For those who want a taste of Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions, here’s the first chapter.
‘There is great festivity in the Sharma household. It is Tanvi’s wedding day. The day is bright and sunny in a fitting tribute to the prevailing mood in the household. Tanvi sits outside amidst her friends while henna is applied on her hands. Tanvi studies the intricate pattern on her hands and smiles in approval.
‘Observing her elder daughter from the doorway, the comely way her eyes dance with suppressed excitement and her lower lip trembles with bridal bashfulness, Shanti’s eyes well up with emotion.
Blessed with beauty one could write poems about – sharp features, milky white complexion, thick, long black hair, lithe figure – Tanvi is a rare, precious gem. Infused with an infectious joie de vivre, Tanvi is a livewire who lights up any room she enters. She is traditional in her values and modern in outlook. Yes, Tanvi is indeed a daughter to be proud of.
All these thoughts course through Shanti’s mind as she stands there gazing at her daughter. And also the melancholy thought that soon Tanvi’s effervescence will bubble in her house no longer. She will, from now on, brighten her husband’s home. It is just as well that that home is going to be Rahul’s. A more satisfactory groom would be hard to find.
Shanti remembers the gold bangles that Tanvi is supposed to wear and turns to go and fetch them from Tanvi’s room.
We intercut this with Gauri entering Tanvi’s room surreptitiously. Her entry is accompanied by her characteristic motif sound of a flutter flute. Once inside, her heavily kohled eyes dart around furtively.
Once she is sure that she is alone, she marches purposefully towards Tanvi’s cupboard and pulls open the door. There, on top of the pile of clothes, lies what she is looking for – Tanvi’s wedding dress.
The millions of tiny jewels that comprise the delicate kundan work on the lehenga choli catch the light and wink mockingly at her. Gauri stares fixedly at the dress. The dress, to her, represents all the things that her sister Tanvi has stolen from her.
Schvoom, schvoom, schvoom, the screen is besieged with successive images, at different angles, of Gauri staring at the dress.
Gauri’s face is a mirror reflecting the myriad emotions coursing through her mind – hurt, anger, confusion – each vying with the other for supremacy. She feels such intense hatred for the dress that she does not trust herself. Her chest heaves rhythmically with the tremendous effort of her control. But it is a losing battle.
She is suddenly afraid of what she might do. Her arms shoot out and bury the dress under other clothes. It is as if, if she banishes the dress she might banish her pernicious emotions along with it.
But her sudden movement dislodges the balance and pell-mell, the clothes fall out of the cupboard. The offending dress now lies atop a heap of clothes on the ground, still staring back at her derisively. Dhang, dhang, dhang, zoom in and out quickly three times.
Gauri again stares at the dress hatefully, her chest heaving with the surge of sudden emotion. She feels trapped. It seems there is no escaping the hurtful garment.
We intercut this with Tanvi laughing happily. The sun in the background forms a halo around her upturned face.
Back in Tanvi’s room, Gauri turns her face away and closes her eyes. Her furrowed brow, with the elaborate bindi in its centre, bears testimony to the anguish she is feeling. As she does so, her eyes fall upon a pair of scissors lying invitingly upon the dressing table.
Like a madwoman she falls upon the scissors, her blindingly grabbing hands dislodging the assorted bottles of creams and lotions and other such items of female adornment in the process. Play this out three times.
The scissors secure in her trembling hands, Gauri pauses, her chest heaving with the awe of what she is about to do.
She marches – in slow motion – to the dress, her flimsy chiffon sari swishing around her designer stilettos. The music rises dramatically, signalling to the viewers that she is about to do what they anticipate she will do.
Outside, in the passage leading up to Tanvi’s room, Shanti, too, moves inexorably, in slow motion, towards Tanvi’s room. Dhang, dhang. Zoom in and out rapidly, three times.
Inside the room, Gauri stoops down, in high speed, and picks up the lehenga choli. We switch to slow motion as she straightens and looks ahead resolutely. She has the lehenga in one hand and the instrument of its destruction in the other. Meanwhile, still in slowmo, Shanti inexorably approaches the door.
Will Gauri succeed in destroying the lehenga? Or will their mother intervene in time and save the unthinkable from happening? The background music rises to a crescendo.
We freeze the episode at this point…. What do you think?’
I looked up from the laptop, having just narrated the last scene from the screenplay of episode 1484 of Kkangan Souten Ke to my friend, Brinda.
