"The day perception towards writing changes, the sun will set on the herd mentality which rules the roost these days": scriptwriter-actor Preeti Dayal

 A lot many things about Sony's serial Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahi has aroused curiosity among people. One thing that everyone wants to know is Jassi's real identity. But what many don't know is that the popular daily is being co-scripted by actress Preeti Dayal (of Banegi Apni Baat (BAB) fame) who plays Nilu in Kittie Party - a high society, firebrand activist, always helping people with their problems. Besides this, Dayal is also scripting the Star Plus weekly Saara Akaash. And if that was not enough, she has also been spotted recently in a couple of films too.

This Delhi-based arts student was passionate about reading, acting and writing right from her college days, and in pursuit of satisfying one of her passion, took part in a lot of amateur theatre. Post-college, she also dabbled in computer graphics. Destiny took her to England with a team of professionals from a production house who had come to India for making a documentary on Moharram which was being made for Yorkshire TV. There, she not only assisted the production house behind the camera but was also asked to pen a few stories. She started writing non-fiction stories and anchoring them too.

Alongside, she wrote some stories and safely tucked them away. Then she decided to come back to her roots with husband Jogi Dayal and son. This time she decided to shift base from Delhi to Mumbai - because she believed Mumbai had opportunities for her.

indiantelevision.com's Vickey Lalwani caught up with this actor-cum-writer in one of her moments of leisure. Excerpts of what transpired thereafter:

How did 'Jassi...' happen?

It was my long association with Tony and Deeya Singh since the Banegi... days and their belief in me that Jassi... was offered to me. I liked the narration given to me because it was very different from the typical saas-bahu serials. It's a great feeling to be writing the much talked about serial of today.

And how does it feel to write 'Saara Akaash'?

Saara Akaash is also very close to me. Again this is not like the usual soaps of today where most characters have short a shelf-life, and therefore I can explore each character to the hilt.

How did you get into writing for Indian television?

Quite by fluke. Zee had just launched the Rishtey series and were constantly on the lookout for writers. Actually, I had been asked to contact a friend of mine, who was the original choice for Rishtey. As luck would have it, my friend had to leave for Kanpur in a day or two and could not meet the demand of dishing out stories at a short notice.

At this point of time, I was asked whether I knew someone, rather, anyone else. I stuck my neck out. I handed them around 10 scripts which I had penned and stocked. Out of that, two stories got selected and telecast. One was Halki Se Dhoop starring Madhavan and Iravati and the other was Pal Do Pal with Pawan Malhotra and Mrinal Kulkarni. I also got to write the screenplay and dialogue. Through Pawan, I met his wife Aparajita Krishna who was starting Antaral, for which I was later appointed to write the dialogues.

And what about acting?

Writing happened first. Around the time of Antaral, I was offered a role in BAB and Saans. Actually, Zee TV had just launched and there was a lot of work for everyone. I too tried to cash in on it. Sutapa Sikdar who was writing BAB suggested my name to Tony and Deeya Singh.

Around that time, I also did a play titled Piano with Saurabh Shukla. It was about a man's conversation over the telephone. And I was the voice on the other end of the phone.

"I am in an industry which hardly sleeps, and I make the most of this fact"

You're a writer as well as an actor. How do you balance the two activities?

I think the two are a foil to each other. I am in an industry which hardly sleeps. I make the most of this fact. I observe so many things around me, I meet a lot of people. I am constantly on the move. So I absorb a lot. Now... I need an outlet.

As an actor, I cannot give vent to all my feelings. I personally feel that acting is giving vent to feelings. Like when a scene is narrated to me, it automatically gets associated to one of the happenings / situations in real life. Now, there is a limitation here. As an actor, I am bound by the script and the director. I can be a bit flexible but I can't let my entire reaction pour out... (Pauses).

Go on...

But... I can do this when I am writing. I can give the lines to an actor, which I feel a character 'must' say in a given situation. That's why I write. If you are going to ask me whether I am firm about I what want from life- acting or writing, my answer is- writing. Once a writer, always a writer.

I took up acting because I wanted to try my hand at something different. But writing never leaves you. And I think it is more creative than acting. When it comes to films or serials, you are the creator of a character. And what that character does or says is what you want it to do.

What are the requirements to be a writer?

Anybody can scribble, but to be a good writer, you need to feel a lot while writing. It is this quality that helps me to write. Writing cannot be a mechanical process. Mechanical writing can assault a good concept; it can mar the best creativity and make it appear as sheer mediocrity. And of course, one needs a good command over the language he / she writes in.

What is the basic requirement when you write a different serial like 'Jassi...'? Or is it just one of those things?

