‘The producer will wear these gold ornaments, but they will not part with Rs 30,000 or Rs 50,000 to pay the writer.’
IMAGE: Jyoti Kapoor. Photograph: Kind courtesy Jyoti Kapoor/Facebook
“No one can understand the struggle of a writer because it is such a long and arduous journey. And zaroori nahin hai ki kabhi lottery lag jaaye.”
That pretty much sums up the life of a writer in Bollywood.
But Jyoti Kapoor is among those who have managed to survive in the film industry, and even succeeded.
She has just written the blockbuster Good Newwz and has also been credited with the story of Ayushmann Khurrana’s big hit, Badhaai Ho.
“Just when you think you’ve made it, you will fall flat on your face. But then you will get up and move on,” Jyoti tells Ronjita Kulkarni/KhabriBaba.com with a laugh.
IMAGE: Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Kiara Advani and Diljit Dosanjh in Good Newwz.
Good Newwz, in fact, is the story of her life — a comedy on her personal tragedy.
“I went through a failed IVF,” Jyoti explains. “We went through these interesting doctors and on our way back home, my husband and I would wonder if it’s a tragedy or a comedy that we are a part of. And what you’re going through reflects in the films you write.”
She also used her script to talk about things she felt very strongly about.
“The kind of torture everyone, including strangers, put you through when you don’t have kids after years of marriage. As a society, we love poking our noses into other people’s lives. Sometimes, I wanted to ask people, do we ask you what happens in your bedroom? How do you know what the other person is going through? Maybe we are trying for a child and trying to come to terms with it day and night,” she says.
“I feel genuine comedy comes out of some kind of tragedy,” Jyoti continues. “I remember during my IVF, my doctor kept talking. One day, she was talking so much that she forgot which injection she had to mix and give me, and she started asking me!”
Was it tough writing about such a painful chapter in her life?
“It was very cathartic. I said goodbye to all those good, bad and ugly experiences,” Jyoti says.
IMAGE: Neena Gupta, Ayushmann Khurrana, Sanya Malhotra, Gajraj Rao, Surekha Sikhri and Shardul Rana in Badhaai Ho.
Jyoti’s state of mind inspired her to write Badhaai Ho as well, which told the story of a middle-aged woman with adult children getting pregnant again.
The 41-year-old writer tells us how the germ of the idea started growing in her mind: “We are three sisters, living on different continents, and constantly worried about our parents living in Karnal. So we put cameras in our house and started getting live feeds.”
“I remember once my parents were getting ready for a wedding, and Papa was pulling Mom’s cheek. I took a screenshot and sent it in the family group and we laughed about it. I shared this incident in a preliminary meeting with Junglee Pictures, where you care about your parents but you’re also intruding into their lives,” she says.
Jyoti was commissioned to write the screenplay of what was later called Badhaai Ho for Junglee Pictures after she shared her story, Hum Do Hamare Chaar. But when she submitted it, a Bollywood writer’s worst nightmare started unfolding.
“They told me that they had approached Amit (Sharma, director of Badhaai Ho), and he already had a script. I learnt that it was the same premise, same plot points and same character arcs!” Jyoti says.
Initially, she kept quiet, but she would not sleep at night.
“Kal, if the film got made and I didn’t get credit…’ the thought wouldn’t leave her.
“So I mailed the sequence of events to (Junglee Pictures head) Priti Shahani and (Bennett Coleman and Junglee Pictures Managing Director) Vineet Jain, and said I should be credited. On legal grounds, I had a very strong case,” she says.
Jyoti made sure she got her due credit.
But it came back to haunt her when she was nominated for the Filmfare awards, and her name got dropped at the last minute.
“In the morning, I got messages from friends, congratulating me, and then I suddenly see that the nomination has been pulled out!” she exclaims.
“Yahaan bahut aisi cheezen hoti hai and vahi log wapas dost bhi ban jaate hai. But at that time, egos beech main aah gayi thi,” she reasons.
IMAGE: Jennifer Winget and Kunal Kohli in Phir Se…
But it wasn’t the first time that Jyoti had to fight for credit.
She took Kunal Kohli to court when he refused to give her credit for his film, Phir Se…
“He had said he wanted to make some changes, and that he would count the number of scenes and then see who gets what credit!” Jyoti says. “I said no. Later, I saw the interviews of the actors and they spoke about the same characteristics of the protagonists that I had written!”
