He started his career with a super successful show like ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati – Season 1’ and with ‘Baaghi 2’ becoming a huge hit, he could not have asked for a better start at the movies either. In eighteen years, Niraj Kumar Mishra has worked on more than twenty-five television shows as a writer and a creative director and now his journey has taken an interesting turn with an auspicious beginning in films. In this interview, he talks about his journey from Bihar to Mumbai, the experience of working on television, ‘Baaghi 2’ and why making a remake is equally difficult as putting together an original film.
It has been eighteen years since you started your journey with the first season of ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’. How has the journey been?
My journey in television was a lot of fun and filled with adventures. Actually, all this happened by chance. I am from Bihar and initially wanted to be a sportsman, was good at cricket, badminton, volleyball and chess, but in those days my environment never believed that sports could be a career too. In spite of being passionate there were hardly any proper resources for sports at my hometown so I gave up and started chasing my parallel dream and that was armed forces, but my family wanted me to study engineering. So after finishing my graduation when I finally shifted to Delhi, I was in a situation where I could take decisions for myself. I cleared three written examinations of Combined Defence Services but I got rejected in all the interviews. And when I came back to Delhi after my third rejection, I was totally heartbroken. At that time, Siddharth Basu was planning to make ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’. My experience with UPSC exams came handy. He liked my work and asked me to join the team. So entering in television was all accidental. So far I have done more than twenty-five shows and most of the shows have done really well on TRP charts too.
You have worked as a writer, director and a creative director?
I started as a researcher on ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ and later when I joined Balaji Telefilms and worked there as a researcher cum executive producer. I ended up working across the different media houses with different profiles and it helped me to understand and know the different nuances of television productions. Balaji Telefilms was my first training institute here in Mumbai where I understood all the formats and aspects of TV shows. Later over the years I’ve explroed as a writer, as a creative director and at times I wore the shoes of a director too. All this while, I was writing constantly. People knew that I was into film writing. In fact, the reason I got to write for ‘Baaghi 2’ is that I had pitched several scripts to Nadiadwala so they were well-versed with my writing skills and what I could offer as a writer.
‘Kshanam’ was a film that was mounted on a small scale. Whose idea was to convert it into this massive Tiger Shroff actioner called ‘Baaghi 2’?
It was Sajid Nadiadwala’s idea. He is someone who is known to make larger-than-life films. He bought the rights of ‘Kshanam’ and thought the basic plot had all the trappings of a big commercial entertainer. Since Tiger Shroff was a part of the project, action naturally becomes the important ingredient of the story. In the original, the hero was an IT professional but since we had decided to have lots of action in the film, we had to show our protagonist hailing from a background which justifies all the death defying stunts, and the sort of action he does in the film, it changes the protagonist’s point of view 180 degree.
How did you get on board for the film?
There was already a team of ideators who were working on the film, but they were having some difficulties in figuring out the climax and the background of the villain to justify ‘larger than life’ action at the end. In the original film, the antagonist was a lady who had a definitive emotional purpose behind what she was doing. In ‘Baaghi 2’, we made the villain a ruthless drug lord with zero emotion. I had to flesh out the antagonist and give him a motive which would help in putting all the pieces in the narrative together. The team loved the way I approached the story. They started calling me for all the meetings and I realised that the screenplay was yet to be written. Eventually, I ended up writing the entire screenplay.
Some people think remaking a successful film is an easy task. That is not true, right?
Writing the screenplay for a remake is as challanging as writing an original script. Apart from adapting ‘Kshanam’, we had another challenge up to our sleeves. Baaghi 2, we had to make a bigger film than ‘Baaghi 1’. When you are aiming for a larger audience, you have to find some common factors that would appeal to everyone. Action and revenge are very overpowering key elements of cinema, everybody identifies with it. But, the action had to be weaved around the plot. If you see some of the older films from 80s & 90s, you would realise that the villain in those films were always more powerful than the hero, bigger the challenge, bigger the hero. In the very first meeting, I was told by director Ahmed Khan that I will have certain restrictions while working on this film as it is a remake of a very successful Telgu film whose plot we are adapting and I will have to swim with one hand tied. When you are working on an original story, you have no restrictions to abide by. You can let your imagination run wild, but Baaghi 2 we wrote with restricted thoughts. I have been writing film scripts for a very long time and have always enjoyed a certain freedom while writing around original ideas. But things were totally different and more challenging while writing for ‘Baaghi 2’ in a constrained environment.