You need a sufficient number of like-minded writers for a serial like Jassi.... Like earlier in Jassi… we had only two writers. The ideal number would have been four from the word 'Go.' This would keep everyone fresh to write his/her chunk of episodes. So, the earlier days were a trying period. Although now we are getting more writers.

"Mechanical writing can assault a good concept; it can mar the best creativity and make it appear as sheer mediocrity"

Why do you need like-minded personnel?

Like-minded means they should not only think but even write and speak in a similar manner. Else the serial will start suffering from jerks and would lose the regular flavour that it has. Wherever there is more than one writer involved, there should be a constant change of notes amongst them in the beginning. After a certain stage, (which we have thankfully achieved in Jassi... rather quickly), there is no need for me to see what the other guys are writing. A kind of flow sets in.

Why will the show start suffering from jerks? Do you need like-minded personnel in soaps?

If there are no like-minded people in soaps then it may not affect too much because every 10-15 days the focus keeps changing to different characters. If two different people have written two different tracks, the viewer won't realise it. The concentration has shifted from actor A to actor B, so the change gets masked and importantly, does not hamper the continuity of the show. Jassi... is a character driven show where the focus does not shift from the protagonist. If she (Jassi) appears even slightly different the glitch would show.

According to you, what is the difference between acting and writing?

Acting in instinctive, while writing is not. I may be able to give ideas instinctively but weaving them together in the right kind of words which would hold the viewer's attention involves a lot of craft. One needs to read and write a lot right from a young age. Plus the reading should be not of the 'time pass' type or 'fast read' type. Whatever one reads, meaty or fluffy, should be observed with a sharp eye. You can even say that actors are born, while writers are made.

Let me know how close you go to 'Betty La Fea'?

I don't think we go too close. Jassi... has been totally Indianised. Like, the values abroad are totally different. We have to treat the characters as Indians because they are shown as Indians, we can't start making them think like the West. If Jassi... hadn't been made keeping the Indian audience in mind, perhaps it would have been made differently. Like, the kissing and love-making scenes would have been retained. That would have given a different flavour and feeling.

Plus, here the environment is totally different, though I don't exactly know how Columbia television functions. There is too much pressure. We all know, TRPs matter a lot. The show should not slacken. In order to ensure that, many times we need to bring a few of the forthcoming episodes together and condense the story telling. The audience should not feel that the serial is dragging. Here, a writer plays an important role. He/she needs to have a foresight to see where exactly they need to do the compression.

But then again, we can't deviate from the main track as most serials do, because at the end of the day, we want to remake Betty La Fea only. It's tough, interesting, challenging actually (Smiles).

Was it easier to write 'Jassi...' because you already know the route?

In that sense, yes. But it should be remembered that a writer has to curb many ideas which naturally come into his creative mind or those which someone bounces off to him, and hence there is no flexibility.

Once, someone told me that Jassi should have been shown as an ugly duckling with a very seductive voice, working in a call centre. And some guys should have been shown going crazy after listening to her voice. They would have proposed to her on the phone. And then when they would meet her, they would bang their head against the wall! That would have created many funny and realistic scenes. Don't such things happen in real life?

Your one pen is for Star Plus ('Saara Akaash'), while the other is for Sony ('Jassi...')?

That makes my job more challenging. Many people have told me that I should give up one of the shows. But I am a creative person. Creativity needs change. I am lucky to have that change sitting in my lap. Both these shows offer two different flavours.

"Actors are born, while writers are made"

Do you get jammed while writing?

In my case it is a different situation for each of the serials that I am writing.

For Jassi..., since we know the middle and the end, there is no chance of getting jammed. For Saara Akaash, presently I am not involved with the twists and turns given to the plot. We plan to have monthly meetings where we all would put forward our inputs and one person would take the cudgel of taking the story forward for a particular period of time. That's why I said earlier, more writers are required for any show for that matter. There has to be a demarcation of jobs.

When you write the dialogues, do you prefer writing the hard hitting variety?

I don't like the stuff which goes over the top like 'tumhari aakhri saanse mere haath mein hai', 'agar tumne yeh nahin kiya to dekh lena'... and the likes.

Maybe this is my limitation. I will not be able to write stuff which hits the skies and comes out amidst thunder and lightning - something like what Komolika (Urvashi Dholakia in Kasautii...) or Pallavi (Sweta Kawaatra in Kahaani...) speak. I am more close to reality.

'Saara Akaash' started promisingly, but has not been able to sustain the high TRPs. Why?

(Laughs) My two shows Jassi... and Saara Akaash clash with each other! Plus don't forget that Saara Akaash is a one-hour weekly. A one-hour format is slightly dicey, some people forget to tune in on a particular week.

Are those the only reasons for the dropping of 'Saara Akaash'?

