MAM

"Indians laugh at institutions, or at stereotypes. A comedy writer should tap into that feature": Vijay Krishna Acharya

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Vijay Krishna Acharya, aka Victor, is a scriptwriter with a vision. "My aim, while writing comedy, is to strike a balance between serious and comic elements without sounding preachy," he says. Seems like this English Literature graduate from Kanpur has actually put to use all the 'techniques of comedy' he learnt as a college student.

Victor has directed and penned the scripts of popular shows like Just Mohabbat, Life Nahin Hai Laddoo, Sonpari and Shaka Laka Boom Boom among others. Yet he says, he watches Hindi shows just for "academic reasons".

Victor believes there are two ways of looking at life and oneself - with seriousness or in jest. That's the exact difference between soaps and sitcoms. "If I could help I'd insert a comic situation into a soap and change its entire form," he tells indiantelevision.com's Nitya Kaushik in an interview:

What attracted you to the business of script writing?
I've always been interested in writing. Not just that, I've been into dramatics and acting right since my college days. I was in Hirodimal College, Kanpur. I was involved in writing all my college newsletters. I used to act in plays too. Then slowly, I ventured into directing and writing one-act plays for college shows.

I came to Mumbai in 1992. My first assignment here was to assist scriptwriter Kundan Shah on Bollywood movie Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa. Since then there has been no looking back.

What are the essential requisites of a good writer?
To begin with, he must want to be at it. A writer, and for that matter any professional, can't be successful if he is not faithful to his end.

Writer F Scott Fitzgerald had once said, "You don't write to say something; You write, when you have something to say." I am a staunch believer of those words.

A writer needs to have the power of observation - a view of the world. And yes, he must be willing to share this view with others.

You said you started out with assisting Kundan Shah on 'Kabhi Haan…' Why did you shift from films to TV then?
Yes, I did start with a film. But back then, in 1992-93, cable TV had just arrived. Content-wise, I saw more scope and independence in TV. I knew I had much to give to the TV audience.

"I write drama for pocket money. It is easiest to write soaps"

Which was you first independent show?
My first independent show was a political spoof called Channel Mast, by the late director Sudhanshu Mishra, on a channel called VI TV. It was a dig at the then finance minister Manmohan Singh's liberalisation policy. Our main protagonist was 'Funmohan Singh'. We had roped in actors like Ravi Vaswani and Sushmita Mukherjee for the show. It turned out hilarious.

But has the Indian audience learnt to understand and appreciate spoofs yet?
It's unfair to say, Indians don't have a taste for comedy. Life in this country is very tough - whether in dealing with major issues like earning one's livelihood or smaller issues like travelling by buses or trains. Under our circumstances, we have to have a sense of humour. It's, sort of, survival instinct.

For instance, if you observe closely, what keeps us going when a bus is late and people are fretting in the queue at a bus-stop, under the hot afternoon sun? It's a one-liner that somebody in the queue cracks - something like, "Lagta hai, aaj driver so gaya" (seems like the driver gone to sleep today).

We do have a sense of humour, even if it's just out of necessity. The point is: Indians are not so good at laughing at themselves. Instead they laugh at institutions, a set-up, or even at other stereotypes. That's the feature that a good comedy writer should tap into.

According to you what is good comedy?
Indian TV and large screen has had some great comedy. My all time best dark comedy is the movie Jane Bhi Do Yaron. Another lighthearted movie I like is the Kishore Kumar hit, Chalti Ka Naam Gadi.

On television, there was Doordarshan's Yeh Jo hai Zindagi. It was a true-blue sitcom. Later on, however, the quality of comedy in Indian TV began deteriorating. Good, lighthearted shows made way for larger-than-life drama. Today, when I feel like watching a satisfying sitcom, I see Star World shows like Singfield or Friends.

But, I'd like to point out that a comedy like Zaban Sambhal Ke, a remake of Mind Your Language, has ticked among the thinking audience. The humour in the show arises not out of situations but out of stereotypes. This again is evidence that Indians can't laugh at their follies but at others. I also attribute the success of the show to main actor Pankaj Kapoor and his histrionics.

What do you think of themes borrowed from their foreign counterparts? How often have you done it?
I don't think it's wrong at all. As long as the adaptation is tasteful. My own Jassi Jaise Koi Nahin is borrowed from Yo Soy Betty La Fea. Today, the TRP of the show is soaring. What I like about the serial is that it's the story of an underdog - someone from a small town, trying to make it big in business. There is some 'identifiability' in the character. That's why people like her too.

How do you rate your other shows?
I have wrote and also directed shows like Just Mohabbat, Life Nahin Hai Laddoo, Sonpari and Shaka Laka Boom Boom.
Of them, Life Nahin… was creatively satisfying. I thought Just Mohabbat was too niche concept, but it clicked with the audience. Sonpari, I started as a children's show but later gave it a fantasy touch.

My spoofs include Ramkhilavan CM and Family, Public Hai Sab Jaanti Hai and Krishna Sharma CA which later metamorphosed into Krishna Arjun.

How - and how well - are writers paid?
They are mostly paid per script… And not too well (half-jokingly). Usually a channel calls a script writer and discusses the kind of script it wants at a certain slot. Then finances are discussed and when that settles work for the show start.

Have you tried any other genre?
Yes, I write drama for TV but that's just for pocket money (laughs). It's easiest to write soaps.
"It is imperative that scriptwriters come together and form a clique to spot talent, encourage and help each other out"

Why is drama more successful on TV?
But today the audience is saturated with drama. There was a time when soaps were at its peak, but the trend is changing now. Soaps are getting too high-strung and there's a shift in TV viewing. That's why TRPs of light shows like Khichdi and Shararat are on the rise now.

Is there channel interference in a writer's arena? It is known that plots change with TRPs. So, how does it affect you?
I've never had a problem with any channel. For instance, Just Mohabbat ran for four years on Sony. But I have not narrated a single episode to the channel. If I did, it was just a rough story in the next 15 episodes.

Anyway, even if the channel interferes, it is only with the idea of making a show successful. Therefore, the interface has to be on equal footing.

While a writer can't be subservient, a fresh perspective has to be looked at. However, the final decision should be taken by the people making the software.

What is your long-term goal?
Right now I am concentrating on TV writing. I am also writing a film script but the details are still under wraps. Presently, I'll just say I am writing a film script for myself. On the long term, I want to write a comedy novel.

Where do script writers stand in the TV industry?
I think we writers are a community. And it is imperative that we come together and form a clique to spot talent, encourage and help each other out. We must protect each others interests.

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