We have all grown up listening to stories, influenced by stories and inspired by stories. Technologies might come and go, but the world of Entertainment & Media will always be fuelled by stories backed by creative writing !
Akriti Goel, our next pathbreaker, Scripwriter and Screenwriter for films and web-series, writes relatable stories woven around real characters that the audience can identify with.
Akriti talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about her love for telling and listening to stories while growing up that turned into a career.
For students, follow your natural instincts and your career will also follow naturally !
Akriti, tell us about Your background?
I grew up in Jabalpur, a small town in Madhya Pradesh. Life was comfortable and safe, national parks, wildlife and nature all around. Yet, I couldn’t wait to get out of there and see the world.
My education was in a typical Convent school. I was not a great student. My report cards are filled with comments like “You can do better” and “Please focus on your grades”. But my focus was always on entertainment. I loved to entertain and be entertained. During recess my friends and I would put up shows for students to watch in exchange for their tiffins. The only subject I cared about was English. I loved reading, memorizing poetry and reciting it to myself.
Reading made me so aware of my emotions, the only way to process these emotions was to write. So, I would write letters to my family and friends, even my pets. I wrote small skits and stories and made my friends and cousins enact them, taking the role of the director. I attribute my love for my job to those early days of dedicated storytelling. It was pure and I knew it was what I wanted to do all my life.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I left Jabalpur at 18 to pursue a degree in Media and Communication, at the University of Technology, Sydney.
In the second year we were told to choose a Major. I chose Journalism at the advice of my favorite teacher. He said “Learn about the world”. I thought that was a good start.
Australia was a family dream, we had thought we would all move there one day and live by the sea. So, when I decided to study abroad, my father suggested Australia and I started researching universities there.
I had applied to other universities in U.K and U.S.A, but when I was accepted by the University of Technology, Sydney (U.T.S), I decided that was where I would go.
Side note : Australia is BEAUTIFUL and safe, has a tragic history but people are kind and welcoming. It is brimming with culture from every part of the world and also cheaper to study than U.K and U.S.A.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
I chose this line of work for the freedom of expression it gave me. I started my career as a writer and radio jockey for the Indian- Australian Media company – Indian Link. Then I got a job as a production assistant on a Bollywood film which was being shot in Sydney. While in Australia I worked at multiple Writers festivals covering events, I got to go to concerts and write about them, interviewed Bollywood celebrities for radio shows, and my personal favorite, I met dozens of people who were craving to talk about home and old songs and movies. It was this love of Bollywood which made me want to return to India and work in the Hindi Film Industry.
A big influence was my love for storytelling, my desi nostalgia, watching movies like Turtles can fly, Wag the dog, Balzac and the Chinese Seamstress. I also read books like “A fine balance” by Rohinton Mistry, “Everything is Illuminated” by Jonathan Saffron Foer, “The History of love” by Nicole Krauss.
I also had several mentors, my teacher in class 5- Mrs. Jude Pinto, Michael Whittle, my writing teacher at university, Jon Stewart from The Daily Show, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler from Saturday Night Live.
I followed my instincts every step of the way and each event now seems to have brought me here.
The biggest turning point was deciding to come back to India and work in Mumbai as a filmmaker and writer.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path.
Once I returned to India, I contacted many friends who were already working in the industry to ask for jobs. I worked as an assistant director for a while before shifting to the only writing job I could find at that time, in advertising. Advertising was fun, but it wasn’t my cup of tea, it took up all my time and paid very little. Plus I couldn’t see myself working there for too long. So I quit my job.
This part of my life I call “I do what I want”. I literally only did what I wanted and started freelancing as a photographer and writer. I volunteered with an NGO as a documentarian and travelled around India to document special workshops organized by inspired teachers. I did wedding shoots and corporate films and blog shoots. I wrote scripts for short films and felt like a child again, telling stories with my friends.
In those days money was tight, but I was just not willing to take up another underpaying job, so while I kept writing and doing photography gigs, I got an idea to start a company and MAKE STUFF. This part of my life is named after the company – Adam and Bakri. I was literally founder and designer and advertiser and logistics etc. Though I had help from my friends Biraja Biswas and Sarah Epping who made the logo, which I love so much.
I decided I would make a few leather bags and sell them on Etsy. The endeavor went great and for the next two years I made leather products and exported them. This took care of the lack of money, and gave me a chance to travel.
