For a guy who studied to become an engineer and passed out of IIT (BHU), Varun Grower stands on a different planet today. He is now the go to guy for all Indie filmmakers. After starting his career as a writer in 2004, he wrote for “The great Indian Comedy Show” and later wrote scripts for stand-up comedies. The big shift happened when he team up with Anurag Kashyap for writing lyrics for “The Girl in Yellow Boots”. Since then he has written lyrics for films like Gangs of Wasseypur, Aankhon Dekhi and Dum laga ke haisha.
An even bigger shift happened when he took up the role of screen writer and dialogue writer for Neeraj Gheywan’s Masaan. The movie has gone on win several awards in the festival circuit and is up for release in India.
We at MAM had a chat with him on his journey and what went into the making of Masaan.
Varun: I joined IIT (BHU) in 1999 & passed out in 2003. Through campus placement, I got a job in Pune. I did that for 11 month, after which I felt that that was not for me. I had realized that I wanted to be a writer. So, I moved to Mumbai in 2004 and started looking for a job in the industry as a writer. I got my first job in 2005 and since then, It has been a superb ride. I have always done the kind of work that I always wanted to do. I started off with writing for stand-up comedy shows & tv. I got…… I 2009, I started writing for this online show called Jaihind. That was something that I’m very happy & proud about. All the while, I wanted to write for films. That is when I started writing for Anurag and it has been a jolly ride since then.
How did Masaan happen?
It was during the post-production of Gangs of Wasseypur (Varun was the lyricist & Neeraj was the 1st AD), when Neeraj spoke to me about this. Way back, Neeraj had envisaged Masaan as a short story / film. When he narrated the story to me, I felt that it deserved to be a feature film and not a short film. I felt that this story was worthy of a full length film instead of a 30 – 40 minute film. So, I asked him if we can add more characters and one more story to the plot and make this bigger. Neeraj was on On board and agreed to this immediately.
Once we agreed upon the basic framework, we travelled to Banaras together, did our research. We exchanged notes on the stories, characters. Neeraj was very clear about the story arcs and his characters. So working on it was easy. He gave me a lot of time and was with me throughout. He is the kind of a guy who will completely submit himself to work.
Was your background and the fact that you passed out from IIT (BHU) responsible for you taking up this film? Was that a major force in you deciding to take up this film?
Yes. It indeed was. There was something romantic about going back to Banaras for research and writing a movie based in that set- up. Also, Neeraj completely let me do whatever I wanted to. He gave me the freedom to bring his story / thoughts to life. He gave me the independence to bring my experiences and knowledge to the story.
In a way you are telling me that it helped that a lot of people associated with the movie were also working on their first major feature film.
Not consciously. The bigger factor for me was the honesty with which Neeraj worked on the story. He had great faith in his story. Also, the fact that the story was set in Benaras, made me take up the film.
How much of your past experience did you bring in to the film? Was there a conscious effort to show Banaras in a certain way?
The only conscious effort was to not show Banaras in a clichéd way. We did not want to show Banaras like a touristy place. We moved away from showing wide angle shots of the ghats. There are no “beauty shots” in the film. The ghat is always in the background. This is something I learnt from Dibaker Banerjee. He is a master when it comes to featuring cities. My reference point was Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye , where we see very little of Delhi, but we Delhi is such an intrinsic part of the film. So, I strived to bring that sort of an essence through the way I wrote the film.
Considering that this is your first feature film as a writer, was making the switch from being a lyricist to screenwriter smooth?
While I have written the screenplay and dialogues for a film for the first time, it was not the first time for me as a writer. It comes easily to me. I have written scripts and lyrics earlier. All that is a sub set of being a writer. I look at it as being a chef who can cook multiple cuisines. You may cook pasta one day and the cook biryani the next day. It does not take away the fact that you are a chef!
Yes, of course. One thing that I remember fondly is Richa’s character. She had never played a character like this before. She had always played outspoken and brash characters in all her earlier films, whether be it GoW or Fukrey or Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye.. Here, her character was very different in the sense that she does not speak much. She believes that her actions speak louder than words.
During the script reading sessions, she realized that she does not have much to speak and everybody around her was speaking to the dozen. She could not take it for more than a couple of days. After that, she asked me if she could slap a character. So, we weaved it in the scene and she ended up slapping a particular character just to vent out her feelings. After this incident, we made subtle changes to her character.
If asked to pick one story between the two in the movie, which one would you pick? Would it be Devi’s (Richa Chadda) or Deepak’s (Vicky) story?
I would pick Devi’s story. Though I like characters from both the stories, I like the way we were able to flesh out Devi’s story. I liked the way we culminated her story arc. It was hugely satisfying. In fact I like the female characters of the movie. They are very similar, yet different. Another reason I like Richa’s story is because, she plays the only female character in her story. It passes the Bechdel test.
Now that the film has garnered so much love in festivals and is being spoken about by everyone, how does it feel?
I feel good. Cant say that it has to do anything with the awards. I try to be as detached as possible. If I get into the rut of expecting awards and if I do not win, I would feel dejected. So , I try to be very detached. It is good that the movie has garnered so much of love already. In fact, more than myself, I’m happy for Neeraj. The movie is his baby. It was his faith and hard work that has translated to all this. I am genuinely happy for him.
So, where does Varun go from here? What is coming up next?
I have my hands full at the moment. I have a couple of films. So, it is looking good. Hope to keep writing interesting stories.
We at MAM wish Varun and the entire team of Masaan all the very best for the release.