Meet the young scriptwriter who earned Raju Hirani’s praise

Imagine this: You go to a restaurant, and you get all the food you want without having to pay for it. Sounds alluring, right? Well, the restaurant owner isn’t indulging in social work, hence he asks you to spend time teaching the needy kids in the nearby village, instead. Sounds like a fair barter? That’s exactly what scriptwriter Ashish Aryan’s debut film is all about.

Ashish had been scripting for popular TV reality shows like Jhalak Dikhla Jaa, Jo Jeeta Wohi Superstar and KBC 8 until recently. He ideated the story of T for Tajmahal which has won two awards at the DC South Asian Film Festival held in Washington on September 9.

Directed by Kireet Khurana and produced by Abis Rizvi T for Tajmahal bagged the Jury’s “Audience Award for Best Feature Film” and “Best Story Award”. The film premiered at London Indian Film Festival earlier in June. He made a local problem achieve global recognition through his script.

In an interview with DB Post the scriptwriter says that he always wanted to be a storyteller, right from his school days. Excerpts:

How did the shift from reality television shows to films come about?

For the two initial years, I worked for reality shows to earn some money, stick to the city and understand the process. While writing for reality shows I was also trying to become an assistant director in films but got rejected everywhere despite making an ad which won an award by WHO.

In 2013, my first film script, T for Tajmahal got selected by the prestigious NFDC Screenwriter’s lab. Six of the best scriptwriters were sent to Toronto for a workshop with International filmmakers alongside Toronto Film Festival. The amount of exposure to cinema that I got was tremendous and I said ‘That’s it, No more television.’

Please tell us more about T for Tajmahal.

I once read about a village in India where a few kids had to travel barefoot for more than 15kms to reach the nearest school since the village school didn’t function. I thought why couldn’t teachers go to their place, and that’s when a unique idea struck my mind. I designed a barter system of ‘Eat and Teach’ where a makeshift school in a village will not hire teachers permanently on salary but ask temporary teachers to teach in exchange for something they need. Then everything was written in reverse order.

The film talks of a village with a roadside eatery on a highway near the Taj Mahal. Millions of tourists cross that eatery and offer their time to teach the kids in exchange for food. That’s how 30 minutes of English for Butter Chicken, Maths for Rajma and Hindi for Dal Tadka becomes part of the eatery menu!

You won the ‘Best Story’ award for your debut film script, which special aspect do you think won you the title, among many other participating films?

I think the film’s unique idea of ‘Eat and Teach’ resonated with the audience around the world. The story is local yet it’s global and people are relating to it irrespective of their origin country. Right from Raju Hirani to Oscar-winning producer Cedomir Kolar, everyone appreciated the noble idea which if implemented in real life can fight illiteracy globally.

What’s your opinion on the concept of integrated learning for children?

I feel it’s very effective when it comes to grasping ideas for kids and they don’t get bored with traditional teaching methods. With integrated learning they get more engaged, which enhances their thinking process, resulting in overall development at an early stage.

Do you think people should focus more on English and other foreign languages to survive in today’s world boasting of urban culture?

Every language has its own importance, it all depends on what you’re pursuing and your profession. As a writer in Hindi film Industry, I’m privileged because I come from the Hindi belt of North India. At the same time when you’re dealing with film studios and executives, your fluent English might give you some advantage. There are people who don’t speak English yet they win in Olympics and Oscars, I don’t think a language can stop you from where you want to reach.

You’ve been associated in the entertainment industry for quite some time, have you ever been a victim of nepotism?

Once. When I was supposed to go to London as an assistant director for a film, but the producer’s nephew replaced me. But I don’t have any grudge because, if I were in their place, I might have done the same. We always secure and provide opportunities for our own people.

A still from ‘T For Tajmahal’

What upcoming projects are you working on?

There is one international film with London based director, Ravi Kumar who previously made ‘Bhopal : A Prayer for Rain’. Also, I’m going to direct my first feature film this year and it’ll be announced by a reputed film studio in the coming weeks.

Directed by Kireet Khurana and produced by Abis Rizvi T for Tajmahal is currently being screened at festivals before formally releasing in India next year. The film has Subrat Dutt, Bidita Bag, Pitobash Tripathy, Ali Faulkner and Manoj Pahwa in lead roles.