'A writer needs powers of observation and sensitivity' : Vinta Nanda

Vinta Nanda started out as an assistant to Raman Kumar on the unforgettable Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi. As assistant director, she was actively involved on the screenplay of the serial. For several years thereafter, Nanda directed documentaries highlighting social concerns until Tara happened.

Tara, which was bold and path-breaking, has left an indelible mark on Indian television. But its huge success also incurred the wrath of critics who accused her of writing degenerative stuff- allegations that Nanda strongly refutes.

Zee's re-launch last month also saw Nanda bounce back with two new serials - Sansaar and Deewane to Deewane Hai, both of which are trendsetters again if one takes into account the scale on which these serials have been planned and shot. Sansaar will rank as the first serial that has a story spread across five continents and which is actually shot in all the five continents. Spurred by the success of these two serials, Nanda is writing two more serials that will take off shortly.

Nanda took time off from her hectic schedule to speak to www.indiantelevision.com's correspondent, Amar. Excerpts:

What brought you into TV writing?

Well, creativity, imaginativeness and a flair for writing were there in me from the very start. I wrote my first play in school when I was all of 8 years old. After graduation from Chandigarh, I came to Mumbai to become a journalist. But while I was training to be a journalist, I joined Frank Simone Advertising in their production department and took an instant liking for the medium. Thereafter I started assisting Raman Kumar on Yeh JO Hai Zindagi. As Raman Kumar's whole approach is writer-driven, I first started writing for YJHZ. My first independent project as writer was Tara.

What are the natural instincts required to be a successful writer?

Power of observation and sensitivity. The rest is the application of these two instincts into any given idea.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

It would be difficult to pinpoint any particular source. I would say I draw my inspiration from my experiences in life. For instance, the idea of Tara came from my own initial days of struggle in Mumbai. The motivation of course comes from the faith that people of the caliber of Mahesh Bhatt (for the Plus Channel produced Kabhi Kabhi) and Raman Kumar have bestowed upon me.

Aditya Hitkari as 'Vicky' with co-actor in Deewane To Deewane Hai aired on Zee
'I don't feel totally alienated from any of the characters that I've created. Most of these characters have some traces of me in them.'

Outline the whole process from the stage you conceive a project to the stage when the final script is complete.

It all begins as a one-line thought or concept. Thereafter it is drafted as a one-page story and submitted to the channel. Once the channel gives its nod, I start developing the characters in depth. Then all characters are woven into the story I had in mind. I the

develop the story for 250 episodes before we start shooting. The dialogues for a given number of episodes are written from time to time.

What do you do as a series writer?

See, when I'm developing four or five concepts or stories simultaneously, it is not possible for me to be personally involved with the dialogues and other intricacies of every scene. I do decide from where to where the story is going to move in each episode and work on the screenplay. But beyond that, the dialogue writers do the needful.

Do you identify with any of the characters that you've created?

Yeah. Let me put it this way. I don't feel totally alienated from any of the characters that I've created. Most of these characters have some traces of me in them. I've identified in a way with "Tara". I identify with the "Rahul" of Deewane To Deewane Hai. Like me when I was his age, he aspires, has dreams, knows his goals and knows how to achieve them. The fact that we are of the opposite sex hardly makes any difference.

Do real life incidents play a role in your writing?

Oh yes, they do. A couple of years back, on one of my visits to New York, I met an Indian victim of a hit and run case who was in hospital with all of 49 broken bones. When I met him ten months later, when he had almost recovered, the doctor told me he was surprised a patient in such bad shape and having to undergo such a prolonged course of treatment did not need a psychiatrist. But do you know why he didn't require a psychiatrist? It was because his family could do what the psychiatrist could not. His mother who was in India and both his brothers' wives who were in the U.K. were selfless enough to leave their work to be with him. This bond which is so peculiar among Indians even when they are physically existing in entirely different parts of the world is what forms the theme and driving force behind the story of Sansaar.

