‘Aranyak’ has proved to be one of the biggest successes for screenwriter Charudutt Acharya. The Netflix original series, which features Raveena Tandon, Ashutosh Rana and Parambrata Chatterjee in principal roles, has emerged as a global hit and has brought in much acclaim for Acharya. In the past, Charudutt has written popular TV shows like ‘Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin’, ‘Dhadkan’, ‘Siddhanth’ and ‘Crime Patrol’ and worked on films like ‘Vaastu Shastra’, ‘Dum Maaro Dum’ and ‘Nautanki Saala’ among others. In 2014, he made his directorial debut with the Hindi feature film, ‘Sonali Cable’.
In this interview, the writer-director talks about the success of ‘Aranyak’, long-time association with Ramesh and Rohan Sippy, FTII experience, getting back to direction and more.
You stumbled upon the basic idea of ‘Aranyak’ while you were on a family vacation in Himachal Pradesh. How much of the screenplay was inspired from real-events?
I did seek inspiration from real-life events but largely, it was a fiction show. I had met a police officer in Himachal Pradesh during a family trip and that’s how I got inspired to create a similar character and put together a narrative around her. My family and I had gone for one of those simple horse rides near Shimla. The saddle of one of the horses came off and that resulted in my wife getting injured. We had an argument with the ghoda wallah because of that. We went to the police station to file a complaint. In the station, I saw a little girl doing her homework and a lady sitting beside her and peeling off vegetables. Since there was nobody else around, I spoke to the lady and asked her as to how can I meet the inspector and file a complaint. She asked me to wait for a minute and gave my injured wife an extra churidar to wear. She started talking to my wife and they had a gharelu woman-to-woman conversation. She asked us to go inside a cabin and wait for the inspector to come. After a while, the same lady entered the cabin. She was none other than the SHO of that police station. She filed the complaint, summoned the ghoda wallah and gave him an earful. I was really inspired by her personality. The character of Kasturi Dogra (played by Raveena Tandon in the show) was based on her.
The criminal case in the series was based on a real-life incident that happened somewhere in India. I just took some basic information from the case and made a fictional story out of it. The idea for the ‘nar tendua’ came from a driver who accompanied us during one of our trips. He was trying to scare my children by telling them that there lives a creature in the mountains who is neither a human being nor an animal. I decided to put these three stories together and write a series based on them.
Unlike most other shows made for the digital space these days, ‘Aranyak’, despite being a thriller, was devoid of gory scenes and strong language. Was it a conscious decision to make a show that would cater to audiences belonging to different age groups?
Yes, I was very sure about writing a show that would appeal to family audiences. Children, who are very young, should not be watching the show as it is based on a heinous crime but I didn’t want to add certain unnecessary things for effect. I don’t subscribe to the kind of storytelling that the digital entertainment space in India is known for today. Of course, a film like ‘Bandit Queen’ needs to have a certain visual language, but these days, a lot of things are done just for the sake of titillating the audience. I think the audience appreciated the fact that we told the story in a mature way without resorting to such tricks.
‘Aranyak’ is your third web series after ‘It’s Not That Simple’ (Voot) and ‘1962 – A War In The Hills’ (Disney+Hotstar). As a writer, what is the kind of process you follow while writing a long-format series? Do you sketch out the characters first or start with the story?
The process is different for different projects. ‘Aranyak’, for instance, is a plot-driven thriller. You can either start off by fleshing out the characters or write down the basic plot first. I find it much easier to start with the characters. After that, I work on the basic plot. While working on the main plot, you have to finalize a few things like who will be shown to be the culprit towards the end. Before writing the screenplay, you should be sure about the background and motive of the characters you have created.
How has been your experience creating content for the digital streaming space?
I find this space very interesting. If you look at it in a certain way, you realize that you actually end up making three feature films while making a series. The format is somewhere between TV and films. And, just like feature films face tremendous pressure about a weekend performance, the pressure on OTT shows is how many ‘binged’ watched it as soon as it was streamed. It is a genuine challenge to write in a way that you are able to get your audience to commit to six to seven hours at one go or watch the entire series over a weekend. Writing ‘Aranyak’ was a creatively satisfying experience for me and I want to do a lot more work in this space.
You have written several episodes for the popular TV show ‘Crime Patrol’. Working on that show helped you gain a very good understanding of the way the police department functions. It must have come in handy while writing ‘Aranyak’. Did you get to interact with police officers while working on ‘Crime Patrol’?
Now, multiple producers are associated with ‘Crime Patrol’ but we were just one team making all the episodes then. You need to do adequate research while writing such shows. We used to have an excellent research team. Crime reporters used to give us inputs and we would get to read elaborate case papers. The audience is not interested in absorbing a lot of technical information but there should be a sense of plausibility when they watch such shows. Because of ‘Crime Patrol’, I didn’t have to do any research on police procedural processes while working on ‘Aranyak’.
Were you involved in the casting process of the show?
I was not a part of the casting process but Rohan (Sippy, showrunner), Siddharth (Roy Kapur, producer), Vinay (Waikul, director) and I would sit down and discuss names. There are many factors involved in the casting process including the availability of actors. Raveena Tandon and Parambrata Chatterjee were on the top of my wishlist and I was really happy when they agreed to be a part of the series.
Because of what happens to Angad Malik (the character played by Parambrata Chatterjee) in the final episode, the audiences were left wondering whether he would return in the second season.
Angad will be back. That is one thing I can confirm about the second season (laughs). Along with Kasturi and Mahadev (Ashutosh Rana), Angad, too, will be a part of the second season of ‘Aranyak’.
Back in the ‘90s, you studied direction in the Film and Television Institute of India. How was the film school experience?
Film school experience cannot be bad. Even if you made trashy student films, you learnt what not to do when you start working as a professional. That is a huge privilege. I believe training is not important but learning is. If you get a chance to go to a film school, there is no harm in it. However, even if you don’t attend one, you can pick up the basics of your craft by assisting somebody, reading up books, watching films and series and reverse engineering them and using plenty of online resources available. Back then, even making a short film was a very difficult and expensive process. Now, technology has evolved greatly and you can shoot a short film on your smartphone. You can learn the craft much easier than before.
In your late 20s, you suffered from a severe road accident which had a life-altering impact on you. In 2015, you had written a long Facebook post about it as well. How did you deal with it?
The accident happened when I was 28 years of age. It gave me a disability and that changed my life in a lot of ways. I was working as an assistant director and preparing to become a director myself. After this accident, I turned to writing. An accident of this nature would affect anybody but with time, you learn to cope with it.
You have had a long-standing association with Ramesh and Rohan Sippy. How has been the experience of working with them all these years?
It has been wonderful working with them. My first project with them was ‘Dum Maaro Dum’ which I wrote the dialogues for. By the time, we finished work on that film, I had prepared a basic outline of ‘Sonali Cable’. They liked it and asked me to develop it. During this time, I co-wrote ‘Nautanki Saala’ with Rohan Sippy. Back then, I was not very active in films. I was primarily a TV writer. I had written ‘Vastu Shastra’ in 2004 and after that, I didn’t write a film for years. Rohan gave me the opportunity to direct my first film. ‘Aranyak’ has, perhaps, been our most successful project together.
Do you plan to direct a film in the near future?
I have been wanting to get back to directing for a while but my writing assignments keep me very busy. I want to direct a web-series soon. After that, hopefully, I will direct a film again.
What are you doing next?
We have started scripting ‘Aranyak 2’. I am developing a couple of other web shows as well.