Bombay Showcase

AIB grooms comedy’s future

A year ago, the four members of edgy, and often controversial, comedy collective All India Bakchod (AIB) were just hanging around and having a chat about the lack of talented comedy and script writers in India, especially from outside Mumbai. “We thought it’s not possible that every amazing writer in India happens to live in Mumbai,” says Rohan Joshi. “So what about writing is so scary? We went back to our obstacles, what sucked about writing when we were starting out.”

Having all started out as writers in different corners of what Joshi calls the “ass-end of the Indian entertainment industry,” they quickly came up with a shortlist of problems: the pay is terrible, there’s no guidance on how to get started, and the idea of shifting to Mumbai for a writing career is prohibitively expensive.

Fixing comedy

The four decided that they were going to fix all of that, and that conversation eventually resulted in AIB First Draft, a six-month writing residency that kicked off in March 2016. The residency offers budding writers the chance to live in Mumbai, learn from some of the most talented writers and film-makers in the industry, and create their own scriptwriting masterpiece. And they don’t have to pay a thing.

“We had a good couple of years of the business, we are built on content or writing, so we thought this was worth investing in,” says Joshi. “Plus, I would have killed to have this when I was starting out.”

A leg-up for novices

AIB brought in National Award winning writer and director Satyanshu Singh to work with them on First Draft, and together they spent the next few months designing an exhaustive curriculum that would give novice writers a holistic picture of film as a medium and give them all the tools necessary to create their own screenplays. Singh, who is a long-time friend of AIB co-founder Tanmay Bhat, had already conducted a number of writing workshops in the past and was excited to take things to the next level. “I thought with AIB’s platform, I would actually get the best students possible because they can spread the word across the country with their reach,” he says.

They announced the residency programme in February 2016, with an open call for applications. Thousands of people registered online and were sent an elaborate copy-test to complete and return. “We thought maybe 50 filled-out entries would be a win,” says Joshi. “We ended up receiving 3,500 filled out copy tests. We were not prepared for that, not even in our wildest dreams.”

A rigorous, multi-stage selection process ensued, with Singh and all the members of AIB spending a month going through every one of the copy tests. One of the questions on the test involved using a dwarf as a character, and the responses offered an interesting insight into how India looks at the vertically challenged. “Oh my god” says Joshi, “once you’ve read three-and-a-half thousand storylines that involve dwarfs… For 95 per cent of people, it seems a dwarf means evil, they do magic, kidnap kids or are serial rapist-murderers. If I had to take one big learning away from the AIB First Draft experience, it’s ‘don’t f*** with dwarfs.’”

Working with talent

The most promising candidates were shortlisted for a series of interviews, conducted over three hectic days, before 10 applicants were selected for the course. They arrived in Mumbai in March and have spent the past four months in lectures, workshops and field exercises that revolve around scriptwriting and the various aspects of film-making. They’ve also got the opportunity to learn from a rotating cast of guest lecturers, including screenwriter Varun Grover, Court director Chaitanya Tamhane, Kapoor & Sons director Shakun Batra and Disney India MD Siddharth Roy Kapur. “We have worked very hard on making it a great experience for those involved,” says Singh. “When we sent out the acceptance emails, we ended with ‘the process to change your life has been set in motion.’ We believe that we’ve done everything we could to make that happen.”

One of the applicants to make it into the programme is Mumbaikar Arati Raval-Pandey, who wants to make a career in writing after seven years of working in a film production house. Four months in, Pandey is more than complimentary about her experience. “Whenever I tell my friends about the course, they ask me why are [AIB] doing so much?” she says. “It’s all give, give, give, you know.” Pandey found the course overwhelming at first, with almost every minute of each 15-hour day packed with things to do. But as the course progressed, she and the other students soon found themselves settling into a rhythm.

Their experience on the course has been further enriched by the camaraderie they have developed, and the diversity of worldviews that comes with a group of people from all over the country, ranging in age from 23 to 40-plus. “Right from the language we speak in to the characters we put down on paper, it reflects in all of that,” she says. “We’re already beginning to pick up each other’s slang and vocabulary now.”

Intangible returns

Given that AIB is funding this project entirely from their own earnings, and offering the students not just a place to stay in Mumbai but also a daily stipend, what do they expect to get in return? Not much, as it turns out. A first right of refusal on any of the scripts the students have to produce at the end of the residency, and that’s about it. And they promise to pay better than industry standard — which is pretty low — if they do decide to produce a script. For AIB, the idea is to create a pool of talented writers who are happy to work with them.

And they have a much more ambitious long term goal: to create a school that teaches everything from writing to sketch comedy to the performing arts. “This is a tentative first step in that direction,” says Joshi. “If we can do it for six months and not screw nine lives up, I’ll take that to be a win.”

That attitude is shared by everyone on the team across the board. Even if there is no world-class script to produce at the end of the six months, they will not be disappointed.

They’re taking a more long-term approach. “Sudeep Sharma, the writer of NH10 , told me that he was really excited to see where these students go from here, not at the end of six months, but at the end of five years,” Singh says. “Because it will take that long for the students to really find themselves.”

The author is a freelance writer

Thousands registered online and were sent an elaborate copy-test to complete

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Printable version | May 4, 2021 12:46:51 PM |

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