KSK was a hugely popular daily soap on SuperNova, India’s premier general entertainment channel. And not without reason. The plot of KSK was convoluted enough to guarantee viewer interest, but not too convoluted so as to leave them confused. It had just the right amounts of romance, the suggestion of sex, betrayal, revenge, and the most important element, tortuous, unending human suffering. It would ensure that the protagonist’s (and therefore the viewers’) catharsis, when it came, would be that much more powerful.
The success of KSK was a study in the successful understanding of consumer psychology. And I, having written about six hundred episodes over three years, deserved some (if not all) of the credit for scripting KSK’s popularity.
KSK had begun as a show about Tanvi and Gauri’s mother Shanti, then a young fatherless girl, in search of her absconding father. After following her journey for two years, during which time she won some victories and suffered innumerable setbacks, all the while keeping viewers glued to her tragic travails, we decided that the time had come for her to live happily ever after. So we got her married and blessed her with two daughters.
Alas, as is wont to happen in good dramas, the happily ever after eluded Shanti still. Unfortunately for her, her elder daughter, Gauri, had an uncontrollable jealous streak and was hell bent upon destroying her younger sister, Tanvi’s, happiness because Tanvi was so much better looking and accomplished than her. It didn’t help that Tanvi was also blessed with a heart of gold and, therefore, liked by all.
Then we took a generation leap of twenty years. And a new USP. ‘Tanvi, the girl who was destined to remain a virgin forever’.
One would have thought that, given the passage of time, Gauri would have mellowed down. Not so. Her jealous streak continued unabated. If anything it just got more insidious. The proverbial last straw was when Tanvi got engaged to Rahul Bhargava, an eminently eligible bachelor – tall, handsome and rich. But he had one flaw, as far as Gauri was concerned. He had chosen Tanvi over her.
From then on Gauri did everything in her power to break up the happy couple, thinking up such evil plots as would put Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding to shame.
In the latest instalment of the story, Gauri’s evil machinations have failed and it seems that the wedding will take place. In as much a last ditch effort to disrupt the proceedings as well as vent her pent up frustration, Gauri plans to destroy Tanvi’s wedding dress.
It was sheer brilliance even if say so myself. It was a perfect way to end Thursday’s episode.
Brinda’s eyes bulged with incredulity and her lips twitched uncontrollably. ‘Or there could be another alternative. With her chest heaving so much, Gauri could die of asphyxiation.’
I reacted to her facetiousness with a benignly tolerant, ‘Very funny.’
Now Brinda’s derision has to be viewed in perspective. She was not my average viewer. Instead, she was this corporate woman, single and rational and – the most irredeemable feature yet – successful. In fact, she, with this deadly cocktail of attributes, personified the character my viewers, average housewives in Kanpur or Moradabad, most loved to hate (she has to be a bad wife, placing her needs, her career, before her husband’s!).
In any case, what did she know about heart-wrenching human drama? She dealt with boardroom politics and unemotional corporate types. The worst crisis she would probably ever have to face is if her company went bust. And as I always tell her, companies come and go everyday; a corporate in crisis cannot even begin to compare with a soul in crisis.
Real human dramas are experienced by housewives in small towns where real crises unfold, not in boardrooms but in bedrooms, forcing their victims to choose between impossible situations on an amazingly regular basis. The villains here are not the quarterly turnover numbers, but cruel circumstances that threaten the solidest of familial foundations with astonishing regularity.
When she saw that I wasn’t to be moved, she said, ‘Anyway, how does it end?’
‘How the hell do I know? I haven’t got round to it yet. We’ll decide after the TRPs come in.’
Brinda’s face registered a variety of emotions, none of them flattering. ‘I knew it! There’s never a story.’
‘Of course there’s a story!’ I said, somewhat defensively. ‘It’s just that it’s flexible.’
I’d left myself wide open there but Brinda desisted, very wisely I might add, from gibing any further. Rationality had its uses. Or maybe it was the protesting rumblings of an empty stomach. ‘Okay, okay, chill. Now that you have averted the crisis, can we at least we go for dinner?’
Alas! An artist’s life is never easy. An artist, especially a television writer, has to create endlessly and tirelessly whether she is in the mood or not. Most of the time it is sheer drudgery, but there are moments when pure inspiration strikes and writing is a joy, when fingers fairly fly over the keyboard, creating veritable gems. Such moments make the grind worth it. We writers live for such moments. And such moments were coming to me with increasing rarity lately. Was I going to compromise this moment for a dinner?
‘No, I have to write this down while the juices are still flowing,’ I replied absently.
I was convinced I had a winner and, after seeing off a very irate Brinda, wasted no time in alerting Rajne, the short, fat, chain-smoking bitch of a creative director at Kreative Koncepts, the producer of KSK.
