Mayur Puri is a screenwriter, lyricist, actor and film-maker. He has also ventured into teaching and production recently. Mayur hails from Ahmedabad, Gujarat and has made significant contributions in various artistic formats. He spoke to #TellMeYourStory about his journey in each of the roles he has essayed till date as a performing and/or non-performing artist.
We have three properties in theatre right now. One is Tictac Tales which is essentially children’s play meant for three years and above, but even grown-ups have enjoyed it. The second play is more serious content, for at least 15 years and above. It’s a solo act called Cast off All Shame. It deals with the poetry of 14th century women bhakti poets in response to various gender issues like body shaming, fair opportunities issues, domestic abuse, etc. that women are facing today. The show is definitely heavy in content, but it is also funny. The third property is called I, Cloud in which I am acting, almost after 17 years now. I, Cloud is a collaborative work by me and my wife, Ulka. Ulka has written and directed it. She has used my poems in the play.
Mayur: When I came to Bombay, I did a Gujrati play called Amastaa Amastaa. We did around 80 to 100 shows. I wrote it and I was acting in it. It was very successful.
Mayur : I, Cloud is in Hinglish. It’s got a lot of Hindi poetry and the script keeps oscillating between English, Hindi and a little bit of tapori language. I really wanted to do this show because I wanted to say things which I can’t say in popular media. I cannot say it through film scripts, I cannot include them in my TV scripts. I can only do this with a live audience. Sometimes I might just improvise impromptu. I can add little things which are not there in the script and get away with them. It has light singing, poetry, it has humour, it has little bit of a stand-up act and at the same time it is a very intense thriller with a strong story.
Mayur : I, Cloud has the matrix of Meghdoot. In Kalidas’s Meghdoot, there is a yaksh who was missing his wife and was not doing his duty properly. That’s why Kuber, the ruler, punished yaksh. The yaksh treats the cloud as his messenger for the messages he wants to send to his wife. In I, Cloud the story is set in future, where my character is named Aksh. He is in a dystopian futuristic state, in a country called Mahan Desh and he is a complete devotee of the charismatic leader, Kubair, who has taken control over everything in that society. Aksh is imprisoned for some reason, and not just imprisoned, they are playing with his mind. He wants to send a message to his daughter and he finds a virtual cloud through whom he tries to send the message across. Through his dialogues a lot of funny observations of the world are coming around, which you can relate with. The play is complex but exciting. When I had this idea, I told it to Ulka as she always wanted to do something on Meghdoot. Many years back I had written a poem called Meghdoot. So Ulka suggested that we take some of those poems. Some others I have written specially for the play. I, Cloud was launched at NCPA Centre Stage Festival in November 2017.
Mayur : I was attracted towards television as a medium because it is the biggest medium in the world. For films if you calculate 100 rupees base price for the ticket then it can be assumed that a 100 crore movie is watched by 1 crore people. But I am told that even a mediocre TV serial is seen by 5 crore people. So the audience reach is much higher. With television, my basic purpose was to grow with the audience. Everybody says that television audience loves this nonsense which goes on in the name of daily soap. My argument is that you should never have presumptions about the audience. You should never doubt their intelligence because audience is too smart with their emotional quotient. If your stories are good, it doesn’t matter whether they are intellectual or heavy or fast paced. So I would probably try to create something different within their zones of interest. I went to television with something that was in the developmental stage. It was put aside and I was told to work on something which was very regular. Normal saans-bahu drama. They said, first do this and show us how differently you can do it. So I took it as a challenge.
Mayur : We are very consistent with our performance. My show Jiijima has shown great promise. It’s one of the best rated shows in Star Bharat and this channel is one of the top three channels in the country. It’s more like a film than like a TV show, because things happen too fast here because every week something special is happening. So it’s a different kind of writing, but I am enjoying it.
Mayur : I’ve been respected everywhere. I think it’s more about you. There are writers who under-sell themselves, there are writers who are not talented. I’ll be very honest with you. I’ve worked with the Writer’ Association for two years. I was elected in the executive committee, and I was included in four or five committees. I was in the dispute settlement committee, I was in the joint settlement committee, new constitution committee, etc. There I interacted with a lot of writers who were not as privileged as I. I met writers who were poor, writers who came from diverse backgrounds. 80% of the industry is full of those people. There are hardly 10-15% like us who are settled, and are known to be good and successful writers. I mean, we’ve got the name and fame, we have houses, we have cars, we belong to a little influential and prosperous category of writers. So I realised how fortunate and privileged I was, when I worked with the Writer’s Association.