Hmmm... no. I think we started with a bit of Air-Force and then got into love relationships. We did not balance the mix. Perhaps, it was not clear what was precisely required. We should have maintained a balance in the showcasing of professional and personal life of the protagonists but the personal lives began to dominate and the whole show became very soapy. But now... we are going back on the Air-Force track and focussing strongly that the guys still are very strong on their mission.

But didn't you'll take a long time to go back?

It's not in one person's hands. The channel, the producer, the writers, they all need to sit and reach a consensus. The final call is with the channel. If I had my way, I would have never deviated. Mind you, I am not talking about the early days when lots of changes were made and the whole thing was rewritten. I was not in the picture, then. I was brought in, because they wanted to give an urban feel to the show. Maybe I am categorised as a writer for urban stories (laughs). I am talking about the first four episodes only. I would have loved to maintain that tone.

"A one-hour weekly format is slightly dicey as some people forget to tune in on a particular week"

As a writer are you happy with the casting done for your serials?

Not always. But I can't give you examples where I have been unhappy. I can't take names, that would hurt many artistes. (Laughs). But sometimes, there have been cases where I have been more than happy.

A case in point was Om Puri in Antaral. He shocked me in most scenes which I wrote for him. He often took it way beyond I expected him to. Another case is Parmeet Sethi in Jassi.... He is a tremendous actor. I am surprised, sorry and shocked that he had little to no work sometime back.

Why do you think there is a scarcity of writers on Indian television?

There is a scarcity of writers on Indian television, but I know for a fact that there is a lot of talent in this department, which can be tapped. The problem is that the writers themselves are shying away. They nurse a myth that there is no scope for writing on Indian television.

The same thing happened with me. I fared well in school. But when I joined Fine Arts in the Delhi College of Art, people who knew me asked me why don't I take admission somewhere else? Those who didn't know me took it for granted that I must have obtained very poor grades in school.

There was a time when we all thought that the advertising industry didn't have a scope. But now! Heavens! A day will come when the perception towards writing also will undergo a sea-change.

Do you think television writers in India are paid well or no?

That's a difficult question. You can't compare the salaries paid to a writer in India compared to a writer in the West. Go to see, there are a few cons which are the outcome of this. Writers and actors take up more projects than they can handle and then work against time. This is how the herd mentality is born.

There is no time to think anything original... a lift has become very common now. Anyone who lifts, will obviously do that from something that has clicked and not from something that has bombed. Anyway, the day when the perception towards writing changes; the sun will set on the herd mentality which rules the roost these days. Till then, we need to wait patiently and make the best of what we have. Encouraging our kids to inculcate the hobby of reading and writing should be the first step on our behalf.

'Kyunki...' was a trend-setter. As a writer, do you feel that 'Jassi...' too can be one?

I don't think so. As I told you earlier, Jassi... is a character driven show. Now, this ugly duckling concept is too much of a micro. It would come across as highly repetitive, if anything similar was attempted again.

On the other hand, the saas bahu shows are repetitive in concept, but they bring out different situations in everyday life of most people. One can create a thousand tracks and many a times viewers can identify with these. Hence they can identify with the 'saas bahu' shows to a large extent.

How much did the aggressive marketing methods adopted by Sony help in 'Jassi...' being a success?

Tremendously. The marketing succeeded in generating a huge curiosity factor by which Jassi became a household name even before the first episode had been telecast. Brilliant is the word for the marketing methods adopted by Sony on Jassi...

"The marketing of 'Jassi...' succeeded in generating a huge curiosity factor by which Jassi became a household name even before the telecast of the first episode"

How come you ventured into films?

There were a lot of offers which came my way in the past few years. But there was nothing substantial that I could be proud of, so I kept dilly-dallying. Eventually, I did Saaya (John Abraham, Tara Sharma) and Dhoop (Sanjay Suri, Gul Panag).

Have you enjoyed doing films?

I have. I like the elaborate planning that goes in the making of a film. It's all very organised and streamlined. But if you are not a hero or heroine, it has its cons also. A lot of your scenes may get chopped at the editing table. But yes, I am one actor who doesn't mind waiting on the set - be it films or television. Michael Keane had once said "Acting is one profession where you are paid to wait, so you bloody well wait!"

Did your portions in films get chopped ever?

I said that from a first-hand experience (Laughs). I had two scenes in Honey Irani's last release Armaan - one with Anil Kapoor, the other with Amitabh Bachhchan. When Armaan released, I was not in the film at all!

What are your future plans?

I intend to write a film script. There have been good offers, even before Jassi... happened. Post Jassi..., such offers have multiplied. But time is a constraint. I don't want to scribble!

I would also like to do a play. I get very excited when I see artistes on stage. I will not do anything for a stop-gap arrangement, but only when I have the time at my disposal.

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