When I stepped into Kreative Koncepts’ office the next morning, it was to the reassuringly familiar sight of a crisis in production.
‘Why wasn’t the episode canned yesterday?’ screamed an irate Aparrna, business head – television, Kreative Koncepts.
‘It’s Aadesh. He didn’t shoot yesterday. He sat in his vanity van all day,’ Vishal, the executive producer of KSK, said apologetically.
‘Why? I thought his monies had been paid!’
‘It’s not that. It’s about his hair.’
‘What about his hair?’
‘He doesn’t want to dye his hair white.’
‘What do you mean he doesn’t want to dye his hair white? He’s playing a grandfather, isn’t he?’
‘Yes, but he won’t dye his hair.’
‘What about white streaks?’
‘No white streaks.’
‘Then what other options are there?’ asked Aparrna in exasperation.
‘He’s okay with the slick gelled look,’ offered Vishal timidly.
‘I’ve already played it by Rajne and she has okayed it.’
Aparrna got a mean glint in her eye then. ‘Is that so? All right. Shave his head off. And sue him for breach of contract if he misbehaves. Oh and while you’re at it, bill him for yesterday’s losses in production and uplinking charges as well.’
Ouch! Aadesh was going to be one unhappy actor. He would probably quit. That meant that I would have to rewrite him out of the story! Oh no!
I opened the door to Rajne’s office and framed myself in the doorway. ‘Hello darling!’
Rajne extracted her considerable bulk from behind her desk and propelled her fat, tight-jean-clad ass over to me. ‘Hiii jaan!’
We hugged and muah-muahed the air around each other’s cheeks.
‘Looks like your boss is having a little crisis in production,’ I began conversationally as we seated ourselves.
‘Is it any wonder?’ Her gaze, through her Preity-Zinta-in-Kal-Ho-Na-Ho glasses, spoke volumes about her opinion of Aparrna.
Then I saw the dozen empty Styrofoam cups lining her desk. ‘Looks like you’re having one of your own.’
‘Again, is it any wonder? I’ve been cleaning up her mess all of last night and all morning,’ she said, rolling her eyes in the direction of Aparrna. ‘Coffee?’
I shook my head but Rajne buzzed the peon anyway. ‘Two coffees please.’
‘I don’t want coffee.’
‘I know.’ She offered me a cigarette and when I refused she lit one herself. I noticed her hands shook a little. No wonder, with all that caffeine coursing through her veins! ‘I mean I am doing everything. I’m negotiating artists’ dates, I’m scouting for locations, I’m handling payments. Since when has this become creative’s job? And what is production doing? At the end of it everything lands on my table. Everything but money. I don’t know why I do this. I don’t need this.’
I made appropriate soothing noises. ‘You know why. You love it.’
‘Sometimes it’s difficult to remember that. And then I have to deal with writers who’ve vowed to make my life as difficult as possible.’
This conversation was veering towards an uncomfortable zone and I hastened to cut her off. ‘No more, my dear. For I have a screenplay that will blow you away!’
She snorted disparagingly but I forgave her that. Any creative director worth her salt is dismissive of a ‘killer’ screenplay or story that does not emanate from her. Unmindful of her disdain I launched into my narration.
Her reaction, at the end of my spirited performance, was somewhat more prosaic than Brinda’s rather colourful one last evening. But then she dealt with, and engineered, flabbergasting vagaries of digi-beta destinies everyday of her life.
Unfortunately for me, that also meant that she was a lot less impressed with my inspired plot. She lit a cigarette and peered at me. ‘This is your killer screenplay?’ Her voice had that distinct edge that I, and indeed all writers, fear.
‘Wait till you hear what happens next,’ I said, thinking furiously.
‘Gauri destroys the lehenga, her action repeated thrice for emphasis, and walks out of the room unnoticed. She misses the advancing Shanti by the skin of her teeth. Then Shanti walks in to find Tanvi’s wedding dress ripped to shreds. Background music rises to a thunderous crescendo. The camera tilts crazily and shows the audience Shanti’s horrified face from different angles. She is shocked and distressed. Who could have committed such a wicked, malicious act?
‘Almost immediately another disquieting thought creeps into her mind. A bride’s wedding dress torn right before the wedding is an ill omen. She clutches her heart. She is in a dilemma. What should she do? Should she postpone the wedding on some pretext? Or should she keep quiet about her discovery and let the wedding proceed as planned?
‘In the end she chooses to maintain silence over the heinous incident. She tells Tanvi that she had sent the lehenga to the cleaners and that they misplaced it.
‘Tanvi gets into a saree that is not a patch on the lehenga, but resplendent still.