Mayur : I realised that one of the major reason is that they are not talented. It’s true. Out of 10 people who call themselves writers, 8 or 7 of them are not qualified. They don’t have basic grammar, they don’t have basic presentation, they don’t know how to construct a story, they don’t know how to write well. Just having an idea does not make you a writer, because every rickshaw driver, auto driver in Bombay also has three stories to tell.
Mayur : When we talk about copyright, we forget that we cannot copyright an idea. This is what law says. You cannot copyright an idea, you can only copyright your unique expression of that idea. You cannot copyright the fact that boy loves girl and father doesn’t want them to get married and how their love either wins or they end in the end. This is a generic idea. One million people can write one million different stories out of this. The more unique I make it, the stronger is my story and my claims to copyright. Two years of working in the Writer’s Association made me realise a lot of truths of our industry.
Mayur : I didn’t want to grow old and then become a teacher. I wanted to become a teacher now. I teach at Anupan Kher’s academy. The Actor Prepares school. I have launched this program called Mayur Puri’s Screenwriting Bootcamp. Here I just make students aware about the basic modalities of how to write. I show them a direction and try to give back whatever I have gained in my 18 years or 20 years of experience, in a capsule. Also I do a lot of workshops. I started teaching in Goa actually, in 2010-11. It was a workshop called Film Goa hosted by Goa University with 80 film aspirants. That was a film-making workshop. Out of those 80, most of whom came to meet their curiosity to explore a session which was almost free, I realised that 30 of them today are working in the industry and they are doing great stuff. Some of them have gone into Konkani Industry and they have revived the art that was almost dead before 2011.
Mayur : I’ve been busy with a lot of things. I have not made a song in the last year and a half. I’ve not written a film in the last year. My film projects are like orphans right now, waiting for me to pick them once again.
Mayur : There are two kinds of writers. Writers who just write for themselves and writers who write for the world. If I expect the world to pay for my writing, if I am a professional and commercial writer who wants to make a living out of that, it cannot be a solo script. It’s a team effort. I cannot live in my own ivory castle and do things only in my way or the highway. It doesn’t work.
Mayur : For lyrics, although everything I write is my own, there are approval stages. There are a number of people involved. The musician has to put music in it. He as to like the scanning of it, the extension of it, the notes, the sounds they are making, etc.
Mayur : When I started writing songs, I finished in 15 minutes or half an hour, maximum a day. Sometimes, very rarely when my health is not good, I stretched it for two days maximum. It never happened that I couldn’t complete a song within two days. Whether it is Teri Aur, whether is Bheegi Bheegi, whether it is Jane kya chahe mann bawraa, all these songs were done in one day. All five songs of Singh is King were written in five days. The briefing was – they have to be very beautiful songs and we want five super hit songs. I and Pritam went to Khandala and in five days we came back with five songs. Every day between 11 o’clock and 2 o’clock, Pritam would come humming a tune. Around 4 o’clock we had tea, listening to the tune he had made and I would start writing it. By dinner or by next morning, I would have written it. It was amazing. That was 2007/08. Cut two, that same Pritam, that same me, we were working on Bhajrangi Bhaijaan in 2015. It took us 21 days to make that Selfie song.
Mayur: Because now there were 21 people to approve it. Every line was to be approved from 7 people from the music company, 7 people from production end, 7 from Pritam’s studio, half of them were Bongs who didn’t even understand genders in Hindi. My first version was Dha tuna tuna baaje danka, London ho ya Lanka, Gunje re charon ore, Aapki rahe anukampa, Na dar hai na shanka, Nachenge hum chor. I wrote some 30 mukhdaas and antraas and finally we came back to this.
