’t told the stories I want to, in the way I can. My original voice still hasn’t been heard yet. That’s what became the tipping point. I had to get back to being a Director. I had to be the Auteur again. Carefree, adventurous Me was replaced by “ok how do we crack this right?”. Some of that was angst ridden, a lot of that became about understanding the business, the people around and myself better and better. And finding the alignment. I also turned entrepreneur last year and found a personal passion in learning psychotherapy.

All these seemingly disparate things, got synergized slowly by one common theme, my love for Story. I came to understand it in various ways . . . as entertainment, as part of a spiritual path and as a tool of healing.

You can also call it Growing Up I guess haha.

Q. Where are you at now, and why?

A. I am actually in a really really good place as they say. Its good because I call it a great mix of Craft and Compassion. It’s a strange mix and may sound odd at first but if you really think about it, you will see what I mean. It’s a great balance of the Head, of the Heart and nothing like Cinema to express that in all its delicateness evocatively.

To sound less esoteric, I have a company called The Write Place, that functions as a Writers’ Room.  We specialize in Story Development and create Bibles. I have a bunch of some fabulous young minds who are working with me on several web series and films. We work out of cafes all across Andheri West. I am also in the middle of finishing my next set of scripts as a Writer-Director. The Harvest of Hurt is one of them.

Q. What's next?

A. Over the years I have learnt that planning means nothing. Really. Not only does it never work out the way you plan, but it also takes the thrill out of the mad joyride we have all signed up for ie telling stories. So, I have no plans but lots of things underway that will hopefully pan out the way they are intended to. Most importantly, I’m having fun and trying to make sure that everyone around me is having some too. There is just one thing I am sure of. Stories are meant to heal. I am grateful and blessed that I am a small part of it.



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