- Punam Mohandas
- 03 June 2021
The story needs to be the superstar!
SWA Exclusive interview with writer director NAVJOT GULATI
Navjot Gulati counts scripts like ‘Running Shaadi’ and the more recent ‘Ginny Weds Sunny’ in his body of work. He seems to draw the inspiration for most of his storylines from real life relationships and their ups and downs; indeed, he says self-deprecatingly that he is a most unimaginative writer.
This young writer, although he may come across as reticent, does not shy away from mincing his words when they matter, is unafraid of candour and is willing to take a chance working with relatively unknown faces. ‘Jai Mummy Di’ marked his directorial debut, a decision he says was taken due to the lack of respect he received as a scriptwriter! Navjot has also dabbled with acting and production, although he says he will always be a writer first and foremost. He is currently working on ‘Dostana 2’ which is in the filming stage.
Most of your scripts such as ‘Running Shaadi’ or Jai MummyDi’ seem to revolve around love and misunderstandings that arise from or between, couples. Why do you opt for this recurrent theme?
Navjot laughs. “On the outside, it may seem that I’m only interested in telling stories about relationships and confusion surrounding weddings but the truth is that I’ve got many more interesting and different stories to tell. To paraphrase Sanjeev Dutta’s line mouthed by Tiger Shroff, “Abhi toh maine start kiya hai”. My point is that these stories are an easy-sell and have laid the foundation (for me) for a tomorrow where I can take the risk of telling more diverse stories. And you’ll see that in the work that follows in 2021 from me”, he promises.
Certainly, the story idea of ‘Running Shaadi’ seems justified given the presence of politics that objects to inter-faith and inter-caste marriages even today! What’s your take on this?
“I find it really sad that something so regressive is still relevant”, he says wryly. ‘Running Shaadi’ was always supposed to be a comment on the nonsense around weddings and class divisions in our society. I do hope that more people see the film now; when it came out, I feel it didn’t get its due as the producers Vikram Malhotra and Shoojit Sircar were unfair to it and did a throwaway release thanks to their ego tussles”, Navjot says candidly.
‘Second-Hand’ dealt with marital insecurity, all too common in many marriages, sadly. It appears you are hugely inspired by real-life stories around you, rather than coming up with imaginary plots? ‘Best Girlfriend' too was inspired by a true story…
A close friend of mine calls me a thief and I agree with her”, chuckles Navjot. “I’m the most unimaginative writer you will meet. All my stories and characters are based on someone I know and the life I lead. I believe that I seek drama in order to make my stories more interesting, so yeah. Although I do hope that at some point, remakes start finding me so that I can lead a much calmer life”, he smiles.
As a writer, do you find it more challenging to write scripts for short films as opposed to full-length feature films? If yes, please elaborate why this is so.
“Yes, in fact I find short films much harder because you need to tell a lot in a limited amount of time. Films and series are where I’m more at home, but I had to learn how to write short films in order to survive and put my work out there. And now I enjoy it”! he confesses. “Shorts work as a gap filler and sometimes end up being really rewarding, cases in point being ‘Best Girlfriend’ and ‘Jai Mata Di’. I made BG just to see whether I could direct or not and JMD was purely out of boredom as I had broken my foot and had nothing better to do”!
Despite the presence of heavy-weight veterans such as Supriya Pathak and Poonam Dhillon, your debut directorial venture ‘Jai Mummy Di’ did not fare too well. What do you think went wrong? Navjot takes this one on the chin and answers honestly.
“I picked the wrong story to tell and made a series of bad decisions. Bad decisions lead to bad films. And bad films don’t work unless they have got superstars in them! For small films to work, the story needs to be the superstar”.
What do you think constitutes a good comedy script? What is your approach to writing it?
Well, there are many different types of comedies, from slapstick to slice-of-life to laugh-a-minute to subtle dramedies where none of the characters are doing anything funny, but it is their situation that makes you laugh. I think I prefer subtle ones and my approach to write is that it should make me laugh first - I’m my first audience. I need to find it funny for the world to find it funny eventually”.
Just curious… what led you into direction?
“The lack of money, respect and freedom that I used to receive as a writer led me into direction”! Navjot responds promptly. “Having said that, I will always be a writer first, then anything else.
And coming to the latest, ‘Ginny Weds Sunny’ which received a mixed response from critics as well as the audience. Do you think you work better as a solo writer rather than as part of a team? Is this why some of your scripts don’t quite hit the sweet spot?
“GWS has been liked by more people than the ones who didn’t like it”, he defends hotly. “It trended at number one in various countries for more than two weeks; the kind of messages and calls I’ve got from people praising it, I definitely feel otherwise about the (mixed) reception. Of course, the Snooty Versova Critics who want everything in low-light with minimal bgm that you are probably talking about did not like it! And I’m aware of the shortcomings of the film and will keep it in mind for the next film and make sure they also like it like the regular audience, because they do matter.
I’ve always been a reluctant team writer but, over the years, I’ve understood the process of working together as a team. And now that I direct as well, I feel writing solo can happen for the scripts I direct, while for others I’m open to collaboration”.
And now you’re working with quite a few co-writers on ‘Dostana 2’. What has this experience been like? Without giving away too much of the plot, can you nonetheless give us an idea of how different this will be from the original ‘Dostana’?
“The experience has been filled with a lot of drama that you will be seeing in the film. And fun! It is way different from the first part. The only thing that is similar to part 1 is the theme. Everything else is very contemporary and politically correct. And when I say politics, I mean gender politics”, Navjot clarifies.
As a scriptwriter, how do you handle failure? What advice would you give to other writers in this regard?
“I sulk. I cry. I rant on social media”, he says frankly. “I confide in my friends about my mistakes and then move on to the next (project)”.
Will we see you venturing into the OTT realm soon as well? How different is writing for serials vis-a-vis films? Certainly, serials afford more scope for character development.
I’m currently in the process of writing a show which will probably be the most watched show by screenwriters of this country”! Navjot says grandly. “It is my most ambitious turn as a writer/creator. And yes, long-form writing has more scope for everything, more so than films”.