Report on Hindi News Viewership

'I wouldn't mind writing a funny love story' : Shridhar Raghavan

At 32, Shridhar Raghavan already has a wealth of experience tucked away.

A computer science graduate turned journalist, he started off early in life - contributing intermittently to Science Today, Mirror, Debonairand Mid-Day while still in college. After a two-year stint in advertising, Raghavan joined Gentleman magazine, where he worked for close to five years, writing mainly on crime, health and entertainment. After a brief spell with UTV in its Inflight department, he branched out as an independent writer.

To Hetal Adesara and Gurpreet Tathgur, Raghavan speaks of the market driven phenomenon called television and his own experiences with the medium. Apart from C.I.D. and Aahat, for which he has written over 500 episodes, he talks about other assignments and the practical aspects of writing for television. Excerpts:

How did you get into TV scriptwriting?

I always liked writing. I have been writing fiction since I was 14 and started freelancing for newspapers when I turned 16. After working for a few years with different newspapers and magazines, I joined UTV, doing production and trying to work out concepts to write. I was simultaneously working on a film project with Kundan Shah and on a TV serial pilot. Anjum Rajabali of Business India Television asked me to work on Aahat and introduced me to its director B P Singh and Neo Films producer Pradeep Uppoor. I started working on Aahat, an episodic series of mystery, thriller and supernatural stories and have been writing for it ever since. Around four years ago, I started to write C.I.D., again an episodic police procedural series for Sony.

What are the natural instincts required of an effective writer?

You need discipline because TV is a monster that is always eating and there are deadlines to meet. You need talent, hard work and a sprinkle of luck.

Do you limit yourself to writing for certain genres?

I think my forte is humour but I have never tried my hand at it. Thrillers interest me and of late, I have been working on dramas too. I am not good at love stories at all but if it is a funny love story, I wouldn't mind writing one.

Do you go by an idealistic perspective or a practical perspective while sketching your characters? Do you identify with any of the characters you have created?

My strength is story telling and I see myself as a structural specialist. The more real a character is, the more fun it is. I even make up my own characters. No, I have never identified with any of the characters I have created until now.

Have you been inspired by western movies/soaps in your writing?

You are a writer because you've got hundreds of ideas, so there is no inspiration as such.

Do you write in English or in Hindi?

I write 70 per cent in English and 30 per cent in Hindi and wherever I need to use Hindi to express myself, I use it.

A still from C.I.D. on Sony TV
TV is a demand and supply situation. Presently everything is revolving around family dramas and prior to this it was thrillers. What the audience is seeking is being catered to.

Does writing require isolation from people for long hours in order to concentrate?

I like to be alone when I'm writing. I can't write with people around me, as writing needs a lot of thinking. People distract me and it hampers the flow of ideas.

Many writers feel that the authenticity of what they have visualized gets eroded at times if the director has different ideas. Have you ever felt the same?

If the director or the channel has a different opinion on my story and if the change is for the better, I don't have any problems. But the director has never changed the story without my knowledge. I often have to change my script when a particular location is not available or the scene is going well above budget or for other technical reasons. But I am not complaining. It is a very interactive process and I feel that one should be always open to changes. And ultimately, it's me who is going to get paid!!

Aren't you ever tempted to don the mantle of a director yourself?

No, never. I am happy with what I am doing and I am not a control freak. I don't think I can deal with too many people and coordinate their activities and I'm sure that I don't even want to do that. I like the process of writing, it's fun....

Which has been the happiest moment of your career?

There has never been anything like the happiest or the saddest moment in my life. My life is pretty much balanced. I am happy when I am working and writing and it feels good to see your work recognized, liked and seen on TV. I am happy that I am surviving, my serials are on air.

Where do you see yourself ten years down the line?

In the same profession. I would still be writing; maybe dabbling in a little bit of journalism too, because it allows you to meet and talk to people. I would be doing as well as I am doing right now; maybe a little better!

Other than a bit of talent & a complete command on the craft, what a writer really needs is discipline and the ability to rewrite endlessly.

