Interviews ...

“Working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali sir on Heeramandi was a wonderful experience” – Divy Nidhi Sharma

Most people would know of Divy Nidhi Sharma as one of the top writers in the Hindi television industry. The writer is known for his work on successful shows like ‘Kitani Mohabbat Hai’, ‘Ammaji Ki Galli’, ‘Kuch Rang Pyar Ke Aise Bhi’, ‘Yeh Rishte Hain Pyaar Ke’, ‘Anupamaa’, ‘Kabhi Kabhie Ittefaq Sey’ and ‘Imlie’ . While some of his shows continue to enjoy high TRP ratings, Divy is currently in the news for his work on the Kiran Rao directed ‘Laapataa Ladies’, a film which has received accolades from all quarters. After doing pretty well in the theatres, the film recently started streaming on Netflix, Divya has been a part of the writing team of this Aamir Khan Productions’ film along with Biplab Goswami and Sneha Desai.

In this interview, Divya talks about working on ‘Laapataa Ladies’, making a comeback to cinema, writing dialogues for ‘Heeramandi’, love for poetry, collaborating with Aanand L. Rai on ‘Nakhrewaalii’, his long and illustrious journey on television, plans to direct and more.

Kiran Rao was the judge on a story writing competition organized by a media company. This is when she stumbled upon the basic storyline of ‘Laapataa Ladies’. How did you become a part of this film?

I was working on another film produced by Aamir Khan Productions. Since they had liked my work on that film, they asked me to collaborate with the writers on ‘Laapataa Ladies’ as well. Biplab (Goswami) and Sneha (Desai) had already written a beautiful script. They asked me to read it and give my inputs on it. I made some contributions to the script and they were kind enough to credit me for the same.

In an interview, Kiran Rao stated that the character of Inspector Manohar, played by Ravi Kishan, was primarily developed by you. It was a very fascinating character with several layers to it.

Initially, Aamir sir wanted to play that character. The film is set in a very real world. Since Aamir sir is a huge star, him being a part of a setup like this might not have been the best idea. Having big names on a film like this could have proved to be detrimental. This is something both Aamir sir and Kiran ma’am felt. Ravi sir did a brilliant job with portraying Manohar. The actors in the film do not come with a strong image and that’s why one could connect to them so well. 

‘Laapataa Ladies’ is set in a fictional state called Nirmal Pradesh. Why did the team refrain from using a real name there?

We did not want the film to get embroiled in any controversy. If we had set the film in a real state, the government or authorities might have raised some objections. To ensure that did not happen, we decided to set the film in a fictional state. That being said, the film is steeped in realism and is a reflection of the society we live in.

Even though the film spoke about the issues faced by women, the male characters were fleshed out very nicely as well. The sensitivity in Deepak, played by Sparsh Shrivastava, came to the fore effectively.

The credit for that goes to Sneha and Biplab. They created such a beautiful character. Sparsh is such a brilliant actor. There are moments in the film when he is not speaking but still, he manages to show the vulnerability of the character.

‘Laapataa Ladies’ is the second film directed by Kiran Rao after ‘Dhobi Ghat’ (2011). How was the experience of working with her?

Nobody can make a good film out of a bad script. But, many make a bad film out of a good script. Kiran ma’am made a great film out of our script. She does not come from the world the film is set in and yet, she depicted everything with such honesty and authenticity. She is a very optimistic person and has a lot of empathy within her. This reflects in the stories she tells.

You have also worked on ‘Sitaare Zameen Par’, which is being produced by Aamir Khan Productions.

It’s too early to talk about that film. Right now, they are shooting the film. One will have to wait for them to officially share some information about the film.

How has been your experience of working with Aamir Khan Productions?

Aamir Khan Productions is one of the best production houses I have worked with. I don’t think any producer in the industry gives writers the kind of respect and recognition Aamir Khan Productions does. I have had the opportunity to interact with Aamir (Khan) sir on multiple occasions and I got to learn a lot from him. In all her interviews, Kiran ma’am has spoken about the contribution of the writers to the film. In our industry, writers have to fight for everything. Aamir Khan Productions is one company that has always empowered writers. They appreciate and value writers and that’s why it is a delight to work with them. 

The film talks about the issues faced by women in India. It has been directed by a woman. One of your co-writers, too, is a woman. As a male writer on this project, did you use your past observations to incorporate some moments in the script?

