Two decades back, in the year 2000, writer-filmmaker Niraj Kumar Mishra started his journey in show business with the iconic show ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati – Season 1’. In the last twenty years, he has worked on some of the most popular shows on television and on the web and ventured into films with ‘Baaghi 2’. In this interview, he talks about his eventful journey in the entertainment industry, studying political science, being a proud Bihari, memorable projects, life lessons and more.
You started your journey in the entertainment industry in the year 2000 with the first season of ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’. How does it feel to complete two decades in the industry?
It is a wonderful feeling, but I never planned to come to this industry. It was just co-incidental. I was appearing for many UPSC & SSC exams, so I was well-versed with various subjects in general. Prior to that I had appeared for engineering entrance exams also, so I had a decent amount of information on science as well. In a nut-shell, I was well-informed with what was happening in different spheres and all these factors worked in my favour. Sometimes, stars align and take you into another direction. I got my first job with Siddhartha Basu almost accidentally and that marked my entry into the entertainment industry.
You were a student of political science, right?
Yes, that’s right, I wanted to switch from science after 10+2. I had spent enough time with science while preparing for engineering exams, and I’m glad I did that. I studied political science in Magadh University, Bodhgaya. As you might have heard, Bihar ka har insaan by birth politically inclined hota hai, ya yoon kah lein, political awareness is ingrained in our DNA. You will see people discussing politics at every nook and corner in Bihar. Many of our relatives have been into politics and some are still into it. Since I have a fascination with numbers, I wanted to study statistics. But unfortunately, I was not able to get that subject. Then came an option to study political science, so I took it up instantly. My other two favourite subjects, history and geography, were my subsidiary subjects in college. I enjoyed studying them all.
A large part of your life was spent in Bihar. Can you share some memories of it?
Yes, till the time I finished my graduation. I lived in different parts of Bihar. My father was employed with a government bank and he would get transferred very often to different areas in the state. I have even studied in a village school when my father was posted there. For the first couple of years, I did home schooling because there were no proper educational facilities in the place we were in at that point of time. After a while, we moved to a bigger town and I was enrolled in a school directly in the 2nd grade. All these years taught me a great deal about life and people.
How did you get interested in films?
Well, apart from politics, cinema is another thing, which binds all the people of Bihar together. In my family everybody enjoyed watching cinema, and that time craze of single theatre was beyond any explanation. First day first show was sort of an achievement for many. So, the love for cinema came naturally to me. Also in Bihar, cinema has a huge impact on the lives of many, in general. There is saying which goes, “mushqil koi bhi ho, Bihari aur Nadi (river) apna raasta bana hi lete hain”. I guess this resilience got some inspiration from films too where ‘at the end, the hero always wins’. And this is the reason, very often Biharis have been called ‘FILMY’, including me, and I’m proud of it. At least we are real, honest and in your face. But at the same time, I feel a lot of people have a lot of false perception about Bihar because of the way it is projected in films or in the media. In terms of education, the state is doing pretty well. Every year, you see so many IAS and IPS officers emerging from Bihar; you would find engineers and doctors across the country from Bihar. On the other side, there is also an image of Bihar being this state where there is a lot of rowdiness, which mostly media and cinema project to the world. But I feel many of other achievements by the people belong to our state has not been spoken enough for some reason. Maybe that’s not spicy enough for media and films (chuckles). Gandhi ji’s Champaran Satyagraha took off from Bihar. The first President of our country was from Bihar, the first university came into existence in Bihar. There are many such noticeable achievements of the state that has been constantly ignored. You will find a wide mix of achievers from different fields in Bihar, from a farmer to laborer to a scientist in NASA. And now, a large number of people are there in film industry too. So, I strongly feel it’s time to highlight everything and everyone, especially the positive ones. First films came into our lives, now our lives go to films.
How did you get to meet Siddhartha Basu?
We were all fans of Siddhartha Basu since childhood. We used to watch his weekly quiz show on Doordarshan. Siddhartha Basu’s content creation office was in Delhi. A friend of mine was working with him at that time. Meanwhile, I had just appeared for my third interview for CDS (SSB). I was rejected third time in a row, so obviously was completely heart-broken. My friend said that Mr. Basu’s company was working on developing a quiz show and asked me to prepare a set of questions for the same. It was a cakewalk for me. I immediately made a set of 25 questions and sent it across. They liked my work and called me for an interview. After the interview, they asked me to join instantly. There I created content for ‘KBC Season 1’, ‘Kamzor Kadii Kaun’ and ‘Mastermind India’. After that took up a job in Ravi Shankar Institute of Music and Performing Arts. Delhi has been the hub of electronic media. I thought doing a Mass Communication course would help me get a job as a journalist. So, while working at Ravi Shankar Institute, I did a course in Journalism and Mass Communication. I worked in Ravi Shankar Institute for two years and it was a fabulous experience. After this stint, I thought I should move to Mumbai to pursue my dreams further, to do something more substantial. So, without any plan, I just packed my bags and arrived in Mumbai in the year 2004.
