Television

"Life changed after I joined Nimbus" : Akash Khurana Nimbus MD and CEO (Part I)

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From actor to scriptwriter and teacher to CEO of a multifaceted production house, Akash Khurana stands out as a rare example of talent and passion married to fervent honesty to his craft. Perhaps one of the few in the industry who have successfully blended academics and creative art to reach a stage where he now shoulders awesome corporate responsibilities as the head of Nimbus, Khurana retains a simplicity that is disarming.

In a freewheeling talk with Vickey Lalwani, Khurana holds forth on a variety of issues, including his own work and what could pep up the creative side of Indian television.

How did you become an actor?

My first tryst with cinema was Kalyug. Ever since my college days, I was a lot into extra-curricular activities like stage shows. Then I did quite a bit of theatre. I was performing with Prithvi, where the casting of Kalyug was happening. That's it!

How did this actor take to writing?

I was acting in a movie called Swayam with Waheeda Rehman in 1988. This was a small budget movie that had to be wrapped up in an intense 18-day schedule. However, the script had some lacunae and we had to re-work it while shooting. I re-worked the script along with Mahesh Bhatt and both of us shared the writing credits. That's how my writing career started. I later wrote -Aashiqui and Baazigar, besides writing a lot of TV software.

What are the essential pre-requisites for becoming a good writer?

a) Idea b)Craft c)Knowledge d)Instinct. Do you know that I haven't written a script for quite sometime now? (smiles). After I joined Nimbus, life has changed. It's pretty erratic and that is because I am into so many activities - writing, teaching and then I have a whole lot of responsibilities to shoulder too.

Do you experience a writer's block sometimes?

Happens. Often, the story reaches a point where there is more than one option which I can adopt to take it ahead.

"The end helps you to change story tracks, which has become the in thing today. Tracks should be changed in accordance with the end. Else you are simply making a mess of it"

So how do you wriggle your way ahead then?

The question is interesting but difficult. There is no one method. In fact, the permutations and combinations of solutions within the process are infinite. Every scene, dialogue, script, part of the process has different variants. To an extent, I can't answer this question.

But do you always have the end in mind?

There again, there are processes and processes. I might have an end in mind, I might not have. Sometimes, I might even discuss it with someone, if I am stuck mid-way.

With whom?

Not with anybody! It does not work like that. I need to discuss my project and its difficulties (if any) with people of calibre and sensitivity. The person should have a vision. He/she should be able to relate to a writer's mind.

What have you enjoyed more- writing for cinema or television?

Again a difficult question! Cinema has always been my first love, but I equally enjoyed exploring the field of television. Actually, the technique involved in both is very different. So, it would be unfair to compare the two.

What is the difference in technique?

The grammar, structure, characters- everything is so different. Basically, the structure. I mean, the size of the screen, the format. If you are writing a film for television, then there is no difference. But if you are writing a series for television, the structure changes. But please don't start thinking that I am propagating that TV characters cannot be larger than life. Similarly, cinema characters need not always be larger than life.

What helps to keep the programme ticking? Pace/Suspense/...?

There are no answers. You can't quantify it as 100 grams of this and 250 grams of that. The whole thing should be tight enough.

Do you approve of change in tracks and no bound script?

To an extent, yes. There has to be flexibility. If something is not working, you have to manoeuvre it.

Are you saying that there are no bound scripts on television?

It depends on calibre and confidence. If you have a great script, these things should not happen. There is an inherent lacuna. According to me, a script should be written, rewritten, tested, approved- and then- shot. Every maker knows the minimum episodes he has been allotted. Keeping that in mind, the story block (beginning-middle-end) should be readied. Unless and until it is ready, shooting must not start.

Especially, the beginning and the end is of vital importance. Say, if you want to go to Churchgate from Juhu, you know the starting point, you know your destination. Else how can you term it as journey? The end in particular helps you to change the tracks, which has become the in thing today. The tracks should be changed in accordance with the end. Else you are simply making a mess of it.

Are we having a dearth of script-writers on television?

Inevitable. Everything that had to be done, has been done. Hereafter, the essence of the product will remain the same. Only the marketing and packaging will change.

There is a lot of social stuff, a fair dose of spook, now even action, but what's happening to comedy? Has it dried up?

Yes, it has dried up. Comedy is perhaps the most difficult genre to write. Writing soaps is relatively easy.

Did you ever face channel interference in script writing?

Be it Doordarshan, Zee or Channel 9 for which I wrote, I never had channel interference. Today, times have changed. In this respect, I would say that in those times, TV serial makers were far more respected.

Is this channel interference due to competition?

No, it's due to utter mediocrity. And this utter mediocrity begins from the script-writing stage. There is bad raw material, and good packaging won't help! It's pathetic, actually!

Go on...

These guys keep saying that the content is king. That's just stating the obvious. But what are they doing about it? On the other side, why don't they consider that the audience is the king too? You need to give what the public wants.

Solution?

No solution in sight! I don't think that people are even looking for a solution! Not more than a handful take to writing, these days. And I wonder how much these guys read.

Why so?

Simple. The low rate of literacy. See a Malayali film and a Hindi film and you'll understand exactly what I mean. After all, Kerala has the highest rate of literacy, to the tune of 99 per cent.

Do you still read?

Of course. I still read more than perhaps the younger generation writers put together. For a writer, there is no substitute to reading. It's easy to say that one was talented and also present at the right place at the right time, because there was only one channel around.

Are writers paid well in India?

Well, I know this is a general complaint. But I think they need to pull up their socks and reach a status before demanding a high price. I put in 20 years of intense study before I headed an organisation. Shortcuts are not the answer to succeed in the sphere of writing. There may be a topper who is working as an engineer for the government, but on the other hand, there may be an average first class engineer who is heading a section in a corporate office. If you have the potential, it will show.

Let's take a look at the programmes abroad. How is it that they have so much variety? Is 'literacy' the answer again?

Yes. The culture there is conducive to reading and writing. We are besieged with an intrinsic problem.

But aren't we copying some of the shows from abroad?

Firstly, I don't understand why people here feel that stolen content will always be better. I am not at all convinced about that. Anyway, does stolen stuff lead to any success? (smiles). I have written a one-page article on 'Adaptation' in an anthology on Hindi films, published by Brittanica. Read that and you'll know what I am hinting at. Anyway, what do you like on television?

Nothing much...

I like Office Office. It's a good social and political comment. Let's end this by giving a praiseworthy note where it is due.

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