In 2016, I moved to the mountain for a while as the only cure for how I felt. My 30th Birthday was around the corner and I felt like for the first time, I couldn’t figure out my next move. Even there, I was surrounded by documentarians, photographers, performers and philosophers. I knew people and stories were all I had.
When I returned, a friend randomly mentioned Sudhir Mishra was looking for writers. I jumped at the opportunity to meet him. One month later I was working for him. I had finally gotten my first writing job, working on a web series that would be directed by Sudhir Mishra.
This web series didn’t get made, but the hope and boost in confidence it gave me was enough to carry me through the next few jobs. Then came “Hostages” the acclaimed show directed by Sudhir sir, starring Tisca Chopra and Rohit Roy. I wrote 3 episodes.
Since then I have been working with many talented directors and steadily made a place for myself as a script writer. I derived so much joy from collaborating and being around passionate people that I jumped into the world of Improv and Stand up comedy. One of the best decisions I ever made.
Cut to 2020, I have been commissioned to create a web-series which we shall start pitching to OTTs soon. I love doing stand up and have been on a set list with comedians like Kenny Sebastian and Rohan Joshi. Doing improv is helping me be a better listener and collaborate, and I cannot wait to get out there and meet the world again.
How did you get your first break?
I’ve had many first breaks, in writing it’s been working on “Hostages” as a screenwriter, script writer and dialogue writer.
In Stand up comedy, it was being invited to do a “Comedy on the spot” show at my favourite – Grin Revolution.
What were the challenges? How did you address them?
- Challenge 1: Doubt. In my 20s, I have missed out on great opportunities because of doubt in myself, and then made up for it later by being over confident. It was not cool. In my 30s I do therapy 🙂 and accept that as long as I am willing to learn, I will be fine. I like doubting and rethinking, it makes my work better, but I also don’t compare my work to anyone else’s.
- Challenge 2: Degree of Ambition : This is a personal challenge. My personal degree of ambition is lacking and it can be smelled from a distance. I don’t want to make a blockbuster or masterpiece or be super rich. As long as I get to write honestly and work with people I respect, I’m very happy and grateful.
- Challenge 3 : Finding my tribe – This was not a personal challenge, I found my tribe pretty quickly and it is what has helped me from giving up, several times, every year! Most young people who come to Mumbai may feel alone and jaded. Without a group of friends/ collaborators, life seems harsh and lonely in this city.
Where do you work now? Tell us what you do
I’m working with Optimystix Entertainment as a contract based writer and creator of a web series.
At Namah Productions I have been working on and off on a couple of scripts. Last year I signed a contract to work on a feature film where I was fortunate enough to work with Writer Karan Sharma and Director Manish Jha. I was an Assistant Writer to Karan, who I was eager to learn from and found to be a great mentor. Karan’s ability to write as quickly as he thinks and to roll with the punches is very motivating and exciting to watch. The project has been put on hold for the time being, but hoping I can get back to it soon.
I think of how to make the story original, yet relatable, something young will watch but old will invest in, funny yet meaningful. A few of the important skills needed are Confidence, Persistence and patience. I acquired these skills with experience.
I wake up and do tend to my home chores first, I’m ready to write post breakfast. Depending on the day and the mood, I will write all day/ watch reruns of my favourite shows. The real writing normally happens after sunset. I get my best ideas just when I’m about to sleep. So I have a diary and pen close by. Some days are busier with meetings with producers and other writers. Those are the days when a lot of editing and getting rid of what is not working happens.
What is it you love about this job?
The first time I got a job as a script writer for a web series, the director said, “have you seen that show?” I said “No.” He said “Watch it.”
This was my job, watching T.V and writing stories. I love it.
How does your work benefit society?
The poet Muriel Rukeyser said “the universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” I believe it. Stories benefit the world, and if they make you smile, or think or love better, then the job is well done.
For example my life has been most greatly benefitted by watching “The Office”. And I can confidently say that of any “Office” fan.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
I once interviewed Imtiaz Ali for Indian Link, and I made him laugh. Till date I think of that moment and can’t help but feel proud.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Believe in yourself! Honestly, the world is filled with fools, being one of them is not a curse, it can be a gift 🙂
I’m a big fan of fools and being a fool in general. Take your work seriously, but have fun. Make mistakes, fail, be laughed at. Don’t let these minor things stand in the way of you and your dream.
I want you all to come see me do stand up. 🙂 woo !
I am writing a romantic comedy, for a lovely production house, which Inshallah, will get made next year.
Professionally, I want to work with Zoya Akhtar and Imtiaz Ali, and personally I want to marry Naveen Richard.