The film was a big commercial success but a certain section of the critics dismissed it. What is your take on the criticism that came the film’s way?
There will always be some criticism for a commercial film, especially from certain type of so called intellectual society. When you cook something as per the choice of your recipe its expected that certain type of people/audience will keep finding flaws in it just to prove themselves as an expert of high end content. What they fail to see is that you had to deal with some constraints while cooking that particular dish. So I’ll not defend myself or the film. No film is a perfect masterpiece. Every film gets criticism and I am open to criticism and would love to hear differing viewpoints on my work. It will only help me get better at my craft. As my producer Sajid Nadiadwala said in one of his interview and I quote, people are now dissecting what worked for Baaghi 2. Well it’s selflees team’s hard work. We have made a movie, which can be enjoyed by a large section of audience, and I unquote. So theory is as simple as this, honest effort and a successful box office return can shut all sort of naysayers.
You have written a variety of television shows. Do you have any favourite genre?
I like to write in different genres but thriller and comedy excite me the most.
Is there anybody in the industry whom you consider to be your mentor?
I think I am like Eklavya from Mahabharata. I wanted to assist some directors as I thought it would help me to learn the craft of filmmaking fast but those kinds of jobs were not paying me well and it was getting difficult to sustain myself. I decided to take a different route. I kept working for television and kept learning on my own, read loads of books on different aspects of filmmaking. I started watching world cinema. I would analyse a film after watching it and make my notes, in short I created a tiny film school around me. I always feel that practice makes a man perfect, so I read, I embibe and I practice relentlessly, this is still my process. Making short films is also a part of film making/learning process to polish my skills.
Do you think writers are getting their due now?
It is a very slow process but things are changing. The moment we would be open for new ideas and better content everything would fall into place. Mostly producers and directors often get stuck with a certain group of writers. Once they build a rapport with a particular writer, they tend to work only with him or her. In such a scenario, it becomes difficult for a new talent to get a breakthrough into the industry. Everyone is looking for something extraordinary but nobody is ready to experiment, so in such a scenario not only writers, we as lovers of good and progressive cinema is yet to get our due but things are changing for sure, slow and steady.
What is the major difference between television and films?
The biggest difference is of course deadlines. Television has very strict deadlines as you have to deliver content to the channel on a regular basis. In television, everything happens in a controlled environment. In films, you try to say things differently in an eased out work environment. Film is quality and television is quantity.
Who has been your one true inspiration?
Steven Spielberg has been my role model since my early exposure to Hollywood. He makes films for the masses but every time he tells a new story in a new environment and that too, in a very unique way. I love Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino too for the gritty and crazy approach, though the list is endless.
Now that you are doing television as well as films, how do you plan to strike a balance between the two?
Today, lines between different mediums are getting blurred. This is happening because of the digital revolution. A couple of years down the line, people will be mostly consuming content on their phones and tablets. They will step out to watch a film in the theatres only to watch visual extravagange like an ‘Avatar’ or a ‘Bahubaali’. Though I strongly believe that a good story is a good story and it can fit into any platform. For example, Fargo is great film as well as a great television series too. So it depends on us how capable we are of telling the same story differently and interestingly on different platforms.
Do you wish to direct a film now?
Absolutely, and I am ready for it. As I stated earlier, I have bunch of scripts ready. There are some scripts I am willing to give to other directors but a few stories are very close to my heart and I would like to bring them to the screen myself.
What are you doing next?
I am in talks for a few projects. Once something is finalised, I will be able to talk about it.