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Dukaan directors Siddharth-Garima: ‘Writers are like surrogates; we don’t get the respect we deserve’

Dukaan stars Monika Panwar, Sikander Kher, Monali Thakur, Geetika Tyagi and Soham Majumdar

Sameer Salunkhe Calcutta Published 13.04.24, 04:41 PM
A still from Dukaan featuring Monika Panwar.

A still from Dukaan featuring Monika Panwar. YouTube

Screenwriter-lyricist duo Siddharth Singh and Garima Wahal — known for their work in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, Bajirao Mastani, Padmaavat, Kabir Singh and Animal — talked to us about their directorial debut Dukaan, and what they learnt from Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Sandeep Reddy Vanga.

How did you arrive at the decision to direct Dukaan?


Garima Wahal: We knew that we wanted to tell this story for sure. Till the idea evolved, till we went for our first research to Anand, we didn’t know what we wanted to do with it. Then when the story evolved, we knew that there was a full-fledged film there. Once the story became clear, we decided that this was the film we wanted to direct. This was in 2014-15.

What about this subject compelled you to turn it into a film?

Siddharth Singh: We thought it had a lot of drama, a lot of humour. It was a hotbed of conflict. Nobody had tapped into the world of surrogacy based in Anand. So many films are made in India but nobody thought of making a film on commercial surrogacy. We thought it should be in the cinema. So many people want to have a child, everyone would connect with the subject.

Garima Wahal: Where the worlds meet – the privileged versus the underprivileged — that for a filmmaker is the best place to make a film.

What was your take on surrogacy back then and how has it changed over the years?

Siddharth Singh: Earlier, we saw surrogacy as the government sees it now, that it should be banned and women are being exploited. But when we went there and we researched for three-four years, the thought evolved. We realised that it is an industry. It is the fundamental right of a woman to do whatever she wants with her body.

Garima Wahal: We realised surrogacy was giving livelihoods to so many people. It’s putting a roof on their heads. It’s sending their children to school. The only thing that is not there is for the couples who are commissioning these women to have their children to acknowledge the respect and credit associated with it. That’s the topic we have tried to pick up with Dukaan.

Siddharth Singh: Regarding the ban, I would like to say that there should be rules and regulations for surrogacy. You have to protect the surrogate’s rights as well as the couple’s rights. The problem doesn’t get solved by just banning things.

What kind of challenges did you face during this arduous journey of directing your first film?

Garima Wahal: When you start setting up a film, you want the best people to come on board. Some producers came on board but they wanted to turn it into a project. Their perception of making money was to involve a big star in it. Turning Dukaan into a project would have taken away from the essence of the film. That would have been disastrous.

There was an A-lister who wanted to play the lead in Dukaan, but she wanted to change a lot of things about it. She wanted to sign a contract that almost said that if there was a conflict, Siddharth-Garima should not be directing the film anymore. But we were very sure that we would not let this happen to Dukaan. We are very happy that this film was made with the right person. Monika Panwar is a powerhouse of a performer and she has done full justice to Jasmin’s character. Our producers, Amar and Shikha, have been outstanding in terms of taking the film to the finish line. Siddharth and I made the right choices in this matter.

What about Monika Panwar made you cast her as Jasmin?

Siddharth Singh: We saw her in Jamtara and we thought, oh, we have found our actor. We auditioned her and our minds were blown.

Garima Wahal: I think if your eyes and ears are open, you cannot miss a good actor. Her acting stood out for us in a way that we thought that this actor could transform herself. That’s what you want from an actor. We didn’t know how well she would pick up the Gujarati accent, but she outdid herself. We also wrote the language like that in the script. So, it helped.

We took her to Gujarat. She made the effort to come along, staying in the village with us for eight-10 days and picking up the nuances of the language. That’s her strength. I think we saw that in Jamtara.

Siddharth Singh and Garima Wahal

Siddharth Singh and Garima Wahal

You have worked closely with two influential filmmakers, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Sandeep Reddy Vanga. What have you learnt from them that you probably applied in your direction?

Siddharth Singh: Filmmaking-wise, I don’t think anything. As a person, yeah, of course, because you are influenced by your friends, by how they are. Sanjay sir is extremely passionate. He’s a loner. We have learned to shield ourselves from negativity. Sanjay sir does that in his life. He doesn’t come out in the open so often. We’ve learned how to do that.

Garima Wahal: Also, the way he deals with his actors. He pampers them very much but there is a certain equation that he establishes with them on set. We have our style and that cannot change. Nobody can teach you how to deal with your talent. But yes, we admire how he deals with his talent.

Sandeep Reddy Vanga is the most passionate person we have met. We are friends because our level of passion matches. Siddharth and I would like to believe that we are mad about something and we want to do it. So is he. The hunger to make a film that is there in us, he sees that.

