"It's content that matters, not the style of writing" : Ila Bedi Dutta

Illa Bedi Dutta is in an enviable position. She is writing the screenplay of two of the most successful soaps on the tube today - Mehendi Tere Naam Ki and Des Mein Nikla Hoga Chand. She is also scripting the story and screenplay of a tri-weekly on DD- Dishaein that ranks third in viewership among DD's programs.

Illa is also ready with the script of a movie on the theme of Partition - Lajwanti, which she intends to produce herself. It's been a long haul for this young writer in a relatively short span. Illa's natural flair for writing can be traced to her impressive lineage. She is the granddaughter of renowned writer Rajendra Singh Bedi and daughter of ace director Narendra Bedi. In fact, the story of Lajwanti has been developed out of a short story written by her grandfather.

The quiet, reserved lady who usually shies away from the limelight took time out to have a tete a tete with indiantelevision.com corrie Amar. Excerpts:

How did TV writing happen to you?

Actually, it happened quite incidentally. I had converted one of my grandfather's short stories into a film script and was meeting a couple of people with it when Aruna Irani, who knew my father called me up one day. She said she wanted me to do the screenplay of Mehendi Tere Naam Ki (MTNK). For someone who had virtually no body of work behind her, Arunaji showed tremendous faith in me. Since then, I've done three projects in the last one year- the others being Des Mein Nikla Hoga Chand (DMNHC) and Dishaein which is ranked number three on DD in terms of TRPs.

Do you also develop the stories of your projects, or are you just involved with the screenplay?

The concepts as well as the basic story structure of MTNK and DMNHC are Arunaji's. I've helped her develop the concepts further and of course, done the screenplay. But the story and concept of Dishaein are entirely mine.

For Des Mein Nikla Hoga Chand, which has 45 minutes of content, I write 18 scenes on an average


What are the natural instincts required of an effective writer?

A writer should be a well-read person. I've always been a voracious reader and this reading habit that I've had since childhood comes in very handy when I'm writing. My ideas and thoughts flow rather naturally and there's never a dearth of them. Besides you need a good sense of drama, which again has to be primarily inherent; only then can it be developed significantly.

Why do you avoid writing dialogues?

Primarily because I feel my Hindi does not conform to the standards required in writing dialogues for serials. Or let me just put it this way - I'm more comfortable with English in which I do all my writing. Besides, my strength as a writer is visualisation of dramatic situations, which has got more to do with screenplay.

Do you plan out the ad-breaks when you write an episode?

I do it only for DMNHC, where I mark the freeze points before each commercial break.

What are the points you keep in mind while fleshing out the last scene before a commercial break or before an episode ends?

See, the whole idea is to keep the audience hooked and to ensure that it comes back after the break, or for the next episode. With that objective, I provide an unexpected twist to the story or create some suspense or curiosity. This twist could be anything - a sudden illness, revelation of a bizarre truth or something else. My last scenes in MTNK have been particularly absorbing, which leaves the audience asking for more.

Do you also like to set the time duration for each scene?

I ensure that none of the scenes exceed three minutes because then the scene tends to be less gripping and the involvement of the audience diminishes somewhat. It's very important that the screenplay moves at a fast pace. For MTNK, the actual content of which spans 18 minutes, I pack in eight scenes on an average. For DMNHC, which has 45 minutes of content, I write 18 scenes on an average.

How did you learn screenplay writing?

I haven't learnt it. I would say that it's in my genes. I'm not even sure if I follow any format. Basically, my thrust is on detail - the minutest detail of all that is going to happen in a given scene, because this is what ensures strong content. And frankly, it's content that matters, not the style of writing.

Does writing require long hours of isolation in order to concentrate?

I won't say so. Writing is all about thoughts and ideas and these can strike you anytime. I've conceived some of my best ideas while working out on the treadmill.

As a writer, which are the subjects closest to you?

Well, I would like to be versatile in my craft and would love to work on as many genres as I can. In fact, I would love to write a thriller, but I must confess I am not sure whether I can write a successful sitcom at the moment.

I feel it will be very difficult for me to do justice to the story of Mehendi Tere Naam Ki beyond 130 episodes

How many projects can you work on simultaneously without compromising on quality?

Three, which I'm doing now. I don't think I'm in a position to take up anything new.

Aakash Khurana has been quoted as saying that there are hardly any absorbing screenplays these days. Do you agree?

By and large, yes. But that's because almost all serials are prolonged beyond a level that can be justified. See, a story holds out only for a certain period of time, if it is extended beyond that, it loses its sheen and that is where the screenplay also sags. Even where MTNK is concerned, I feel it will be very difficult for me to do justice to the story beyond 130 episodes.

Scriptwriter Vipul D Shah has said that TV is a very restrictive medium and that the scope for creating something new on TV is extremely limited. Your comments?

This wasn't the case two years ago. It has happened in the past two years when a whole lot of regressive programs of the same kind have started to dominate the TV scenario. Today, I'm afraid a truly path-breaking concept may get rejected simply because it does not conform to the demands of the day.

Another scriptwriter Mir Muneer has said that story telling today is virtually non-existent and that serials today are just a collection of scenes. What do you feel?

I can't agree more with him. Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki and Kyunkii Saans Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi are apt examples.

Are you happy with the money that TV writing gets?

Well, I wish it were a little more, but then I am also a newcomer with just three serials under my belt. I have been getting between Rs 6,000-8,000 per episode but that's okay. I'll of course charge a lot more for the projects that I take up henceforth.

Which has been the happiest moment of your career?

I would say the present phase has been the happiest because very few writers can boast of having three serials on air - all of them doing extremely well.

How do you see your future shaping up?

I would like to write for movies and serials simultaneously. I have already completed scripting one movie - Lajwanti that is based on the theme of Partition. However, at any given point of time I would want to go on doing some television.

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