Meet Bhavani Iyer, the writer behind Lootera, Black, Raazi and upcoming web series Kaafir
What’s common between Black, Lootera, Guzaarish and Raazi? The answer is writer Bhavani Iyer. The 39-year-old writer, who has written the stories and screenplays for the all the mentioned films, adding depth filled with subtle nuances to each character and scene, be it Ranveer Singh in Lootera or Alia Bhatt and Vicky Kaushal in Raazi. Her understanding of complexity, conflict and human relationships and drama comes to life once again with Kaafir, a web-series starring Dia Mirza and Mohit Raina. Set in the valley of Kashmir, Kaafir is inspired by a real-life story of a Pakistani woman who accidentally reached India and had to serve jail for several years in India, all because of the conflict between India and Pakistan.
“It is inspired by the life of Parveen Kausar (Shehnaz) who fell into a river in Pakistan but her body floated and reached the Indian side of the river. Her body was fished out and since she didn’t have any papers with her, she was put in the prison. Her sentence was meant to be for 12-15 months but it never came up for review. So, she was in prison for eight years until a lawyer found out about her and the fact that she has given birth to a child in jail and he decided to present her case in the court. I met her and learnt what she had gone through,” tells Iyer, who wrote this story in January 2006, when the case was going on in India.
So, what took the story so long? About half-a-dozen rejections, she informs, adding, “I think I lack the ability to push or sell my ideas but a few people knew about it including Siddharth (the producer of Kaafir). He intended to direct it earlier and took it to a lot of producers but I think everyone was a little wary of taking it, as it deals with Indo-Pak relations, and maybe people don’t feel comfortable talking about it.”
Interestingly, she says it without any complaints but with the conviction that perhaps it had to happen with the people it is happening and in the manner it is happening. “Every script that you write has a destiny of its own. Lootera took nine years to finish, from the time I started writing to the time it turned into a film,” she avers. Interestingly, it was the script of Lootera that led to her entry in Bollywood. “I had written its script for Vikram Motwani, who had just finished assisting Sanjay Leela Bhansali on Devdas. Sanjay was looking for a writer for Black and Vikram suggested my name. Interestingly, Sanjay and I met in March, the first draft was ready by May, and the shooting began in December. It is phenomenal, as such things don’t happen! The rest of my career is a testament to it,” laughs Iyer.
The script of Kaafir, which has now turned into an eight-episode long web-series, also sees patriotism in a different light, making it more human, a similarity it shares with Raazi. While Raazi had the song Ae Watan that saw Alia singing it for India, while everyone else sang it for Pakistan, Kaafir also has a scene with Dia Mirza’s daughter singing Indian national anthem, asserting the fact that she was born and brought up in Indian prison. “To me, patriotism is just a feeling of having a degree of pride in not what your country is but what your country could stand for. To say that you are proud to be an Indian should be for all that we embody and not a geographical border. I should be proud of kindness, tolerance, values and moral that my country embodies. For me, it is being proud of the people rather than land.”
However, she doesn’t write to give away these messages. “You can’t write with moral in mind, the moral has to come from the story instead of a story arriving from the moral. However, through art, we (creative people) try to make people see that there is a perspective different from what they are seeing. And, if you can achieve that with a percentage of your viewers, your work is done,” she says and adds, “It is a writer’s journey to tell the most obvious things in the most nuanced manner. As a person, I am opinionated but not very vociferous about those opinions. I like to convey them in a manner that I feel would be heard because the louder you speak, the less you are heard.”
Hailing from Bangalore, the writer came to Mumbai to pursue graduation in Life Science. After graduation, she wanted to stay back in Mumbai and saw an advertisement regarding the vacancy of a sub-editor in a magazine. “Later I figured that sub-editing is just subbing but the editor at that time realised that I have a flair for writing. This was around the dot-com boom of 2001 and suddenly, everyone left to get different jobs and I became the editor of the magazine within six months of joining. I guess I was at the right place at the right time. However, I quit after a year.”