I think men can write about women as well as women can. The basic story of the film has been written by Biplab, a male writer. Everything started from there. I am sure he would have had a good understanding of these issues himself. I am from Uttar Pradesh and have grown up in several small towns. I have seen many women go through such things. Even today, women in several parts of the country, deal with such issues.

You started your professional journey writing for films like ‘Aloo Chaat’ and ‘Zokkomon’. Then, you got busy writing for television. How does it feel to be writing for cinema again?

It feels great. I worked on ‘Aloo Chaat’ and ‘Zokkomon’ 14-15 years back. A lot has changed for the better in the industry since then. Now, people in the industry finally realize the importance of writers. Even the critics make a point to mention the names of the writers in their reviews. Nothing in my career happened by design. I started getting work in television. I loved the medium and the medium loved me back. I continue to write for television. I am working on films and web shows simultaneously.

One of your upcoming projects is Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Heeramandi’.

I have written the dialogues for the series. I have also written the dialogues for a show called ‘Freedom At Midnight’ that has been helmed by Nikkhil Advani.

How was the experience of working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali on ‘Heeramandi’.

Working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali sir on ‘Heeramandi’ was a wonderful experience. Sanjay sir is a genius. From conceptualizing the show to directing it, he has done everything. He knows how to use the strengths of every professional working with him. That’s why most people do their best work with him.

How did you get interested in writing?

My father was in the police force and would get posted to different small towns in Uttar Pradesh. I grew up all over the state. Finally, my father settled down in Aligarh. I studied at Aligarh Muslim University. I arrived in Mumbai without any connections or reference. I have never had any professional training in screenwriting or filmmaking. However, I was passionate about writing from a very young age. I always wanted to be a screenwriter. I was fortunate to get good work after coming into the industry.

‘Anupamaa’, one of the shows you write, has emerged as one of the most successful TV shows of the recent times.

I feel grateful for all the love the show has received. Television helped me make a name for myself. I feel very proud to be associated with this medium. Sneha, my co-writer in ‘Laapataa Ladies’, too, works for television. Currently, she is writing the show ‘Pushpa Impossible’.

When you work for television, you work every day. There must have been days when you do not feel inspired to write or ideas do not flow easily.

Yes, that does happen. However, you have to fight it out. A professional writer cannot wait for inspiration to come to them. An actor has to cry in a scene even when they are in a happy mood. A writer has to operate in a similar manner.

Now that you are writing for films, web and television, does it get difficult to manage work at times?

Sometimes, the workload is a bit high but creatively, it is not a tough thing to do. A cricketer plays T20, ODIs and test matches but the game remains the same. Similarly, we write for different mediums but the process does not change. The demands, timelines, exposure and output of the different mediums is different. While the basic craft remains the same, a little bit of recalibration is needed while moving from one medium to another.

You write and recite poetry. You wrote one song (‘Doubtwa’) for ‘Laapataa Ladies’. Do you plan to write more songs for films in the future?

Ever since I was a child, I used to read poetry. I got introduced to poetry through Hindi film songs. I love writing and reciting poetry. Poetry has been my first love. I am glad I got the opportunity to write ‘Doubtwa’ for ‘Laapataa Ladies’. Ram (Sampath) sir created a beautiful composition. The entire album is beautiful. Prashant is a new writer who has written ‘Sajni’ and ‘Beda Paar’. Swanand (Kirkire) sir, whom I have always been a huge fan of, wrote ‘Dheeme Dheeme’. I have written title tracks for TV shows in the past. I hope to write a lot of songs for films now.  

You have written the story, screenplay and dialogues for ‘Nakhrewaalii’, a film that has been produced by Aanand L Rai. The film features Ansh Duggal and Pragati Srivastava in the lead roles and has been helmed by debutante director Rahul Shanklya. What can you tell us about the film?

The shoot for the film is complete. ‘Nakhrewaalii’ is a film very close to my heart. It’s a story about everyday problems of being a woman told from a man’s perspective in a fun way. It’s a lovely film with outstanding music. I hope it connects with the masses

Going forward, what do you want to achieve as a writer?

I want to tell stories that leave a positive impact on the society. Films might not change the society but if a scene or a dialogue written by me stays with the audience, I would feel that I have done something right. 

Do you have plans to direct a film?

Initially, I did not have any ambition to become a director. Now, I want to direct a film. I am in talks with some production houses. If something works out, I will be happy to take my first steps as a director.

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