Writers before BAEs
A writer-director and his dialogue writer wife talk of creating characters through the lockdown as their only link to the fictional universe they know as reality
It was during the making of the 2013 film, Mere Dad Ki Maruti that Neeraj Udhwani and Ishita Moitra first met. Udhwani had written the story and screenplay and Moitra, the dialogues. They started off as colleagues, moved to being friends and married three years later. "Because we started off as colleagues, we are able to maintain a working relationship despite the personal equation," says Moitra, 36. Udhwani's directorial debut, Maska, starring Manisha Koirala, premiered on Netflix last week. He is also writer for the show, while Moitra has worked on the dialogues.
Maska is the story of following your dreams and in a sense, Udhwani's ode to the Irani cafés he grew up around in King's Circle, Matunga. "Pop culture tells us to follow our dreams. But millennials believe they have untapped potential. Social media adds to this feeling of, I am not doing enough. Maska takes a look at this," says Udhwani about the show that looks at a young man who ditches a family-run Irani café to pursue his acting dream.
Moitra's upcoming project is Amazon Prime's Four More Shots, which is in its second season. She says, this time, the show focuses on the four women protagonists navigating Mumbai. "It's bolder, sassier and deeper. We have peeled a few more layers off everyone."
The couple says they have taken the lockdown well, given that they are habituated to working from home. Udhwani admits, "I admire her focus. She is a trooper. For the first few days, I watched the news 24/7 and was convinced that the world was going to end. It's after the appreciative messages for Maska that I am in a better place."
The trick, they say, for couples who work together, is to put work before everything else. This means they offer honest feedback and treat each other like they would a colleague. "For Maska, I asked him to give me the screenplay only when it was locked, so I could write the dialogues. It's not like, we live together so, here is one scene, read it!" says Moitra, and Udhwani laughs, "But yes, we do talk about work all the time. So, I say, what's for lunch? And then, 'what are you planning to do about so-and-so bit in the script?' There are no breaks from work."
Like the rest of Mumbai, the couple is waiting for the lockdown to end and see under-progress projects come to fruition. Moitra has written the dialogues for Shakuntala Devi's biopic starring Vidya Balan, and Udhwani is lead writer for cricket-inspired drama, Inside Edge Season 3. "This is not our real life. This is a dream. Real was what was before the pandemic. The only link we have to that life is writing and creating. We will do that till we wake up."
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