'It is the traditional regression that is shown today, the make-believe joint family dramas. What you see

is the convolution of creativity.'

Even though Tara was a huge hit, it drew some flak for the degenerative portrayal of women? Comment on your responsibilities as a writer towards people's sensibilities.

How can you possibly accuse me of offending people's sensibilities with Tara? If anything offends their sensibilities, it is the traditional regression that is shown today, the make-believe joint family dramas. What you see today is the convolution of creativity. Tara, on the contrary was the story of an ambitious, progressive and courageous woman, who was independent, wanted to break free from the dregs of hypocritical society and who did not need a man for her dependence. Has Tara, or for that matter any of my serials, harped on extramarital affairs? I fail to see any reason why I should be accused of writing something degenerative.

A scene from Sansaar aired on Zee
'Writing just requires an urge and the right frame of mindly.'

Is being writer-director of the same project beneficial or harmful?

Personally, I don't write the projects I direct and vice-versa. It is a policy decision that Raman and I have taken. He directs the projects written by me and I direct the projects written by him. This is because we feel that having a second person's opinion minimises the scope for error.

What kind of a writing schedule do you normally follow?

I am quite indisciplined as far as my schedule goes. I write once in the day - that could be in the morning, afternoon or evening for a few hours.

Does writing require isolation from people in order to concentrate?

Not really. It just requires an urge and the right frame of mind. I have even written on the sets.

Do you write in English or Hindi?

Mostly in English, sometimes it's a mix of English and Hindi. The language is just the dressing on the cake. As long as the ideas come across in a powerful manner, the language does not matter so much.

Doesn't TV writing tend to get clichéd and monotonous? Vipul D. Shah has said in his interview that TV writing is hardly inspiring because what is shown in the 20th episode can be repeated in the 25th episode with some minor changes.

I have never approached TV writing so dispassionately. That would amount to taking the audience for a ride. My documentaries have required me to travel extensively across the country and I've been struck by the amazing levels of intelligence and creativity possessed by our people living in the smaller towns of the country. We need to respect this intelligence of our audience. All the projects I have written have been written with utmost passion and commitment.

Are you hassled by the executive producers in channels to change your storyline from time to time?

No, not at all. We have an excellent working relationship with Zee TV. Right at the time the serial gets approved, we are given a team of executive producers for our show. Every decision that we take, be it on the storyline or any other aspect, is worked in tandem with them. Sometimes, I even accept their ideas and reject what I myself had originally thought because after all they know better what sells for the channel and what doesn't.

The subjects that I would like to dwell on are the status of women in our society, what role religion plays in their exploitation, status of law and human rights, the tragedy resulting out of the criminalisation of society.

But what is the secret of this beautiful relationship you have with Zee when most producers have fallen out with the channel at some point of time or the other?

If you ask me, I feel the producers have not been able to deliver on Zee's quality demands. See, Zee is totally content driven as against other channels which depend heavily on their packaging or dressing. If we enjoy such a good relationship with Zee, it is due to the fact that our content as far as the story goes has been very strong.

Are enough story lines/ concepts being tackled today or have we reached a dead end?

No, we can never reach a dead end as far as TV goes. Yes, there are trends which tend to dominate and overshadow everything else. That I guess was the case till about a month back but Zee's new programmes have brought about a refreshing change.

Which are the subjects closest to you at the moment?

See, all these years, I have continued to make documentaries on issues of social concern and it is these concerns that are closest to me at the moment. The subjects that I would like to dwell on are the status of women in our society, what role religion plays in their exploitation, status of law and human rights, the tragedy resulting out of the criminalisation of society. In fact, Sazaa, a movie I am directing, has a similar offbeat theme. It revolves around the plight of a 30-year-old virgin widow who was married at the age of six and became a widow at the age of eight.

Which has the happiest moment of your career?

Mahesh Bhatt calling me up to tell me that I was directing a movie which is being produced jointly by Vishesh Films and PNC (Pritish Nandy Communications). It was like my most cherished dream coming true.

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