Scripting a better deal! Meet the Jerry Mcguires for film writers in India

Updated: Dec 19, 2016, 09:36 IST | Aastha Atray Banan

The Jerry Mcguires for film writers, Chaitanya Hegde and Datta Dave of Tulsea, on what it takes to give the written word its due on celluloid

Datta Dave (left) and Chaitanya Hegde of Tulsea. Pic/Nimish Dave
Datta Dave (left) and Chaitanya Hegde of Tulsea. Pic/Nimish Dave

As we chatted with writers and directors at NFDC's Film Bazaar this year in Goa, we heard talk of Tulsea and its founders Datta Dave and Chaitanya Hegde. "Oh, Datta is like the Jerry McGuire for writers!" was how we were introduced to Dave by an upcoming writer, to which he replied, "The difference is that Jerry had only one client." Our writer then quipped, "Then that would mean you are the Ari Gold for writers in India." We were curious to know why Dave and Hegde, who own the media and content management company, were being compared to fictional characters, known for being tough negotiators, who got their clients the best deal possible.

We are sitting sipping chai and talking about the Hindi film industry in Bandra on a warm December afternoon. Both Hegde and Dave seem amused at the comparison to Jerry and Ari, but say that maybe it's true that they could be seen as real-life versions of the reel-life agents. "Yes, we do take care of all kinds of negotiations. I think when we met each other in 2009, we realised that writers especially needed somebody to figure all this out for them. It's not just that they need a business acumen, but they need to know who to connect with, how to connect, and then most importantly, how to pitch a story," says Hegde.

Tulsea has also partnered with Anushka Sharma's Clean Slate Films for the co-production of Phillauri
Tulsea has also partnered with Anushka Sharma's Clean Slate Films for the co-production of Phillauri

Tulsea, which began in 2010, now represents writers such as Juhi Chaturvedi (Piku), Sudip Sharma (NH10) and directors Navdeep Singh (NH10) and Vikramaditya Motwane (Lootera). The firm is now working with production companies like Anushka Sharma's Clean Slate and Ritesh Batra's Poetic License. Recently, among other things, three Tulsea writers formed the writer's room for Netflix's first Indian local production, Sacred Games; Stan Lee and Vikramaditya Motwane come together to develop Indian superhero film, Chakra; their writers are writing shows for Amazon Prime; and have partnered with Clean Slate Films and Fox Star for the co-production of Phillauri.
Dave was a management consultant in Los Angeles, and then was business manger to director Shekhar Kapur before he started Tulsea, whereas Hedge was in advertising and then worked with filmmaker Rakesh Omprakash Mehra.

"In India, you still have to play hardball to get writers their due. Yes, not that it's unheard of a writer getting a crore for a movie, but most times, the studio head will say 'it may be a great script and he is a superb writer, but it's his first film, so why should we pay him that much'. Nothing is really according to merit in this industry, you know. They may also say that 'he wrote this and that, but nothing materialised', but the release of a movie is dependent on many other things than a script!" says Hegde. Dave adds, "But things are changing. People have realised that content is important. We have around eight stars, and now people know not everyone can make a movie with them. Then content does become king, and that's where good writing comes in."

Tulsea manages Juhi Chaturvedi, who wrote Piku (2015)
Tulsea manages Juhi Chaturvedi, who wrote Piku (2015)

Both say that they have made their contacts in the industry from scratch, and they push their talent to do their best, also because they want to them to get the best deal possible. "If we are representing you, we want to make sure the product is stunning. So we work with the writers all the time. We are available all the time — you can call us if you have questions or writer's block…" says Hegde. They are now working on getting even regional talent onboard, who may have great stories, but may not be able to articulate them well enough in English, which is the preferred language for scripts these days. "We are against narrations, and this industry used to work on that. Because sometimes what is narrated doesn't necessarily get translated into the movie. And many writers are not great storytellers which a narrator needs. We would rather studio heads read the stories, and that's started happening now," says Dave.

Ask them what they think is working right now in the industry, and they say that's a near impossible question to answer. Where a Piku worked, so did a Sultan, and we get what they are trying to say. "The good thing is people want to do something different now. We now get references like 'Oh we want a Before Sunset', and so we know that the format is changing," says Hegde. But doesn't that hamper creativity, and Dave says, "This happens in LA too. It usually doesn't mean you want the same movie. It could mean the vibe. It could mean the genre. The frame-by-frame copying doesn't happen anymore, as now you can buy the rights and remake movies." For now, they are happy that the writers they represent are getting a chance to finally start seeing their name on screen. Their parting tip for all budding writers is an easy-sounding one, even if it may be hard. Hegde says, "Even if you are getting work or not, keep writing. And keep reading. There's no better education."

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