New Delhi, July 22 – From commissioning the unique format of Star Bestsellers on the small screen in 1999 and bringing the popular ‘K’ brand of serials, launching Pakistani shows on Indian TV through her Zindagi brainchild and penning the story of feature film Madaari — Indian media and entertainment industry veteran Shailja Kejriwal’s journey in showbiz has largely been about non-formulaic storytelling, the medium notwithstanding.
She says she feels supremely fortunate to be able to tell tales which not just catch her fancy but fulfil a creative artiste’s pursuit of being a conscience keeper of the nation without following a formula.
If you don’t talk about issues in mass media and be silent, how will things ever change? Shailja asked in a freewheeling chat with IANS while she was wading through the traffic and rain in Mumbai and peeping out of the window.
Upon spotting a middle-aged man standing with an umbrella, she said: I see a story in everything. Every person has a story, and that’s fascinating for me.
The nemesis of Madaari — in which actor par excellence Irrfan Khan essays a poignant role of a man on a quest for accountability for his son’s death in a tragedy — also happened somewhat like this when Shailja witnessed a disturbing incident first hand.
We always keep hearing of cases where somebody falls into a pothole, a pregnant woman loses her baby because of a bumpy ride, the collapsing of the Kolkata flyover… And somewhere, everything gets attributed to god’s will.
People dismiss it as accidents, but the reality is that people are not doing their job properly — either due to corruption, bribes… Beyond a point, nobody is bothered to find out what happened and nobody ends up being accountable, said Shailja, who was piqued to explore how family members of victims deal with the result of such tragedies.
It takes the backing of people with a vision and risk-taking actors like Irrfan to bring such socially relevant themes alive in Bollywood, she says.
But hasn’t the scenario changed in the Indian entertainment world where content-backed movies are finally finding space?
See, things are changing for sure, but people divide the industry into two kinds of films — art films and blockbuster or popular films. Once I asked some people how they define an ‘arty’ film.
The answer I got was — ‘Arty film woh hai jo zyaada logon ko samajh nai aayegi (an arty film is one which not many people would understand)’. But then I thought, my film (‘Madaari’) will be understood by people. It’s just that it lacks the routine song and dance. So, I coined the word alternate mainstream for it, said the Kolkata-born talent, who is also one of the producers of the movie.
‘Madaari’ is not something that people will go for, enjoy, whistle at, clap for and come back. It is something that they will go for, sit, understand and it will make them think of how there are certain things you can’t take lying down, she asserted.
While this is her first attempt at a full-length feature film, Shailja — who is now Chief Creative – Special Projects at Zee Entertainment Enterprise Ltd — has been promoting the telling of effective tales throughout her career.
During her stint with Star India, she brought out Star Bestsellers, for which names like Anurag Kashyap, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Imtiaz Ali, Sriram Raghavan and Hansal Mehta — some of the most formidable names in the Indian film industry today — created episodics.
It was considered ‘arty’, she said and added how at one point she was on the verge of getting fired as her bosses thought she couldn’t tell popular tales.
That’s when she told non-arty tales with a vengeance through Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kasauti Zindagii Kay and the trail of ‘K’ serials. At the same time, she also gave a platform to shows like Sarabhai vs Sarabhai and Khichdi.
The star of her career has been Zindagi, which has brought Pakistani shows to Indian audiences.
People questioned me, ‘Why are you launching it? Will the enmity between India and Pakistan finish? I said, ‘It will open doors’. And today, I feel so proud that there is so much exchange between the two nations culturally.
I feel if we only keep succumbing to the dominant discourse, things won’t change anywhere.
She has also pioneered a Zeal For Unity concept, involving six Indian and six Pakistani directors to make multifarious stories of various lengths, touching upon the Hindu-Muslim and India-Pakistan relationship.
Kejriwal is even excited about Zee Theatre, as part of which renowned playwrights and theatre stalwarts are producing socially relevant content for online, on-air, on-ground and in-transit viewing.
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)