Juhi Chaturvedi On Writing ‘October’ In the Season of Tinder

Writer Juhi Chaturvedi talks about penning ‘October’ and her favourite love stories.

10 min read
Writer Juhi Chaturvedi talks about her new film <i>October </i>starring Varun Dhawan and Banita Sandhu.

Right before October hits screens, I got a chance to catch up with writer Juhi Chaturvedi, the brilliant mind behind films like Vicky Donor and Piku. In our chat, I got Juhi to talk about her latest film, the craft of screenwriting, her idea of love and her favourite love stories.

Q: A love story coming from the screenwriter of Vicky Donor and Piku won’t be run-of-the-mill for sure, and going by the trailer of October, it sure doesn’t seem to be one. So how much can you tell us what October is all about?

Juhi Chaturvedi: We all keep saying that today’s generation or youngsters, all these 20-year-olds or 22-year-olds, what do they know about love? In a generation that it is all about Facebook likes and dislikes and status updates and all that. But somewhere what we don’t realise is that unless and until we don’t face a certain situation in life, how will you even know that something of that intensity or something of that purity exists inside you.

A lot of people till the age of 40 will not go through a situation in life which makes them react completely in a way that probably they didn’t know existed within them. So October for me, specially Dan’s character is that guy who probably was living his life and when the situation came, and a side of him came out which probably even he didn’t know existed inside him.

It is just trying to bring out the inner most, deepest emotions inside us, and we have all have that purity, it’s just that we probably haven’t got a chance to explore and express it.

A poster of <i>October.</i>
A poster of October.

Q: So we are saying that love takes on different meanings in different ages - we have been through a period of silent longing, then there was letter writing, then one would have long phone calls, then we had emails and then messaging apps came and now dating apps is what is probably running this whole ecosystem. So you are saying in a way October is set in today but it has that old world notion of love...?

Juhi Chaturvedi: No, it is not that old world notion of love, everything is today, the setup is today, the guy is from today, it is not old world, it is just pure. That is why I am saying purity exists even now, maybe it has not come face to face? We ourselves have not dwelled inside our own hearts that much and upar upar surface mein kaam chal jata hai.

Like you said, one SMS is enough, unless you are forced to... you know it is a very uncomfortable feeling when you have to react with absolute truth and honesty. It doesn’t come naturally to us these days.

But having said that, this film, the emotions, everything is today, this guy does go through that. I don’t know if purity, honesty and unconditional - do these words belong to a past or do they still make sense to people. For me, that is what love is, nothing else is love then.

Q: If I were to talk about Piku for a minute there are a lot of Hindi films, where you seen the relationship between a parent and a child or with a son or a daughter portrayed in very filmi manner but Piku sort of explored that zone in a very realistic manner with a lot of soul and substance. Similarly, we have seen love being explored in different ways in Bollywood over the years, do you think you have hit upon something similar here, where you’ve probably tried to explore the notion of love, which has been portrayed a million times before but with a new kind of layer or language?

Juhi Chaturvedi: For me, which Shoojit and I keep discussing, the epitome of love is what a mother and child shares. There is certain purity which nothing can compete and it is just beyond barriers.

When we started, that was the brief he gave to me. He said when you write a love story, I want that kind of an experience, otherwise there is no point making a love story.

Can a guy of today, have that kind of emotion for someone else who is not his mother, not his father and who is not blood-related. Now if you ask me how I hit upon something like that, you know it is like an onion, you just keep peeling and ultimately nothing comes out of it. But that nothing to me is the most wonderful thing. There is no notion, there is no definition, there are no preset ways that you are going to react. That nothingness for me was the most difficult part to achieve. There is nothing that I am giving to the character, nothing he is going to get in return but what it’s what he does with that nothing.

Piku was done in a certain tone, and it was real, then October is probably is even more real. No line, no word, no scene is written to play to the gallery or to extract a certain kind of reaction from the audience. It is just Dan, his mind, his life.

Irrfan Khan in discussion with Juhi Chaturvedi on the sets of <i>Piku.</i>
Irrfan Khan in discussion with Juhi Chaturvedi on the sets of Piku.

Q: Vicky Donor and Piku were the scripts written by you and they originated out of your own ideas, but for October, Shoojit gave you a brief that he wanted an unusual love story. Did the dynamics how you write change, because now you had to work to a brief?

Juhi Chaturvedi: It was a very interesting brief, you know to take on this challenge. What I had to do I had no idea, what I don’t have to do - uske examples toh bahut saare thhe. This is during Piku that we were discussing it, and Piku happened in 2015. I remember it was September 2016, when I sent him the first draft, it took me that much time because it was such a struggle to come to this level of simplicity.

