Writers’ Block – What should Sikkimese writers do to find a career in the field?

Writers’ Block – What should Sikkimese writers do to find a career in the field?

In Sikkim a lot of writers write, lacking direction and purpose, they write for the sake of venting and for the sake of literature. Reading a lot and writing have been seen to go hand in hand and more people, who read a lot, write a lot. The only thing Sikkimese writers mostly complain about is not having an innate sense in professionalism in writing; not having more avenues for writers is a topic that pops up more often than not in discourses that involve upliftment of writers in Sikkim.

It isn’t that there aren’t many avenues for writers in Sikkim, it would be wrong to assume that writers should be bound to a place. There are still a lot of workshops, discourses, conferences, and clubs for writers in Sikkim, most of these are held in Rachna Books and these events are easily accessible to budding writers who want to learn about more avenues.

For writers to do more in delving into professionalism there’s only one way to go and that is writing more and putting their work out.

“The writers need to keep on writing.  Without knowing and understanding what the market is like, the struggle will always be there. It is not about what to write, it is just about writing and recognising that one is a writer. If one keeps on writing and the work is good, someone or the other will hire you. The market is there, there isn’t a super industry but there is a niche is there, if one keep writing there will be someone who is going to pay you for it,” says Adarsh Rai, a professional writer from Sikkim.

There are a lot of passionate writers in Sikkim who are proud to call themselves the same and are putting their work out for people to recognise it but there’s a lack of coordination and networking that puts these people into a hiatus.

Adarsh talks about codifying a few steps for writers. “Passion is like nectar, it is good to see these passionate writers around but at the end of the day we need flowers to bloom, and that is a production from passion. For writers it is a global platform, I have never been to Mumbai but I have worked for production houses there. To put it into a nutshell, there are four Ps into it, Passion, Perseverance, Projection, and then comes Profession.”

The four Ps for a writer is clear, from passion to profession, avenues are global, all a writer needs to do is put their work out, and speaking from the perspective of Sikkim, there are avenues which are more esoteric and to be searched for.

Speaking about avenues, one of the biggest that happened in recent days spoke about an avenue for a writer, mainly screenwriters. Global Film Festival held a screenwriters workshop in which delegates came from professional field of Bollywood and spoke about multiple angles from which a screenwriter could benefit, from how a writer should be writing to bag jobs ion Bollywood to how they should go about with their work to be copyrighted, the session held a stimulating environment for writers.

The workshop saw many participants. The delegates who conducted the workshop and spoke about screenwriting was Kamlesh Pandey, a Filmfare winner, who wrote movies like Tezaab, Saudagar, and the critically acclaimed Rang De Basanti, and the other speaker was Bikash Mishra who came from Peerless Institute, representing the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) Screenwriters Lab who spoke to and addressed the writers present in the workshop.

There was a similar tone for both the speakers, and it was about the struggle they needed to make for their work to be recognised. They spoke about how their work was incumbent for films but also about how writers went unnoticed if they did not make their presence felt.

Kamlesh Pandey stressed on the importance of writers in Cinema, he spoke about how a writer was the first star of a film; before writer fills it up, a film or a TV show would just be a blank piece of paper. Quoting Speilberg, he said, “If our writers don’t write nobody in Hollywood will have a job.”

“Imagine God sitting down before creation and looking at nothingness, thinking about how he had to now make the universe and populate it with everything, imagine that responsibility; the same responsibility is what writers are faced with while staring at their blank piece of paper”, said Pandey, at the beginning of his workshop.

In the course of his workshop, he spoke about the God complex a writer should have and how a writer should have pride in his work, as a writer was almost a God in the process of creation. He spoke the value of a story in films posing questions and answering them; answers to questions like why a story was needed in films, what a writer’s obligation was towards the audience.

“A film must answer four questions:

Whose story is it?

What is the goal of the supposed who and what did they want?

Why do they want what they want?

How will they get what they want?

The third question speaks about what is at the stake of the story you’re writing about, and the fourth question of how, that is where the plot of the movie lies”, said Pandey, explaining the art of screenwriting.

Apart from the technicalities, Pandey also spoke about how in the modern times, things were looking better for writers as there were newer streaming services for writers to be more open and precipitous in there writing, being bolder was now a choice which was devoid in writing for films of Bollywood. He also stressed on how there is an association for writers where they can get their work legitimized and protected, the said association is Screenwriters Association, where writers can have a royalty of their work after copyrighting it, all they have to do is register online on swaindia.org.