Mayur : No. Song writing has also become a collaborative art now and I am ok with it. I don’t mind. I am saying I will collaborate, I will write, I can write with 10 people. I don’t have problems sharing credit or work or money. I stopped writing songs because I am sick and tired of doing songs on marriages, alcohol, clubs. I am saying, give me a new situation, a new story. Give me something fresh, which is inspiring. I can’t write a song to just fit into a bizarre situation, which it does not warrant a song. Someone approached me with a story where villains have raped somebody, and now some item girl has come to please them; so she is dancing and singing for these rapists. I said no, because I won’t be able to see it in the theatre. I can’t justify this. Think of Helenji’s Mehbooba Mehbooba in Gabbar’s den. In the screenplay of the song, Jay and Veeru were trying to break in and put explosives; so they needed screen time for that to happen and that’s why this song was required. There has to be a sensible logic.
For last one and a half years I have not written a song and I am sticking by this. I am not going to write a song until I am happy with the situation. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter. I have written hundred and ten odd songs for Hindi films, out of which 70-80 have been hits, out of which 30-40 have been blockbuster hits. So it’s more than enough. I have done my bit.
Mayur : My best films so far have been with zero interference. Om Shanti Om and Happy New Year – these two films I had written for Farah at one go. Farah Khan knows exactly what she wants. If she has given you a brief on 1st April 2011 and if you are working on it for 10 years, on 1st April 2020 if you ask her, the brief will remain the same. That’s the beauty of Farah’s mind. I enjoyed working with her on these two films. I wrote Om Shanti Om in just two months. I am not joking. Just in sixty days the script was out. Not a single scene came back to me for rewriting. I may have added a few things here and there, or put minor touch ups or improvised over the shoot. That’s it. The same thing happened with my first film, Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai, which I wrote for Yash Raj Films. Aditya Chopra was the producer; Sanjay Gadvi was the director. I wrote the film in 43 days, based on a one line idea we had on day one.
With Remo I’ve written two films – ABCD and ABCD 2. Remo D’Souza is a fantastic choreographer and excellent director, a very inspiring person. He makes you feel that you should give your best to him because he doesn’t want to interfere with your craft. He has so much faith in his technicians.
I have worked with other directors, some first time directors, who made me rewrite, rewrite and rewrite again. They were flop films. I am not saying there should not be revisions. As per my experience, whatever I did without too much of interference, it has always turned out well.
Mayur: I am a post-graduate in English literature. Sanskrit and Psychology were my other subjects. I come from a family where books are revered. I come from a family where academics are respected and reading is encouraged. From childhood I was into books. I enjoyed my solitude. I enjoyed having a good time sitting under the sun during summer vacations at my grandparents’ house and reading a book and doing nothing all through the afternoon. Today I see the death of that culture. I got bored of reading fiction when I was in college, and started reading non-fictions.
As a child, if I was unwell and if my parents would take me to a doctor, I would sit and read the medical journals. I didn’t understand much but I would look at the pictures, I would look for the big words. I would play a game. I would pronounce the difficult words in different ways. I loved weird sounding words.
Mayur : I was in 5th standard, my aunt was doing her Masters in Hindi Literature. She would be reading the works of a series of poets – Dinkar, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Nirala and others. I was all of 10 years and I was flipping through her book in Hindi. It said, Aaj ke logpriya kavi Bacchan. The name Bacchan itself is interesting. So I picked up that book, read the poem by Harivansh Rai Bachchan and made my own tune. I was too small to understand the meaning of what Harivansh Rai Bachchan had written, but I loved his rhythm – the organization, the structure, the arrangement of expressions, etc. And I used to make my own rhythm with his words.
Much later when I grew up and read the poetry again, it was a resurrection. The subconscious mind came back reminding of something profound. One summer afternoon I suddenly sprang up on the bed realizing, O My God! The word Madhushala is not used in reference to a bar; he is talking about a library. My mind is blown. That’s a joy everyone must experience. You must read and re-read. It’s not important that you understand everything then and there. You have to read and keep it with you. At some point in your life it will come back to you and spread the petals.
Mayur : I think that the industry has given me enough. I came to Mumbai with 700 rupees, I have more than that right now, so I don’t want to get into this mad pursuit of writing one hit film after the other, winning awards or making more and more money. I want to rather give back to the industry what it has given me, as soon as possible.
Transcripted by Nazneen Kachwala