'It was like reliving my childhood and doing everything I couldn’t': Sujoy Ghosh on his new web series, Typewriter
It seems thrillers and Sujoy Ghosh walk hand in hand. After exploring the genre with full-length feature films like Kahaani (2012) and Badla (2019), and short films like Ahalya (2015) and Anukul (2017), Ghosh sticks to it as he makes his digital debut with Typewriter, a web-series for Netflix, releasing today. Set in Goa, the five-episode series presents a mystery drama with children at the forefront, a theme that is heavily inspired by his childhood desire to go on an adventure, as it happens in storybooks. Ahead of the release of the series, we ask the writer-director about the journey of Typewriter, the challenges of writing a web-series, and how attached he is to appreciation and criticism. Excerpts:
Q: What inspired you to write Typewriter and for how long was the idea bubbling inside you?
Sujoy Ghosh: This is something that I wanted to do for a long time. For me, Typewriter was like reliving my childhood and doing all those things that I wanted to do as a child. Growing up reading Enid Blyton and Asterix, I always wanted to go on an adventure to a treasure island or something like that, but I never got to do it since life is different from storybooks. But, it kind of stayed with me for a long time. When I saw films like Jurassic Park, I liked the fact that kids are the protagonists and are saving the world. I wanted to make a film like that, and when Netflix gave me a chance to do a series on the same topic, I thought it is great, it can be done! If they would have asked me to write Badla into a series, I couldn’t have, but this could be done and hence, I took the task of writing it. Afterwards, it dawned on me that I had undertaken a mammoth task.
Q: So, did you convert a film script into a web-series?
SG: No, I hadn’t written it at all. I just had a pitch in my head, which I told the Netflix team. Our meeting actually lasted for only five minutes. I pitched my idea and they agreed.
Q: Was writing for a web series different from writing a film script, especially since you have to end every episode on a cliffhanger for the audience to stay glued to it?
SG: That’s the nature of the beast. That’s what we have undertaken. So, I can’t pretend to be surprised by that. But, it is incredibly challenging, I had to unlearn whatever I had learned in films and start afresh. And, there are no guidelines to teach you how to write it. Writing a film is a cakewalk when compared to writing a web series. For example, when I take the character of Ravi Anand, who is the police inspector (played by Purab Kohli) and is in his mid-30s, I have to decide which part of his life I need to pick up. It’s a call that I have to make and there is no right and wrong. Besides, I have to keep Ravi Anand for five episodes, people should see a new Ravi Anand in each episode else they will get bored of seeing the same Ravi Anand. The series, by its very nature, demands that I pay equal attention to all my characters, locations, storyline and everything else that there is, unlike a film where I can make one pregnant woman run through Kolkata and get away with that.
Q: What makes you go back to the thriller genre time and again?
SG: I don’t know what it is — a thriller, maybe an investigation, a mystery or a whodunit — but I feel, you can create thrill in the way you are telling a story, irrespective of its genre. You can’t call Badhaai Ho a thriller, but for me, it is, because it makes me want to watch more (of it). A love story could also be a thriller — I think Romeo and Juliet is one. For me, it is about getting you to see what I am making, which means I have to keep you invested and do it in a thrilling format. Even my first film Jhankar is also cut like a thriller. But, thriller, as a genre, doesn’t exist for me.
Q: What did Kahaani do for you?
SG: Even yesterday, a person came up to me and said, ‘Aye! You are the guy who made Kahaani?’ When I said yes, he replied, ‘I really love that movie’. That’s what it did for me.
Q: Many filmmakers find the web to be a more liberating medium where they get to carve out a better arc for their characters. Do you feel the same or is it more challenging?
SG: Both actually. The liberation process comes when you are writing — in a sense that you can write whatever you want to — but it is also dangerous in a way as you tend to over-indulge. I might want to show my character getting up in the morning, going to the loo, reading a newspaper but do you want to see that? So, one has to draw the line somewhere, because there exists the luxury of time and one mustn’t abuse it.
Q: How was your experience of making this web-series?
SG: It is demanding, liberating and extremely tough. Maybe it is because I am doing it for the first time, and maybe it won’t be this tough when I will be doing it for the second time. But, it is more demanding and challenging than a film.
Q: How attached are you to praise and criticism?
SG: I am extremely attached to criticism, reviews and awards because that’s the only way I can quantify. This is how it has been throughout my life. In school, you have to get a rank to get a prize. In sports, you have to cross that ribbon before anyone else to get the cup. The society has created it, I was born into it. And, yes, it matters what reviews I get and what critics say about my work. Whether I choose to believe it or not is another thing, but it matters.
Q: What’s next?
SG: I don’t know. I am just waiting for Typewriter to release. My next will definitely be a film and it will belong to a genre that will keep you invested.
• Favourite director, actor and actress: Satyajit Ray, Amitabh Bachchan and Meryl Streep/ Vidya Balan
• If you have to remake a movie of yours: None. Everything has its own time and space, nothing is ahead of its time or late. You made a film, it didn’t work, live with it.
• A story you would love to adapt: Kabuliwala
• Writing or directing: Writing because I get to live a lot more lives
• If not a filmmaker? Anything. I am not fussy about jobs. I could even be a cab driver.
Typewriter releases on Netflix today.