- Punam Mohandas
- 22 September 2019
"Regardless of how I was feeling, I sat down and wrote."
SWA Exclusive interview with screenwriter Pawan Sony
The going has not always been smooth for Pawan Sony. As a scriptwriter, he has several films to his credit, however, it is only after ‘Stree’ that he finally got his due and has been acknowledged by the industry and audience alike.
In an excluisve interview for the SWA website, he describes how the journey has been and how he dealt with demotivation and yes, depression, when things were not going his way. Through all of it, though, he kept the faith.
From journalism to film scriptwriting - which is usually fictional – how did this journey come about and how has it been so far?
“Cinema was always what I wanted to do,” says Pawan earnestly. “Since I started in Delhi where media meant journalism, I started writing for magazines. From there, I got into documentaries which were satisfying and very enjoyable. But my heart was always in cinema! It was while I was in Delhi that I met Manish Tiwary who was thinking of making a film. We wrote ‘Dil Dosti Etc.’ Then I moved to Bombay. It’s been a roller coaster of a ride. Fun, mostly, but lots of ups and downs,” he says pragmatically.
Pawan is a writer who likes to remain involved with the project long after he’s handed over a bound script – he was also the associate director for ‘Dil Dosti Etc; - and so I comment that both the Hindi film industry as well as the Indian audience seem more receptive to unconventional film themes now. Is it the audience that’s matured – or the industry?
“I think it’s a phase,” he says ruminatively. “A few small, unconventional films do well and everyone starts talking about how that’s the way to go. Till the figures of the next big budget blockbuster come in! Some small films fail at the box office and everyone goes back to star chasing. Having said that, I do personally feel that the quality of our cinema has improved over the last few years.”
How hard was it to make a breakthrough in the film industry and to be taken seriously?
“My first film took off when I was hardly one and a half years old in the industry. So in relative terms, it didn’t take that long, but of course, when you are going through it, every day seems interminable,” he smiles.
Pawan has had to wait for a long time for Lady Luck to smile on him. ‘Issaq,’ ‘Sixteen,’ ‘Dil Dosti;’ the wait for a box office hit has been a long one. Did that ever demotivate him?
“Actually, ‘Dil Dosti Etc’ did pretty well at the box office. It gained a cult following and remains a much loved movie,” says Pawan somewhat defensively. The movie had Shreyas Talpade with Imaad Shah and was aimed at the college-going crowd, as it described the ambiguities and agonies of those just stepping into adulthood. “But I was a newbie, without any contacts in the industry, so I couldn’t really capitalise on the success,” comments Pawan ruefully. “‘Sixteen’ was also very well received, we got many nominations at screen awards, including ‘Best Story.’ It got me a lot of respect. There is one crazy thing about the industry. At any given time, you are in the middle of so many projects at various stages, that you are always feeling, “bas kal ho jaayega,” he laughs. “So there’s always hope and anticipation and of course, when a film doesn’t take off or doesn’t do well, there’s heartbreak too.”
How did he cope professionally as well as emotionally during this period?
“Throughout the period, I kept with my writing schedule; even when nothing was going my way, regardless of how I was feeling, I sat down and wrote. That discipline kept me going. I also got a lot of support from my lovely family which sustained me through all the bleak periods. I also consulted a therapist and that helped a lot,” he says honestly.
Pawan is one writer who does not watch his films after they release as he feels he will find new flaws in them and so when I ask him if he had a chance to do things differently, what would he have changed in any of his scripts in retrospect he says in a tone of finality:
“I don’t revisit my films after their theatrical run is over. I am completely disconnected and on to the next films!”
What would he advise other writers who feel similarly demotivated when their stories don’t work?
“Keep writing. And explore life. The best of our stories come from life. Also, some distance from Andheri madness won’t hurt. Relationships are important, both personally and professionally; invest in relationships. Seek help if depressed/ anxious. Above all, stay grounded.”
And then ‘Stree’ happened! This 2018 combination of comedy and horror is based on a simple Bangalore legend, “nale ba” on whose shoulders rested the entire script. How did it all come together?
“A friend introduced me to Raj & DK who had this lovely idea based on the legend ‘o stree repu ra.’ It excited me too and we started jamming.”
Does he now feel vindicated as a writer?
“I think I always had a lot of faith in myself, so ‘vindication’ won’t be the word that I would use. I didn’t want to prove anything to anyone. Just tell my stories,” he states simply. “Of course, success always feels good.”
Which parts of ‘Stree’ would be credited to him as ‘Additional Story'?
“A script is a collaborative process so it would be really difficult to point out who wrote what,” Pawan states modestly.
Although he takes a long time to pen anything down, Pawan feels he is growing more ambitious now as a writer, rather than the friendship-oriented scripts he used to go in for earlier. Which particular genre or story idea excites him, what would he like to explore in detail?
“Anything (other than sports) as long I have something to play with, something to explore. Any genre, any story can be made interesting. I am an omnivorous reader and watcher. I have also lived a very interesting life, which helps me look at things in exciting, new ways.”
Having studied the subject, how does he look at psychology in relation to scriptwriting?
“Psychology is the backbone of writing! Stories are all about characters, and if you don’t know your characters, the greatest of stories would fall flat. An understanding of people, of human nature, is one of the most essential skills for a writer.”
The trend in the Hindi film industry seems to be inclining towards biopics. How challenging is it to pen a screenplay based on a real person?
“I think it’s just as easy or difficult as any other challenging script. Of course, you have to look at the legal side and sometimes walk gingerly, be respectful to people and yet tell a great story.”
Pawan is also working on a biopic, however, he says he cannot divulge details about it as he is contractually bound not to talk about it.
“But it’s an incredible life - and it’s not a sportsperson or a soldier,” he signs off teasingly.