Siddharth Singh: And no fear of judgment. I will make what I want to make. That is what we have learnt from both. I don’t think anybody can learn their filmmaking style from someone else. Even if you learn, you will find something different of your own.

Garima Wahal: Both these filmmakers have respect for the audience. Bhansali knows what his audience wants from him. Sandeep knows where his audience would go mad, clap and cry. That connection with the audience is what Sid and I aim to build.

Now that you have made your directorial debut, will that tempt you to direct every script that you write in the future?

Siddharth Singh: Fortunately for us, there is another film which is coming out in July, which is also written and directed by us. It’s with Sony Pictures and it is called Saale Aashiq. It’s based in the world of honour killing. After these two back-to-back films, we might feel greedy to direct more. But we will continue to write. We are writers.

Garima Singh: Some stories are very close to your heart. We knew that we wanted to direct Dukaan. People tried to hijack that but we didn’t let them succeed. And then there are some stories you’re ready to part with. Saale Aashiq was another story. We knew it would be a path-breaking film. We wanted to do that.

So, there will always be that one odd story in a year that we will want to direct. And then there will be people, there will be friends we want to write for because we know they will do justice to that. So, for Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Sandeep Reddy Vanga, we will continue to write, because we know these directors do justice to our scenes. We will continue to write songs for others.

Along with writing the script and lyrics, and directing the film, you have also turned producers with Dukaan. What were the key takeaways from this multitasking?

Siddharth Singh: If you do something with total conviction and passion, you will never get bored by that. We will not regret becoming a producer on this one. We would encourage writers to produce their films if they can. Because here, copyright is a very valuable asset. But that was not the reason for us to become producers on this one.

Garima Wahal: Also, we have on-ground production. You can’t get creative alone and expect that your film will get made. You have to know the tricks of the trade. You have to think business if you’re a creative person. Even your dreams have to be a little frugal. It’s the vision that makes a film. You want to get scale in your film? Plan that shot in a way that you end up shooting it within that much time, with the minimum crew and get out. So, I think if you have that skill, you are automatically the producer of the film. If you’re able to produce the quality that will appeal to people, I don’t think anybody is going to question what the budget of your film is.

What is your process of working together?

Siddharth Singh: We are more like chalk and cheese. I think it’s very important in a partnership. There’s no space for ego in a partnership. We criticise each other’s work with the same passion with which we appreciate each other’s work.

Garima Wahal: The only person in this whole world who can tell me ‘That’s a horrible line you have written’ is him. And the first one to say ‘It’s the most mind-blowing line’ is also him. It’s vice versa.

As for the process, for a story or a song, we first try to crack the thought and then come to the words. Conflict follows as we try to solidify the written words. And once we are done fighting with each other, we are ready to fight the world [chuckles].

Dukaan’s script has taken so long to get solidified that every scene has gone through a trial by fire. We know that we could not have written a scene better and executed it in a more perfect way than we have done.

Similarly, for other films that we have written, for example, sometimes we collaborate with Sanjay sir without charging anything. He has done love stories in the last decade where Siddharth and I have done the scenes for the hero and the heroine in his magnum opus.

Siddharth Singh: Without any credit or money. It’s just a special thing.

Garima Wahal: Yeah, we are the surrogates on that. You have to apply different things to different scripts. We know what kind of writing Sanjay sir would like. It has to be a little lyrical in nature. So, cracking the dialogue and cracking the screenplay is altogether a different ballgame. Songs are always written on paper and pen.

Siddharth Singh: And there’s nothing that is independently done in this partnership. We don’t write separately and collate it later. We write together. I don’t think there are lyricist duos in Bollywood.

How were writers treated when you both started your career and how have things changed for writers?

Siddharth Singh: I don’t think much has changed. Internally, maybe if you were getting 20 percent credit, now you get 40 percent credit. But you will not see writers – who are the genesis of a film – on the podium at the trailer launch and other events. You have to fight for your credits on YouTube uploads too.

We are far away from Hollywood because if writers go on a strike there, the industry shuts down. Here, writers can’t go on strike because there’s no unity. There’s no respect. Our song Satranga from Animal received an award but we didn’t even get a call for it. We have to live with it. But now that we have become directors, I think we can change a little bit of this.

Garima Wahal: Writers are yet to get their due. I think Dukaan comes from a space of a little bit of disappointment and anger as we’re connected to a surrogate story because writers are like surrogates. We don’t get credited or the respect we deserve. We are the ones who create and hand over these babies to directors and producers. So yes, it’s yet to change.

Young people won’t feel encouraged to become writers if they see that there’s no respect and not enough money. Writing is a very difficult job. It’s nothing less than rocket science. You can compliment people for being doctors and all of that; try cracking a great screenplay that will work at the box surface. It’s nothing less.

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