From NFDC the speaker Bikash Mishra spoke about the need of mentors in a writer’s life, and how writing is a craft that needs whetting for writers to grow and how a mentor is incumbent before the writer goes into the field. He spoke about how he transitioned from a corporate TV job to being a full-time writer and how nfdclabs.com helped him in that transition.

Bikash Mishra is now a screenwriter and a director, his first feature film Chauranga released in January 2016. The film won awards at Mumbai Film Festival and Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA). His short film Dance of Ganesha had its world premiere at the 16th Busan International Film Festival, and its European premiere at the 41st International Film Festival Rotterdam. The film was also shown at Clermont Ferrand Short Film Festival in France. He is a recipient of the Hubert Bals Fund for script development.

“There is a selection process of the lab, all you have to do is prepare a screenplay, prepare documents and synopsis, and if your work is good enough you’ll be selected, I am an example of it. After selection, you will be given a mentor and it is a beautiful caterpillar to a butterfly process after that.” Bikash shares the platform and his journey with the writers of Sikkim present in the workshop.

All the professional writers sent one kindred message, about how a writer should write tirelessly to become a writer, and how a mentor was incumbent for them. Since there aren’t many career-related workshops in Sikkim for writers, there is still a gap that needs to be bridged between passions to the profession. In that light, Sikkim can surely use more workshops like that in the Global Film Festival. 

The state has a poor record in terms of films it has made and even lesser in the number of people who have made a mark in the national or international film industry. Occasionally, an exceptional director, actor or writer comes along but then somewhere in the pursuit of finding a ‘stable’ career, as tiring as the word is to many ears, many have given up their interests. 

Colleges that have a department for Mass Communication often do not have modules for film, whether it be writing or directing. Worse than not having this, many lack resources that students of film need. Studios, equipment and most important of all, wider exposure to watching and discussing films, taking apart the process bit by bit and examining it to understand how one is created. 

Avinam Mangar, a 2nd-year student studying English Literature at Nar Bahadur Bhandari College is actively interested in writing for film.  

When asked whether courses in Sikkim, especially those pertaining to English and Mass comm should have modules that cater to those who want to work and write for films, he believes it is a good idea to incorporate it into their syllabuses or conduct creative writing workshops or seminars where interested students could sign up to learn more. 

“For a certain number of students, such modules should be presented it gives them an idea and also help them to get into film industries. Flim industry in India is certainly one of the good money-making industry, it does carry certain charm.”

Movies and videos have always captured the attention of people since its invention. With Netflix and Chill becoming one of the most used hashtags online or even in general conversation, it is clear that all generations like to wind down by watching something on streaming platforms or YouTube, if not live TV. A lot of cultural associations and shaping of ideologies are made through watching films or documentaries. Various narratives are portrayed, much thought is provoked and soon enough, with banding together of like-minded people, there is a discussion of something much larger and an hour’s worth of moving images turns into a conversation or even an academic paper. 

Avinam adds, “For millennia, movies are the mirror to the society, movies are not just about ideologies or knowledge but it can certainly be an eye-opener. We live in societies that are complex and this complexity could be explained in movies through images and dialogues. So when a writer puts anything in the screen it can certainly generate thought on a scale which can develop into a new personality or create an entirely new revolution.”

“I’m interested in writing but I’m a lazy writer. I mostly scribble thoughts and my ideologies on things”, says Peden Ongmu Namgyal, who was one of the attendees at the screenwriting workshop. “Sikkim needs more of these workshops because honestly, there’s nothing wrong in experimenting and trying new things when it’s coming from experienced individuals from the business. Learning is never wrong.”  

Yet, one can get carried away while teaching short workshops. The conversation could lean more towards personal experiences when it should be focusing on theory and the importance of building a space for discourse on the same outside of the workshop. Then there is the problem of length. One day courses don’t do justice to the art of screenwriting, which needs an extension of more hours to even grasp the technicalities. 

“I felt, such workshops are not meant for a day’s course. It should have gone on for atleast a week”, says Devika Gurung, who wrote the narration for the short film Altered, screened at the GCF and also attended the workshop. “I found the experience of writing for the film a wonderful learning experience. But it wasn’t a solo work. The director had given me the basic layout of the script so it became easy for me to write.” 

Given the chance, she would want to try her hand in writing screenplays for a personal production or even for a longer feature-length film or web series. 

But the positive takeaway from the existence of these workshops is that now, people who have attended it have talked to others about it and personally too, would like to participate in more of these. For instance, ask Namgyal if she would like to attend another screenwriting workshop if it was learning-intensive and concise, she replies, “I would, 100%”.

By Rohonit Hang Subba and Shradha R. Chhetri