I think of myself as a journalist more and not a writer: Varun Grover

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Mumbai, Nov 1 (PTI) Writer-lyricist Varun Grover on Sunday said he wanted to be a journalist before making writing his profession as he is someone who is likes to document the time and space people live in.

The 40-year-old screenwriter, known for films like 'Masaan' and web series 'Sacred Games', said back in college he didn't believe there could be someone who worked as a full-time writer.

'I think of myself as a journalist more and not a writer... As someone who is interested in documenting time, space and people who inhabit this time and space. I wrote short stories very early on, so documenting times and all, maybe a part of that is still stuck to me,' Grover said.

He was in conversation with film critic and writer Namrata Joshi on the panel discussion 'Writing for the screen' at the ongoing Dharamshala International Film Festival. Also part of the session was screenwriter Juhi Chaturvedi.

Grover, also a poet and stand-up comic, said one has to be everything other than a writer to be a writer.

'You have to have at least five absolutely crazy interests that may help you live your life. When I'm a stand-up comic not a writer, I get some time and mental space away from my writing,' the National Award-winning lyricist said.

From being an illustrator to having a career in advertising to writing films, Chaturvedi said people take up a certain job to serve a purpose in life.

'It could be to fulfil something which is lacking in my existing reality or to express my understanding on a subject. But whatever I have done has been guided through my inner voice. When you do that it doesn't matter how it comes out,' the writer, known for films like 'Vicky Donor', 'Piku', and the recently released 'Gulabo Sitabo', said.

The National Award winner said one can only write about something they have understood or want to learn.

'If I get affected by what is expected from me, I will just be replaying their thoughts and ideas. That cannot be my voice. It's like breathing. I can't breathe for you and you can't breathe for me to keep me alive.' Chaturvedi, who is director Shoojit Sircar's frequent collaborator, said working with certain people stems from the need to do justice to an idea.

'It happens over a period of time that you do form a certain kind of understanding with people and that starts showing in your work. I would like to be with people who understand things better than me, only then my work can go a step up,' the 45-year-old said.

As an obese child who was bullied, Grover said, he has 'conflicting' ideas about being part of a camp.

'I wanted to be safe in a small group and also thinking that as a protest against bullying, I want to walk alone. I initially worked in TV so when you write for six years there, you are like a street cat. You can go anywhere. I have probably worked with different groups of people and genres because I want to work only in those spaces where I find my freedom.' In answer to a question asked by PTI that what were their childhood influences - be it films or literature, Grover said Doordarshan shows in the '80s like 'Tamas', 'Mirza Ghalib' and 'Ye Jo Hai Zindagi' to Dharmvir Bharati's 1949 cult novel 'Gunahon Ka Devta' left an indelible mark on his psyche.

'As cinema was not giving the makers a space to tell these stories, they found it with TV. As a novel, 'Gunahon Ka Devta' had a massive impact on me,' he said of the novel recalling how the tragic love story of Chander and Sudha, the protagonists, broke his heart.

Chaturvedi credited her Hindi language teachers for exposing them to poems like Suryakant Tripathi Nirala's 'Allahabad Ke Path Par' or Munshi Premchand's short story 'Idgah'.

'The teacher would capture so much of those emotions in that period so much so it would take us a while to come out of that zone,' she recounted.

Asked why the Indian cinema doesn't back more sci-fi films, Grover said there was also a lack of stories that are based in villages or have a protagonist who is not a savarna (upper caste).

'We aren't even able to grasp the stories of the present. We haven't even understood the past as yet or all fight is about the past. The kind of films that are being made today is because people who are coming to tell these stories come from a certain place, class, caste mix or demographic. When that pool of storytellers will expand, other type of films will also be made.' Citing the example of his 2005 film 'Masaan', directed by Neeraj Ghaywan, Grover said 'is it right to tell those stories which aren't yours' is a question he struggles with every day.

'I'm not hiding my identity but I try to understand the privilege and then try to distance myself from that and bring in as much authenticity as possible.

'There might be things that are flawed in it and they are flawed but that film is a document. You can't dismiss that document, you can always point out flaws. The purpose behind art is not to always be right, its main purpose is to merely exist.' Chaturvedi said a writer or filmmaker has to be beyond identities.

'They have to be a thinking, sensitive mind like a sponge. Stay affected, cry if you have to, lie if you have to, but just speak the truth whatever it is. I don't your think surname or anyone's identity should affect anything... Commitment to your work has to be neutral.' The ninth edition of the Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF), which is going online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, will conclude Wednesday. PTI RDS BK RDS RDS