Jyoti Kapoor is a Mumbai based screenwriter and former journalist. She was born and brought up in Karnal. After completing her Masters in Mass Communication from Punjab University, she went on to work as a correspondent with publications like ‘The Indian Express’ and ‘Mid-Day’ before she crossed over to fiction. She also taught screenwriting at Whistling Woods International, a film school based in Mumbai, before starting out as a full time writer. An alumnus of Film and Television Institute of India, Jyoti has co-written scripts for films like ‘Badhai Ho’, ‘Dawat-e-Ishq’ & ‘Kaccha Limboo’ and is the writer of upcoming film ‘Good News’.
Jyoti has been actively involved in writers’ rights initiatives and is the Vice President of the Screenwriters’ Association (SWA).
Jyoti’s IMDB link is here.
As a child what were your early influences towards cinema? Art, literature, graphics, photography?
Mostly what I got to watch on Doordarshan. But I do remember gravitating most towards the films of Shyam Benegal, Gulzar, Govind Nihlani, Satyajit Ray, Basu Chatterjee, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, to name a few.
Also, I was lucky to have witnessed the golden age of Indian TV. Buniyaad, Nukkad, Malgudi Days, Hum Log, Pachpan Khambe Laal Deewaarein, Bharat Ek Khoj – were some of my favorite shows on TV.
Have always admired Raghu Rai’s photography.
I have grown up on a staple diet of Munshi Premchand, Sharad Joshi, R.K.Narayanan, Mahadevi Verma, Manohar Shyam Joshi, Mulkh Raj Anand, Ruskin Bond and of course, stories told by my grandmother, who was one of the biggest influences on me while growing up. My bedtime stories, on most days, were a mix of tales woven around partition, Ramayana and Mahabharata. I also remember her telling me the desi version of Snow White among other stories. It’s amazing how fairytales and folklores travel across continents, generations, and how they transcend age, religion, and geography.
After having worked in the business of storytelling for more than a decade, I can say this with confidence, that my grandmother was one of the best storytellers I have come across. I wonder if she would have liked to collaborate with me if she were alive today. Maybe in a different universe!
How did you first become interested in screenwriting?
-Frankly, I never thought I could dream so big. So I never consciously pursued screenwriting, until, I came to Mumbai in 2004. I remember stumbling upon the ‘FTII- call for admissions’ advertisement in a newspaper, while I was on a nightshift. I was working with Mid-Day as a reporter at that time. And I just took a chance.
What steps did you take to train yourself?
Every minute of the (close to) one year I spent in FTII while I was studying Screenwriting taught me the value of time and discipline; a testament to the fact that if you write every single day for 365 days, you will have a bound script (or two) with you by the end of the year.
Ours was a very rigorous course. There was so much to do and so little time. But thanks to the strict writing schedule and brilliant faculty, by the time we graduated, we were already equipped with scripts that we had developed at the institute. And that became our calling card.
Good, bad or Ugly, to be able to write an entire script from start to finish is what you need to learn in the first place. The value of an average finished script is way more than an unfinished masterpiece.
As far as the craft is concerned, it comes with practice and time. And there’s so much to learn when you’re a screenwriter, in terms of experimenting with the genres, forms, that a lifetime is not enough.
Have you assisted anyone? How does it help one?
No. I was lucky enough to get gigs as an independent writer not long after I graduated (*technically I it wasn’t a graduation degree but I loath to use the term pass-out ☺ ) from the institute. Since writing is pretty much a solo exercise, unless of course you are a team of writers working on a show or collaborating with someone in the real sense, I don’t think assisting helps much. There’s not much to observe really. Everything is happening inside someone else’s head.
The only way to learn is, sit and write your own stuff; make mistakes; keep working on your craft basically, one word at a time.
How did your first film script project come about? Tell us something about the experience.
It was the year 2007, a year after I graduated. I was at Infinity Andheri (where all strugglers would park themselves between the meetings, as it was centrally located) when I got a phone call from Sagar Bellary, who wanted me to come and meet him about a dialogue project for his next film called Kachcha Limboo. I was lucky enough to bag that project. My batch mate from the institute and a dear friend, Pubali Chaudhuri had recommended me for the film and I will always be grateful to her for that. I was working on a couple of film projects before that, but none of them had materialized so far.
There is always someone from amongst your peers, who gives you that first push; and that goes on to define how your career will pan out. It feels so nice to be a part of the fraternity that looks out for you. Otherwise you would get lost in this mad Bollywood jungle.
Budgets can make or break a movie. How much do you keep a budget in mind when writing?
I never think about the budget when I write. Not consciously at least. I just try and stay true to the story I’m telling.
How do you decide on a film subject. What are your inspirations?
It just comes to you. I personally tend to gravitate more towards inspirations/themes that come from real life but it’s just a starting point mostly. Also, newspapers! You stumble upon a gem in the newspapers, every once in a while. Also, my training as a journalist comes in handy. I think all writers are closeted spies by nature. They are always eavesdropping on people around them. I feel that you just need to keep your eyes and ears open and stories come to you.
Is film writing intuitive or is it something you learn?
Both. While you need to keep honing your craft continuously, after a point you have to know how to trust your intuition, your gut.
Do you believe in the theories of screenwriting, like the ‘ten poles’ etc? Does it make cinema more ‘templatised’?
I think theories are mostly extracted in retrospect, from work that started from an intuition at some point, and repeatedly continued to deliver results. So while we need to be aware of what’s out there, it should just serve as scaffolding. The theory has to go when the script begins to get a life of its own. But you definitely need to know the rules to be able to break them.
Tell us something about your film ‘Good News’
‘Good News’, helmed by Dharma Productions, is a script that I wrote on a spec and one of the quickest films to get green-lit, in my career of 13 years. But then I had to wait 13 long years to reach there. It’s a script very close to my heart, loosely inspired from real life. It releases in December 2019. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Your favorite films or writers? At least two of them?
Oh there are so many. Billy Wilder, Nora Ephron, Aaron Sorkin, Charlie Kaufman, Woody Allen,
Alexander Payne, Noah Baumbach, who mostly writes with his partner Greta Gerwig, Paul Tomas Anderson. I can go on..
Suggest a film for fabulous writing…
Any hurdles you have encountered in your journey. Things that are blocks in achieving your vision while writing your film.
The path that a writer walks on is fraught with hurdles; the biggest ones being internal, especially when you start doubting yourself. Writing is torturous and alienating in nature. Yes, there are those rare highs and they kind of make up for everything but it is tough as hell.
A constant reminder I give myself is- do not say yes to projects you don’t believe in. The biggest torture ever is to try and write something you are not convinced about.
What is in the kitty now?
A Biopic that I am very excited about and another spec script, which is torturing me as we speak. Also, there’s a web show in the offing.
Any advice to the aspiring writers?
Write everyday. Find time to exercise. Take care of your mental health along with the physical. It’s a long and arduous journey. Get into it only if you’re really passionate about it.
Any memorable blunders?
I once forgot the name of my protagonist while narrating a script.
Your dream project?
Everything that I am yet to write
Who would you like to take out for dinner?
What are you listening to right now? And most recent book? And Movie?
I’m reading Unbound by Annie Zaidi, Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk and The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. I am listening to Who’s gonna drive you home tonight- by The Cars. The last film I watched is ‘Photograph’
Your twitter handle?