When one hears Salman Rushdie say, “The way you write a screenplay is that you close your eyes and run the movie in your head and then you write it down”, you realise that the work of a scriptwriter in a film is quite tough. And in this light, we speak to Gauri Bapat, a young writer from our very own Pune, whose first film as a screenplay writer is Sujay Dahake’s much looked forward Ajoba. This is her first solo attempt and the film speaks about the conflicts between nature and humans, via a leopard called Ajoba who is being tracked constantly.
Sujay has become a household name with his National Award winning Shala and Ajoba is his second film. Gauri admits that she had told Sujay that she would be doing his next film as a writer. This confidence surprised Sujay too. “His brother had heard about Vidya Ahtreya and her work in this regard. We contacted her regarding the film. She was reluctant to share it initially. But then she shared things about her work. Honestly, I am not a trekker nor related to wildlife or outdoors in any way. So, I had to start the research from scratch. Fortunately, Vidya gave us material and Sujay helped too. I also spoke to people from the wildlife department.”
This dedication helped Vidya speak freely. “But her information was more technical. I had to come with a story for a film with its characters. Ajoba’s was the first character and then Vidya’s. To write his story, I followed Ajoba and then he came to life. So the film became a story not just about his travels but also the conflicts around it. The protagonist is Ajoba, while society is the antagonist.”
She reveals that the initial drafts of the script were far too lovey-dovey. “In fact, Sujay would jokingly say that I should elope with Ajoba and marry him (Laughs). He could, many a times, tell what would be the next dialogue. I did not want it to be a documentary or be like Maaherchi Saadi. I had to trek around to understand certain things. Then the realistic characters came in. It was a trial and error method.” Her work in the film was involved in more than just writing the script and screenplay. The fact that she, Sujay and the film’s art director are good friends worked for her and she was involved in almost every decision regarding Ajoba.
Gauri did try her hand at a few serials and films. “But due to certain circumstances, I did not have much confidence still. Ajoba was made for me, I felt. The film’s destiny will be decided when it gets released. But my work is done.” Personally, she feels that by taking a step into an unusual field like script writing, she has been able to shirk certain lack of confidence. “Earlier, things like going to any restaurant or just any places alone was odd for me. Now, I travel alone in buses from one place to another to study characters.”
On a personal level, Gauri has worked in many fields including teaching and advertising before giving up on it to try her hand at writing. “After leaving my job, I had nothing much to do. My brother Kranti (Kanade, a well-known filmmaker) thought I had to do something. There were certain things in mind. A screenplay writing workshop was held in Hyderabad by Robert McKee in 2012. It was initially all technical. But I then tried to explore.”
Gauri, in fact, does not feel any pressure as Ajoba is going to be released in May this year. “Sujay and I fought a lot and about 13/14 drafts of the script were prepared. Only when he saw the film and said he liked it, it was done for me. His opinion was more important for me.” Working with Sujay meant learning a lot from him, despite the age group. “He is aggressive and found my work flowery. I had a barrier which he helped break. He told me to write what I want. He trusts me and that is enough for me.” A few films are in planning, but for Gauri Bapat, Ajoba is a lifetime journey.