‘But then as the day proceeds, another ill omen strikes, then yet another. The skies darken ominously and the heavens roar their disapproval.
‘Shanti clutches her heart. This is a sure sign that Tanvi’s wedding is doomed. Omens, like tragedies, always strike in threes.
‘Just then, a police car pulls in, followed by an ambulance. Before our bemused wedding party comprising the Sharmas and their assorted guests, the two vehicles screech to a halt and various people jump out. They open the doors of the ambulance and pull out a stretcher. On the stretcher lies a human body covered by a shroud.
‘In the background chanting of shlokas begins. A trembling Tanvi advances unsteadily towards the shroud-covered body. She is afraid to confirm what she fears. At the same time she cannot stop herself. She must know!
‘With trembling hands she removes the shroud to reveal the body’s face. Repeat this action three times as background chanting rises to a crescendo. Before a horrified Tanvi, the dead body is revealed to be that of Rahul’s.’
Rajne crushed out her cigarette and immediately extracted another one from the pack. She lit the cigarette and pursed her lips as though she were thinking about this one seriously. Now this was a good sign, because lately she had been rejecting outright whatever I came up with.
While she absently played with her short-cropped hair, I looked at her apprehensively, desperately hoping for a nod. What I got instead was yet another dreaded shake. ‘There’s too much drama.’
Sacrilege! I stared at her in disbelief. ‘There’s no such thing as too much drama.’
Rajne sighed. ‘When I said I wanted something different, I didn’t mean, the same old twists in new settings. I meant actually different! Today’s audiences don’t want the same old plots. They’ve become canny. They assimilate information so fast that they can predict what’s going to happen. We can’t have that! We have to provide them something they haven’t seen before. Something new.’
‘It’s a soap, for God’s sake!’ I exclaimed. ‘By its very definition soap comprises salts and fatty acids. Romance, sex, fate, revenge, and betrayal are our salts and fatty acids, and the sparkling foam that is produced when you mix these ingredients together is our drama. The formula always remains the same.’
Rajne blew out a cloud of yellow smoke and stared into the distance. I could tell that she wasn’t particularly impressed with my impromptu chemistry lesson. ‘But you can play around with the ratios of ingredients, can’t you? There are soaps with less alkaline and pH balanced soaps, aren’t there? I said I wanted Dove and you’re still giving me industrial grade cleaner.’ She sat back triumphant and more than a little pleased with her correlating analogy.
‘But Dove won’t clean resilient kitaanoos!’ I squeaked.
Rajne crushed her half-smoked cigarette and blew out another cloud of yellow smoke. ‘Look I understand. But the…,’ I watched in horror as her mouth shaped the dreaded C word, Channel.
And that was that. Topic closed. Argument over. The channel this, the channel that, the channel doesn’t like this, the channel doesn’t like that, the channel is the last word in any argument, and the most convenient refuge of producers.
When they don’t want to argue anymore, producers always dump the blame onto the poor channel, knowing fully well that it will shut up any writer, actor, or any other talent. Because, like it or not, the channel is the God upon whom producers and writers alike depend for sustenance. And one doesn’t argue with God. If only channels knew how many arguments they were responsible for winning, they would beat the producers down on prices and charge the difference to valuable services rendered.
But my sustenance was at stake. So I persisted. ‘Okay, how about this? Gauri destroys the lehenga, but before she can escape she is caught with the smoking gun, or in this case, snipping scissors by Shanti. Recriminations follow and this particular drama ends with an unrepentant Gauri walking out of the house and hooking up with Kishwar Bajaj, Rahul’s bitter rival in business. These two misanthropic misfits then jointly plot Tanvi and Rahul’s downfall.’
Rajne looked as though she might nod but at the last moment her treacherous head gave a negative shake. ‘N…no…o.’
‘Wait! Give me two days to rewrite the screenplay. I promise I’ll come up with something workable,’ I pleaded desperately.
‘Frankly I’m out of time. This is the third time you’ve rewritten and come up with the same stuff. If I don’t come up with a passable story and screenplay soon, I won’t make the deadline.’
I looked at her uncomprehendingly. I had a fearful premonition that my name was about to be struck off from the opening credits of KSK.
Rajne hesitated, as if searching for words which would soften the blow (which in itself was novel since the one thing Rajne cannot be accused of is sensitivity). ‘Why don’t you take a break, jaan?’
And that was that. I could see it in her knowing eyes. She now knew what I had known for sometime but refused to acknowledge. The shameful secret I had so long tried to keep buried under the myriad layers of convoluted plots and one which I could no longer hide, even from myself.
I was blocked.
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