Shridhar with the C.I.D. team

Where do you draw your inspiration?

I work at least 10 hours a day and TV has deadlines, so I just can't sit and wait for inspiration. I always have a notepad with me, I write whatever comes to my mind or whatever I see around me, that is the first stage and after that I develop the storyline.

Could you outline the whole process from the stage you conceive a project to the stage when the final script is ready?

If I have an idea, I put it down immediately. I work in a very structured manner. My story always has three basic stages - a beginning, middle and end. I tend to make notes - good beginnings, a nice scene, an interesting idea, a good climax, an interesting piece of research around which you can create a story, a line of dialogue or an interesting visual, a good location to set a story. Then I put them together on the computer. Once you're sitting at the computer, it's mainly slog work. You write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.. On and on. I usually present my fourth or fifth draft to the director and channel and incorporate relevant changes and suggestions, if any. Usually by this draft, the script is fine so I rarely have to make changes.

Does a script need to be re-worked while shooting? Are you present on certain shoots?

I am open to changes and if the situation demands it, I do rework my script. I try to be present for at least the first couple of shoots because what you write on paper may be different from what you see being enacted. The writer should be there for shoots because this is the time when the practical aspect of his story comes forth.

Do you prefer to work on commissioned projects or to work on your own?

I have worked on commissioned projects, but I prefer to create my own projects. I work on them and get a concept note, the entire storyline, a few scripts in place, stories for 13-20 episodes, and then present them to the channel or the producer. The process can thus take many months and even a year or two, but you know you have a solid project in hand and not just a tentative idea which you are going ahead with. It's like insurance.

Is narration important in Indian scriptwriting? And how important is research to a script?

Narration is totally important. You are trying to pitch yourself. Time is one of the least things we have, so if you are able to convey your idea in a nutshell, it is beneficial. People don't have time, so everything has to be specific. If I'm not able to tell the story, how will the director direct it? Narration helps you instantly find out what is working and what is not. With narration, the story grows in front of you and you get to know your flaws there and then.

Research is the most important aspect of script writing. If the situation demands that you write a story that deals with medicine and doctors, it is very important that you know the minutest details such as what is forensic science, post mortems and the procedure it involves. If you don't know the basics, you can't progress with your story. It is very necessary to know the background.

What kind of a writing schedule do you normally follow? How long do you need to write one episode?

I mostly work alone though, of late, I have started working in tandem with another writer. I work daily, including Sundays, put in normally at least 10 hours of work at the computer! Frankly, writing is a 24-hour profession as you are constantly trying to crack a story in the back of your mind. Sometimes from idea to screenplay, on a great day --- writing an episode takes as little as a few hours! But on an average, it takes at least four days to a week.

Tell us something about your new serial - Achanak and other projects you are working on?

I am currently working on Achanak, which I started writing four years ago. It is a weekly drama-thriller with an element of the paranormal, scheduled to air on Sony in the first quarter of 2002. The set is worth nearly Rs three million and the serial has been shot in various Indian cities like Kolkata, Chennai and Delhi. It has a massive cast, one of the biggest star cast on TV.

Yes, I am developing shows for Star, Zee, Vijay TV etc. I am also working on some film projects but they are at too early a stage to even talk about.

I try to be present for at least the first couple of shoots because what you write on paper may be different from what you see being enacted.

Do you have any mental blocks? How do you overcome them?

Sometimes, when the infamous writer's block settles, ideas don't turn into stories, stories don't turn into screenplays and so on. I have a few dozen ideas that are still waiting for the eggshell to crack and the idea to germinate. Basically, other than a bit of talent, a complete command on the craft, what a writer really needs is discipline and the ability to rewrite endlessly.

Are there any Indian serials that you like watching on television?

I hardly get time to watch any soaps. I am either sitting at my computer working on the story or I am at meetings, or at shoots.

Does TV writing pay well?

There is good pay once you start doing well. TV is much more paying than journalism, and luck too plays a major factor. I don't make as much as Shilpa Shetty makes, but its okay.