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Screenwriting for India's film industry with Megha Mittal



Aug 12 2021

9 mins read


Megha Mittal is a writer and AWS solutions architect from Bengaluru, Karnataka, India. She’s written short films and screenplays for India’s exploding film industry, and is currently hard at work on the second draft of a screenplay called Dimpy, in which a young boy imagines he has magical powers. We managed to steal a moment of her post-Wordloops writing time to ask her about her writing practice.

What’s your background? Have you always loved writing, how’d you get into screenwriting?

I’ve always loved writing as a hobby. When I was a kid, I wrote a lot of poetry and when my teachers discovered that I wrote well, from class seven onwards I became the unofficial playwright in the school. In college I realized that blogging was free, so I started writing blogs about poetry and comics. Then I discovered a filmmaking meetup and started making short films. I met with these people in Hyperabad, which is a city in South India, who had started this new kind of creative incubator which works like a writers’ room and agent for writers. I pitched them my short film story and they really liked it and pushed me to write more. So I became part of the writers’ program, and they gave me free co-writing space and representation in exchange for some ghostwriting alongside my original project. I considered an MFA, got accepted into a few places, and then for a lot of reasons decided against it. Instead, I switched to a part-time job to give it more time and got really serious about writing.

What’s the screenwriting scene like in India? Is it centralized in one place or spread out? Is there a big community?

In India as a whole, the entertainment industry is huge. You’ve got Bollywood, which is mostly Hindi, then there’s Tollywood, there’s Kannada, then there’s the Malayalam industries, so there are all these regional languages and all of them have their own really huge industries. The people I’m working with right now are basically associated with the Telugu film industry. Since there are so many production houses and regional industries that exist, it kind of multiples things manyfold. For example, I was writing this web series that we tried to sell Sony for their OTV platform, but they said that they couldn’t compete with Neflix for other Hindi shows. So we actually translated it into Tamil and started selling it in Tamil. So yeah, there are so many languages, everything in the industry is like multiplied by five and it’s really, really huge.

How do you generate new ideas in the midst of an industry where there are so many languages and interests? Are you writing for some specific market? Or are you writing for yourself, from a place of inspiration? Where do your ideas for stories come from?

Last year, the stuff that I wrote was mostly ideas that I really believed in. Like existential stuff, that maybe got too existential to the point where the people I work with liked it, but didn’t really understand its mass appeal. So that was a bit heartbreaking... but I came to understand that it’s important to both follow what you believe in, and tell an entertaining story for a general person. So I thought for what came next I’d try to do both, and that’s how I came to the idea for Dimpy. I’m really attracted by the idea of absurdism and magical realism, so I thought a child protagonist could let me explore absurdism but because he’s a child he could have a really entertaining plot. And then the origin came from real life too, because there’s a kid who used to live across from my house who had a sister, and the sister disappeared and my mom and I used to talk about what happened to the sister. Apparently, she died and no one knew. Which is really strange for an Indian neighborhood. So that was always in the back of my mind and I thought okay, let’s do this!

What’s your goal? Your dream for your writing.

I thought I might go into directing, but then I decided to focus on writing. The thing about India is that even though the industry is so huge, the truth is that quality content is really hard to find. But that’s a good thing, because when you see that there is this gaping hole for content, you feel motivated that maybe you can fill that hole. But there are some things that I believe too, like not only do I want to make quality content but I want to write stories because I think that the only purpose of life is to write stories. I want to write meaningful stories. Sometimes I get motivated to write because there are things that I want to tell people who I really care about, but I can’t really tell them in words. For example if I have a friend who is really confused in life and thinks that losing is not okay. I can’t really tell him ‘hey dude, losing is okay and everyone out there is faking it,’ but if there’s a story, if there’s a movie he watches and he feels it, then it will actually help him. That’s what movies meant to me as a kid. Indian movies are full of song and so they were a way for you to get away from life and be there in that reality. There was some really good stuff being made when I was a kid and it’s just deteriorating as the years go by. So I hope I can make some good stories that not only make you feel good, they make people realize things that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

I love that. I feel the same way about stories, they really are vital to our well-being. What are your favorite movies?

Lagaan. It’s a Hindi movie that’s really tied to my childhood and a great movie too. It was India’s official entry to the Oscars. And then there’s E.T. the Extraterrestrial, the movies I watched as a kid because they stay with you the rest of your life. The Back to the Future trilogy, Jurassic Park, I’m a huge Steven Spielberg fan. Then when I started writing screenplays I really got into Charlie Kaufman, then Kenneth Lonergan and really fell in love with his style of realism. I was just spellbound by it. And I realized he was actually a playwright before a screenwriter. And right now I’m really into Miranda July.

What’s your writing routine like on a daily basis?

I have reserved two or three days of the week for freelance work. Those days I mostly write at nights, or in the mornings before I work. I can’t tell you how much I love Wordloops and how much it helps. Yesterday I was telling my friend that there are two things in the world I look forward to every day, my afternoon nap and my Wordloops session. I try to follow the same strategy, make a session of one hour, sit down for that one hour, and write. 

Do you see any similarities between software development and writing?

I've been coding for what, like, I don't know, eight years, including college. And now I have this state that if I get a problem, I first design it and then I'll break it down into subproblems and then I'll implement each thing and then I'll go over it and I can see all of that in my head so clearly, and I do believe that if I practice enough, I'll reach that state for writing. If you get an idea, you make a design out of it and then you chunk it down into some problems and then you implement solutions. But then you don't want to implement it perfectly the first time, right? You first make a proof of concept and then you add relatively better design over it and you add more details, so it's totally the same and I mean, I hope I'm able to get to that level with writing that I’m at with coding.

Last question: what advice, would you give a new Wordloops member who's just starting out? 

Just show up. I mean. like don’t be worried about what the other writers will think or if you will be able to write or whether you're in the zone. There have been so many days where I’m not in the zone, or one time I was staying back at a friend's place and two beers down, I decided I'm just gonna show up and sit there and not even say a word. It helps a lot to just show up! And in fact, most of the time, like a lot of my sessions, the actual things come to me after 40 minutes. So for 40 minutes, I'm just sitting there and trying to wait for my thoughts to come in and then like just right at the 40 minute mark, everything just makes sense. And so that happens to me too. Wordloops is so supportive too, like all of the people come are so positive. It helps a lot.

Thank you Megha! So inspiring. See you next time at Wordloops!

Wordloops is building a training space for writers in the metaverse. We've created tools that make it easy to structure your writing time in repeatable, deep focus chunks. We also hold workshops throughout the week to help sharpen your skills and ship more often. Track your progress, unlock badges, and join a community of talented and motivated writers gathered together from all around the world.

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