As screenwriter Gazal Dhaliwal’s new film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga hits screens on 1 February, here’s a look back at the journey of the lady who has penned lines for films like Wazir, Lipstick Under My Burkha and Qarib Qarib Singlle. Gazal’s inspiring story in her own words.Early Days“I was born and brought up in Punjab most of my childhood and teenage was in Patiala. The only kind of recreation that we did as a family was going out to watch movies, my father was also really crazy about films. In his youth he used to watch every first day first show of the movies, he had a collection of video cassettes of all the films he loved.”“Films used to be the only way to sort of, the only way to have an out of body experience which was essential for me because I was not in tune with my body, since I was gender dysphoric, I was born in a boy's body. Films used to be the one way for me to sort of live vicariously, live another life and sort of have these moments of joy and have happy endings and stuff like that.”Instead of writing at home, Gazal prefers to work from WeWork a co-sharing work space in BKC, Mumbai.“I travel on my cycle, it keeps me in touch with surroundings. I'm literally on the road with a lot of other people, with BMWs as well as other cycles. I mean there's this alive energy around me when I am cycling.Of Suffocation and Release“I did my engineering, then I got placed, via campus placement at Infosys. But you know there was this growing sense of suffocation and that was on both ends, in my personal life as well as my professional life. Personal, as I told you, I was gender dysphoric. So at the age of 18, when I first discovered internet, I think one of the first few things I Googled was sex change. And so I found out that there is something like that and there are women across the world especially that time in the US who had written blogs about their journeys and stuff. That time I had told myself, so okay it's possible.”“So my dream was not this fantasy and impossible dream and it's achievable, but it was extremely hard obviously, I had no way to know how to do it, it was going to be expensive. So that dream slowly was dying and there was suffocation professionally because I felt I was suppressing, killing my creativity. I would just go to office, I used to be the first to go and the last to leave, because I just wanted to shut the whole world out and I thought I would just work.”“I just told myself that both my dreams were going to die, so fine given that personal dream I cannot fulfil, probably never, but at least I should work towards my professional dream and I sort of gathered my courage and spoke to my father on the phone and my father's a champion, so he was like - yes, go for it, I'll support you.”Enter Bollywood“So I got into Xaviers Institute of Communications, where I did a 10 month diploma course in filmmaking. Through that filmmaking course I did a documentary film about transgender people and sex reassignment. As luck would have it, fulfilling my professional dream sort of became instrumental in my personal dream getting fulfilled. Because after that documentary, I also got the courage that I can do it, I was also able to convince my parents after they saw the film, so everything sort of came together and fell into place.”At 23, Gazal went in for a sex reassignment surgery and took time off.“In 2009 is when I came back to Bombay properly and I started the "struggle" in Bollywood.”Wazir“Not that anybody cared, but for me it was like, I can show off, in my first film, Mr Bachchan is saying my dialogues. So, it was cool that way.”Lipstick Under My Burkha“The next thing which came was Lipstick Under My Burkha, that I was super proud of. That's when I think some people took notice that there is someone by the name of Gazal Dhaliwal who has written the dialogues. I got appreciation, but I have to tell you the best appreciation was... so my father, he plays tennis, in Patiala they have this tennis association. So it's like boisterous Punjabi men. Now, my father is extremely proud of me and he doesn't let go of any opportunity to show off.”“When Lipstick came out, my father said to his buddies, I will take you to Chandigarh, I'll show you the film there. So he took these 14 - 15 Punjabi men to Chandigarh, he drove them down to watch Lipstick Under My Burkha, which is this out and out feminist film and it's quite sensational. Like, it could shock people, which is why it did not release in small towns, no theatres in small towns picked it up. So then, my father told everybody watched the film and then there was pin drop silence, no conversation, everyone was quiet for half-an-hour. After half-an-hour, while they were sitting at the table, one uncle after a long silence says - yaar, I loved the film, what great dialogues! When my father told me that I burst out laughing, because I was not expecting that reaction at all. Then my father said other people also pitched in and they were talking about how the voice-overs were really nice and how the acting was really nice and they were all praising it. But it was a big deal, it was very special and that's what told me that a film which is well made, a film which is made with purity of intention, reaches out to people.”Qarib Qarib Singlle“Qarib Qarib Singlle I have to say is my baby. You know everybody has their favourite child, so Qarib Qarib Singlle is that for me. I think Tanuja and I worked on this script for 3 years before Irrfan said yes to it, he brought a lot. Parvathi was a delight to work with and the whole team that came together to work for Qarib Qarib Singlle, I don't think it's possible for any team to have that kind of camaraderie. The writing was appreciated, the film was appreciated.”Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga“So, I read the book and then I thought that there was something very interesting in there and that we could give our own touch to it and it could become something very special. It so happened that Sonam got excited about it, and Sonam said that she and Mr Anil Kapoor had been approached many times to work together on projects but they never liked anything. But she said this one she read and she told her father that if there is one script, one film that they should work together on, then it is this one. So then Anil sir took a narration from Shelly and he was also onboard immediately. And then I was thrilled when Rajkummar Rao said yes, because I think he is just right for the part and he's brought something to the character which I had not written. He's brought a certain charm to it, he brought a certain integrity to it and also humour, he's brought a certain, his own brand of humour to it. It's the most unexpected romance of the year.”Gazal’s Wishlist“I really want to work with Karan Johar. I have been a fan ever since Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. I've cried in pretty much every one of his films. So, when someone can make me cry, I know that there's something in them which will connect with me and I've heard he's wonderful to work with, so I really want to work with him.”“I would like to work with Shoojit Sircar, the texture that he brings to his films, and the humour he brings, the quality of humour that is there in his films, that's something I aspire to.”“My favourite film of 2018 was Mulk, Anubahv Sinha is someone I would love to work with.”“Zoya Akhtar, I would absolutely love to work with her, but I believe she never works with anybody else other than Reema, so that might stay a dream.”Of all that Gazal has written, the most awesome one remains the story of her own life.Reporter / Producer: Suresh MathewCamera: Sanjoy DebEditor: Veeru Krishan Mohan We'll get through this! 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