You had no job offer when you landed up in Mumbai?
No, as I said there was no plan as such. I had some interest in acting and thought I should try my luck in it. I had a photographer friend called Rajiv Singh in Delhi. I requested him to take some pictures of me. After coming to Mumbai, I tried to look for acting jobs but nothing really worked out. After a point, I just went with the flow. I came to Mumbai in June and joined Balaji Telefilms in October. I was doing multiple roles in Balaji. I handled production, did writing and research work. It was a very good learning experience. I worked on two shows with them during this period. One was ‘Kosmiic Chat’ anchored by celebrity astrologer Sunita Menon and the other was ‘Kya Kahein’ which was hosted by the late Irrfan Khan.
Is there any project that is close to your heart?
Every project that I have worked on has been special but the ones, which I, along with my colleague and team, developed from the scratch, are definitely closer to my heart. Some names are ‘KBC Season 1’, ‘Kya Kahein’, ‘Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah’, ‘Adaalat’, ‘Rakshak’, etc. These are the shows, which we meticulously worked on and shaped up very well. ‘Baaghi 2’ will always remain a special project, as it was my first feature film and a blockbuster too. Apart from that in 2011, I made a short film called ‘Gandhi The Silent Gun’ under unusual circumstance. My father was admitted in a hospital in Delhi and I was under a lot of stress because of that. A friend of mine Rahul Gupta suggested that I should make a short film to get myself out of the depressed state of mind I was in. There are certain portions of ‘Gandhi The Silent Gun’, which I have written in the hospital itself. I shot the entire 33-minute film in one day. Not only that, I got my first ever award too because of this film. So, this film (Gandhi: The Silent Gun) will always be very special to me. The things that you create out of sheer passion and under extreme circumstances are definitely closer to your heart.
A lot of people say that to be relevant in this industry, you have to keep delivering successes.
Definitely, you have to be relevant and consistent whatsoever profession you are in. But in our industry, sometimes you require more. A lot of people climb up the ladder of success and manage to sustain themselves for a long period of time just because of their connections. Talent, unfortunately, is secondary to a lot of things in this industry. That is the reason why so many people are suffering. When connections are given precedence over talent, content gets compromised. There are people who are from film families and are talented but do not have the backing of powerful people, also suffer. Akshaye Khanna is the one of the biggest examples. And then, there are people like us who come from a non-filmy background suffer greatly because of biases and prejudices. There are very few people who love content and who believe in real talent; their percentage is very low. If we want to prosper as quality creators, we will have to start giving preference to content and genuine talents. If that happens, our industry will change for sure. Nepotism and favouritism exists in the west too but there, people are more fair when it comes to giving the right opportunities to the right talent.
What is the biggest lesson you have learnt in these twenty years?
Constant learning, constant evolving, and never get emotional while you are working. You have to stay unaffected by all the negativity around you and focus on your work. Stay relevant, keep upgrading yourself and never hesitate to work hard at any point of time.
You are somebody who has always been open about your political views.
I think every individual should be able to express his or her views without any fear. People are very judgmental in our industry. They do not want an ecosystem where two different kinds of opinion could exist in an amicable and non-judgmental environment. One must understand that when there is a left, there is a right too. Different people have different thought process and perspective. It’s not a utopian one world we live in or one situation and one mindset. We live in a very complex world filled with a large number of issues and we must take a stand when necessary. Everybody is trying to impose their ideology on each other and that is not right. People must grow acceptance and tolerance for each other. Co-existence of different thoughts in harmony would be the real success of any contemporary society.
How do you look at the journey ahead of you?
We survived 2020, so 2021 onwards I see as a new life, a new beginning. Honestly, I feel young and charged again. Also, I have realized that storytelling could happen from anywhere. Right now, I am at my hometown in Bihar. I am working on a project here, an anthology, after finishing it I will move back to Mumbai to start another one instantly, so the journey ahead looks promising. There are many stories to tell and I hope there will be many more milestones along the way.