Soap! : Writing and Surviving Television in India by Venita Coelho: Part 2


As promised in Part 1 of this review I got to talk to a writer in the TV series space in India.

This is the only book of its kind in India,” Kirtida Gautam, a former student of the Film and Television Institute(FTII), Pune, said when I asked her whether she had read Soap! She’s a screenplay writer who has worked on three TV shows, including a historical drama called Jodha Akbar for Zee TV. “Pretty much everything in Soap!  is an effective portrayal of how the TV industry works in India.”

Once the concept and characters are etched out, you get down to writing the screenplay, which in India means a step by step outline or ‘cold-blooded organization’ of the story. Then the scenes, which are the basic unit of the soap, are written down. Kirtida talked about how it was the channel’s prerogative to instruct the writer about the number of scenes and also how to move the plot towards what audiences positively responded to. So like Coelho says the writer does not dictate what the audience sees; it’s the other way round.

I asked Kirtida about what she thought writers who wanted to do a stint in Television  in India should do. It’s a great opportunity to write in television solely because you learn to write even when there is no muse and the only reason you write is a deadline obsessed Creative Director breathing down your neck. This kind of urgency plus the possibility of turning into Ekta Kapoor’s favorite writer is motivation enough.(For the record Ekta Kapoor is a very successful TV and film producer.)

Source: Wikipedia

Ekta Kapoor (Source: Wikipedia)

Says Kirtida, “I advise any aspiring TV writer to go to Mumbai, study at a good television institute, and work with Senior writers. In fact, as a junior writer, you can ghost write a bit for a while. You won’t get credits but you will garner experience. You also have to be a fighter. When you have written a concept, make sure you get the credit; you have to fight for it.” Kirtida reiterates what Coelho says is every writer’s humble duty-  FIGHT!

Besides the hazards of frozen shoulder and Repetitive Stress Syndrome from overstraining those nimble fingers, another hazard of the TV industry is the money. Coelho explains about the importance of signing a contract that has details like work definition, amount payable in full and the cancellation amount if the producer changes his mind, the signing amount, the amount on delivery of the first, second, third and final draft, amount payable after episode airs, the credit period, copyright, exit clause, etc. She has even inserted a sample contract at the end of the book, so the junior writer at least knows what she is to ask for.

What is most heartening about this book is how the author shares so much information and debunks so many myths about creative writing. There is no muse or any such thing. It’s a job like any other, and no crazy maker or deadline breaker stands a chance in tinsel town. Wear your boxing gloves and fight; just make sure that you write right as well.

The world of TV is a refreshing deviation from books. What do you have to say about television writing? Have you read any good books that could help you crack the small screen big time?

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