IMAGE: Jyoti finds inspiration from writers like Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story) and his partner Greta Gerwig who has directed Little Women as well as Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag). Back home, she likes Juhi Chaturvedi, Bhavani Iyer and Varun Grover.
Her all-time favourites are Shyam Benegal, Gulzar, Satyajit Ray and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Photograph: Kind courtesy Jyoti Kapoor/Facebook
Stolen credits remain a writer’s biggest nightmare, and it all boils down to a draconian clause in every movie contract: All credits will be given at the discretion of the producer.
“Kisi bhi baat par nok-jhok ho gayi and you might end up losing your credit,” Jyoti explains. “Also, at the last minute, there can be 10 people sharing your credit! Because of that clause, writers are very powerless.”
Having faced so many hurdles, Jyoti has become the chairperson of the Dispute Settlement Committee, and she deals with problems faced by writers on a regular basis.
“There are so many cases. Writers work for free or assist on the promise that they will be credited for their story. There are times when they don’t get paid nor get credit. The producer will wear these gold ornaments, but they will not part with Rs 30,000 or Rs 50,000 to pay the writer.”
“It’s a one-time payment for a film that might make a lot of money. You are not getting a part of the profits, and you don’t have the rights to make a prequel or sequel. So you get close to 1 percent of the entire budget, sometimes less,” Jyoti explains.
“We are trying to push the basic minimum wages. If you have written the entire script, the basic minimum is around Rs 12 lakh, for a film with a budget up to Rs 5 crore.”
Still, Jyoti admits that this is the best time to be a writer, thanks to the demand for good scripts.
“Because you have a digital platform, there is so much content that people can choose from. The only way you can get people to come to cinema halls is if you have content-driven cinema,” she says.
IMAGE: Jyoti wonders if the doctors she saw during her IVF have recognised themselves in Good Newwz.
What’s the life of a writer like?
“Very boring!” Jyoti says with a laugh.
Then she gets serious and answers, “It’s a solitary life. You don’t step out for days sometimes, especially when there is a deadline breathing down your neck.
Where does the inspiration to write come from?
“Everywhere!” she exclaims. “Sometimes a friend may call you and tell you something and you will find your story there. Also, you have to be a keen observer. I guess the same rule that applies for journalism applies here: Keep your eyes and ears open.”
Jyoti, in fact, started her career as a journalist, working for the Indian Express in Chandigarh for four years. She moved to Mumbai and found a job with Mid-Day.
“I was doing the night shift and there was a lot of time to kill. That’s when I saw this ad, where FTII was offering a course in scriptwriting. I applied and got through. I never really thought about writing because when you grow up in a place like Karnal, you have little achievable dreams in that sense. I don’t even remember watching a lot of films, growing up,” she says.
IMAGE: Jyoti with her husband Harsh Warrdhan. Photograph: Kind courtesy Jyoti Kapoor/Facebook
Jyoti’s husband Harsh Warrdhan is also a writer.
“When we got married, I was teaching screenwriting at Whistling Woods and he was a creative head in a corporate office. We quit our jobs and started writing. We would be on the opposite sides of this dining table and that was our day,” she says, pointing to a glass-top dining table occupying a corner of her beautifully decorated home in Versova, north west Mumbai.
Has she ever collaborated with her husband on a project?
“We tried collaborating, but we fought so much!” she laughs.
Her husband and techie sister Nitika Kapoor remain her sounding boards.
“Thank God I’m married to a writer! He understands the frustrations and anxieties of a writer,” she says, even as she adds with a grin, “We are two competitors living under the same roof!”
In fact, they share the same inspirations.
“We live in the same universe with the same friends and relatives. Sometimes a relative may be giving him a juicy ideas and I can see his mind working. So whoever claims the idea first, right then and there, it’s that person’s idea,” she says. “And that happens a lot! I remember I told my parents once, aapne woh kyun discuss kiya>, I wanted it for my character!”
IMAGE: A scene from Good Newwz.
With the success of Good Newwz, new avenues have opened up for Jyoti.
“Now I can tell all my stories that I have been waiting to tell. I’ve received some lovely messages from people in the industry, people you’ve been wanting to work with, but never had the courage to go and ask. I can now pitch my stories to everyone. And I have got some very good offers.”
She loves writing comedy and satire, even though she admits it’s tough to make people laugh.
“Sometimes you are the only one laughing when you read it,” she smiles.
“But haste haste aap kuch bhi bol sakte ho, people don’t mind,” she says with a smile.