Soap Soup

Snubbed by the elite for dramatic excess in soaps and by the audience for the lack of it,the life of television writers is a tricky balancing act.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul D'souza | Published: January 6, 2012 3:37 am

It was during the festive season last year that Gautam Hegde had planned a short break from work. The TV show screenwriter (Saath Nibhana Saathiya,Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon,Navya: Nayi Dhadkan,Naye Sawaal and Sapno Se Bhare Naina) even informed Star Plus about it in advance and banked episodes that could be shot while he vacationed for four days. Still,Hegde found himself working through his holiday due to unforeseen changes in the shooting schedule. “You live your life on standby in this profession,” sighs the 29-year-old,who goes everywhere,including to parties,with a tablet PC,data cable and a 3G internet connection.

Working seven days a week through the year seems like a big drawback,but the monetary compensation usually overrules the discomfort: A writer can end up making up to Rs 5 lakh a month. Hegde likes his job. “I find kitchen politics highly entertaining,” he confesses and recollects going for his board examinations after watching the daily telecast of Shanti.

However,there are only a few in the profession because not many people enjoy the drill. Purnendu Shekhar,whose Balika Vadhu helped establish Colors as an entertainment channel,discovered his passion for writing late in life. A journalist from Rajasthan,he came to Mumbai in 1992 to become an actor. “Just as I was about to return to my hometown disheartened,I received a call to script the popular show Imtihaan. Writing became a source of survival before I developed a passion for it,” he explains.

Most screenwriters,essentially freelancers,work with teams and on multiple shows. Hegde co-writes Saath Nibhana Saathiya with Jyoti Tandon and Janaki Viswanathan assists him on Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon and Sapno Se Bhare Naina. He also has two part-time assistants who help him during busy days.

“It is essential to find team members who are on the same page and then guide,monitor and mentor them,” says Hegde,who spends a large chunk of his day briefing,discussing and checking his team’s work before he gets down to his own share of scripting.

The monies may seem lucrative but a writer’s career is often short-lived since new people continuously enter the profession. On the other hand,even if a show is a success,it is mostly credited to the producers and the cast. However,Kamlesh Pandey is an exception and has created a niche for himself. Sony’s Kuch Toh Log Kahenge marks the writer’s comeback on TV after Viruddh on Star Plus in 2008.

With shows such as Karamchand and films such as Tezaab,Rang De Basanti and Delhi-6 to his credit,he is an old industry hand. His recent TV show is an exception. “I love television: it is a writer’s medium since the characters stay with the audience. But the golden era of TV — the ’80s — is over. This show is an adaptation of the iconic Pakistani series Dhoop Kinare and I could not have refused the opportunity,” he explains.

The mediocre state of TV writing is owing to the fact that it is TRP-driven. “Unlike in the ’80s,there is ample money in TV to improve the content,take risks and increase the production value,but no one seems keen,” he says. But Hegde,who often ends up debating his preference for Indian soaps with his ‘elite’ friends,feels that if the audience demands a certain kind of entertainment,so be it.

“Striking a balance between the producer,the channel and one’s own instincts on story development is the biggest challenge. One of us usually relents,” he smiles.

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