When you meet or speak to Gautam Hegde, you realize, within a few minutes of having a conversation with him, that he is an extremely warm and sensitive person. Perhaps, this is one quality that helps him to write all the wonderful stories that we see come alive on our television screens. With several successful shows like ‘Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon’, ‘Miley Jab Hum Tum’, ‘Saath Nibhaana Saathiya’ behind him, Gautam is one of the most sought-after writers in the television industry. With Alt Balaji’s ‘Baarish’, he made his debut in the digital space and now, wishes to strike a balance between writing for the two mediums.
In this interview, he talks about his eventful journey as a writer for television and web, making the transition from journalism to screenwriting, starting a food delivery service with his mother during the lockdown, and his shows- old, new and upcoming.
You started your career as a film journalist. How did you get into writing TV shows?
I started off freelancing for a youth magazine called ‘JAM – Just Another Magazine’. After my graduation, I joined them full time, but I realised this cannot be a long-term game plan. So, I quit the job and did a course in mass communication post which, I worked with ZEE TV for three years. During my stint with ZEE, I learnt a lot about scripts, the creative process- supervising the episodes, getting the promos cut, strategizing, etc. It was in 2007 when Vivek Bahl, my ex-boss at ZEE, moved to Star India Network and asked me if I would like to write for him. That is when I took the plunge into writing. My initial shows were ‘Santaan’, ‘Raja Ki Aayegi Baaraat’ for Star PLUS, and ‘Miley Jab Hum Tum’ for Star One. But Saath Nibhana Saathiya was the biggest hit in the GEC space back then.
‘Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon’ has been one of the most popular shows that you have written. There was an enormous amount of craze for it, especially among the youth in small towns.
‘Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon’ will always be one of my favourite shows. Gul’s (Khan, producer) command over romance is incredible. I got to work with an incredible team. I had an excellent co-writer with me called Janaki Vishwanathan. She was a big Mills & Boon fan and that came in handy for the show. It was a time when both of us were single and were yearning for some romance in our lives (laughs). Barun (Sobti) and Sanaya (Irani) shared great chemistry and that was one of the reasons why their characters became so popular.
The show had reruns during the lockdown as well.
That shows how much the show was loved, I guess. It was dubbed in several regional and foreign languages as well. I have a friend who was in London last year. She saw a hoarding of the show there. I feel humbled to see the show getting so much love after all these years.
Barun Sobti is one of your closest friends in the industry. He has a huge fanbase but is quite shy. Can you share something about him which most people don’t know?
Barun is a very good writer. I have heard some of his poetry and it is really good. Barun is a complete foodie but he is blessed with a great metabolism, so it doesn’t show. He is always, always there for his friends.
You have named this business, co-owned by your mother Mrs. Nirmala Hegde and you, as “Aai’s Kitchen’. Going by your posts on social media, it has become a huge success. How do you both feel about it?
Barun and his wife Pashmeen were the ones who encouraged my mother to become an entrepreneur. When the lockdown started, all the restaurants were closed. Everyone gets fed up of eating their own food after a point of time. Barun and Pashmeen knew that my mom cooks well and were extremely fond of her food. They said that ‘it’s time let the world gets to know what a brilliant cook aunty is’. My mom and I came up with this venture called ‘Aai’s Kitchen’. We make food at home and deliver it to people’s homes. My mother is joyous and feels so kicked about doing something like this at 64! She just proved that age is just a number and you can start life and career whenever you want. All you need is a push and motivation from within. It has also given me a chance to bond with my mother in a way we had not imagined. Also, it is heart-warming when people call her Aai now with love.
A couple of months back, musician Yashraj Mukhate created a rap/music piece on the dialogues of the show ‘Saath Nibhaana Saathiya’. The video went viral. You were one of the writers on the show. How did you feel about it?
I loved the creation and it only made people who hadn’t seen the show curious about it. Incidentally the reruns of the show rated very well for the channel, during the lockdown when they showed repeats in the afternoons. To be honest, I only feel humbled to be a part of this show. This show has given me everything and I will always be indebted to it.
Humans Of Bombay carried a feature on you in which you spoke about your sexuality, coming out the closet, love and acceptance. Since you are a writer, would you like to write a script that represents the LGBT community?
I do want to contribute in some way. I was out of the closet to my friends and some of my relatives in 2012-13 but I was waiting for the right moment to come out to the world. I thought I would write a short film and then, talk about it. That was not happening and I did not want to wait for too long. I am thankful to Humans Of Bombay to give me an opportunity to speak about it. I have written a short film along these lines and I hope it gets made some day.
I was reading an interview of yours wherein you have stated that writing for television gets very hectic at times. You said that writers need more time and shows should ideally be divided into multiple seasons.
Yes, TV writers never get enough time to work on their material but that’s the nature of the business. Also, the destiny of the show changes every Thursday with the ratings. So, sometimes we have to tweak tracks and story line around. Opposed to this is web writing- which is start to finish. Being structural in nature, we know how the show is going to be written. The beginning, middle and end is planned and the whole season is made at once and is put out there for people to see.
Are you more inclined towards writing for the web now?
Ideally, I would like to strike a balance between doing projects on the web and on television. Television gave me all that I have today and web is the future. It takes a lot of unlearning of TV to write web and therein lies the challenge.
Is there a plan to write films?
Honestly, I don’t know. I never had a plan in life. Even when I was in college, I didn’t know what I would do with my life. This was also the time I was being emotionally bullied in the college for being effeminate and gay. What made it worse is I was living in denial and was internally suffocating myself. I wanted to keep myself busy. Back then, a friend of mine encouraged me to write. When I started writing for JAM, people started noticing and appreciating my work. That helped me increase my self-esteem. That continued to be the way of my life.
I was a complete TV addict as a child. My board exams would at 10:30 in the morning. At 9:25 am, there would be a telecast of the popular show ‘Shanti’. I used to watch that before going to school to appear for my board exams. My mom used to freak out. Now, she is happy. I never liked going outdoors or playing any sport. Back then, she used to tell me, “TV se kisi ka pet nahin bharta”. Today, she says, ‘aaj toh isne TV se pet bhar kar dikhaaya”. So you see, nothing was planned. Neither journalism, nor writing. It just happened.
I have always been very content and love doing what I do at a particular point of time. To come back to your question, writing a film is a different ballgame. It will require a lot of effort and time. I am open to the idea of writing a web original film.
You have co-written the series ‘Crashh’ premiered on 14 February on Alt Balaji and Zee5. Was working on this project any different from working on the ones you had worked on as a writer in the past?
The writing of this show was different from any show one has done before. The whole idea was to write it as a series of montage, with music binding the emotions. The language had to be contemporary and organic and scenes, original. The one line of the show- of siblings separated is like that of a 70s film, but we had to base it in today’s times and make it seem credible. We have gotten a good response for it.
Out of all the shows that you have written, is there one which is the closest to your heart?
I would like to name five shows.
‘Santaan’ – it was my first show, so it will always be special for me. It was the first time I saw my name on the credits. It was about parents and children, the generation gap, it was a show with its heart in the right place.
‘Saath Nibhana Saathiya’ – it was an underdog show which went on to become extremely popular. Nobody thought a 7 pm show could be so popular. I had worked on around 800 episodes for the show.
‘Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon’ – sometimes the universe conspires for a number of people of people to come together to create something that turns out to be very special. It was a magical show which binds me and everybody who worked on it with lots of wonderful memories.
‘Miley Jab Hum Tum’ – it was years since I had gone to college and was not sure if I could write a show of this nature. I had a great time working on this show. I had even acted in the show. I have some great memories attached with this show.
‘Wagle Ki Duniya’ – This is the latest TV show that I am working on. It is a cult show that was made in the 80s and 90s and now it is being made again. To work on this slice of life show is a challenge, privilege and honour.
Apart from ‘Wagle Ki Duniya’, what else are you working on?
There are two shows with Alt Balaji. If ‘Crashh’ gets a green light for season 2, then I would start working on that too. ‘Wagle Ki Duniya’ is what I am really excited about right now. I have written a script for a short film which I hope to get made this year.