It is so easy to add gimmicks, it’s so easy to write lines, this film is not verbose at all like my previous films. In September when Pink released, I gave him the script, he took some time to read it, he had no idea what it will be because I had not shared what I will write and I am happy that he liked it.

Q: Do you as a writer follow a pattern of screenwriting? Do you have an idea that you put into a structure like having a beginning, middle and end and then sort of put in the characters or do you first think of characters and then give them a world, and let them develop organically?

Juhi Chaturvedi: Always the character and his world. It is then that the process becomes more organic, automatically you know certain things will fit in here and certain things will not fit in. Then you are not force-fitting people into a situation that you have thought of. The people in the film automatically lend themselves into a certain kind of a story or a screenplay or a scene.

I have not gone to any writing school, I’ve not read books (on screenwriting), I’ve not attended workshops, for me it is this process, that there is no structured ways of doing things, that has worked so far. Of course, I have a basic idea of what I am writing towards.

Basic ek kahaani jo batate hain kisi ko, utna toh pata hai, but other than that, there is no map ki 20 minutes mein yeh hona chahiye, interval time par yeh... I don’t know where the interval point comes, so I don’t write towards that. It’s always the people in the script.

Juhi Chaturvedi with Annu Kapoor and Shoojit Sircar on the sets of <i>Vicky Donor.</i>
Juhi Chaturvedi with Annu Kapoor and Shoojit Sircar on the sets of Vicky Donor.

Q: How much of the material that you write and finally give as a bound script to your director do you find getting changed because of improvisations on the set or because of the actors, for example when Varun Dhawan came on board or Banita Sandhu came on board, how many changes occur in the script while it’s being shot?

Juhi Chaturvedi: See, the final draft is what we shoot and their is absolutely no change. Basic improvisations, yes, some scenes naturally lend themselves for improvisations or some natural reactions which Varun has given in the film, because at some point he couldn’t stop, he had to react in a certain way because Banita behaved in a certain way.

So, the natural improvisation - that of course happens, and some magic moments come out like that. That’s because Varun was completely in that character, he is in that mood, everybody is in that mood and in that environment, while when I am writing, I am still writing it on my laptop sitting alone in a kaalkothri, while I am trying my best to imagine myself on the set. 

But when you are actually there, that is the place where the magic is actually happening. So yes, the improvisation happens, I would say 95% of what is written is there. That much is very clear beforehand, there is a lot of insistence from Shoojit’s side, he doesn’t move without the bound script.

Q: Over the years, which are the love stories that have had an impact on you? It could be a novel or a film.

Juhi Chaturvedi: Amour, then Satyajit Ray’s Mahanagar for me was a beautiful love story. I think it is so mature and so sublime - that relationship of husband and wife, the wife being a working woman and husband going through his emotions. So, it is not an apparent love story or even Amour in that sense but ultimately it is love that is driving all of that, the carrier emotion is love, I guess.

Even Masoom for that matter, while it is about family, but if you see Indu’s character, what she does for the family or to retain all four of them together, for me it is a husband-wife love story which has gone wrong. Then somehow it found it’s way back, but that’s what happens in your life. That is part of the “forever”, when we say “I am going to be with you forever”, it is part of that life.

A poster of <i>October.</i>
A poster of October.

Q: Do you believe in that “they lived happily ever after” kind of love?

Juhi Chaturvedi: No, it is not happily ever after, woh nahi hota hai, as long as there is a certain sanctity that is maintained between two people, as long as it has the elasticity in it that I can come back and say - yes, I have gone wrong here and then you are still together with that person. You know, it doesn’t break, the elasticity is there. We do stretch as human beings as we are growing, it is not like I found one person in my life and I got married to this person. I am still interacting with so many people in my life and I am growing, evolving as a person, whether it is due to my work or my child, it is changing me.

What I was back in my 20s, I am not the same person. When I met my husband I was 22 and today I am 42, two decades have gone and we both have changed but within that space also, we have found each other.

Within the diversions that have happened, sometimes it has been work, sometimes it has been family but we have somehow managed to stay together. For me, I guess that is a good space to be in.

Q: You are yet to work outside Shoojit’s team as a writer, who is on your wishlist of directors you would want to collaborate with when you write outside?

Juhi Chaturvedi: I would love to work with Neeraj Ghaywan and Meghna Gulzar is there, I would love to work with Mira Nair also. I would like to work with Ang Lee also, why not?

Q: Which is the last film you saw after watching which you felt - I wish I had written that?

Juhi Chaturvedi: Thithi - a mind blowing film, that was absolute wow, that was wonderful. If I could understand how films like Garam Hawa or Albert Pinto or those scripts, how were they written, the mind of those writers or directors, I would love to interact with that mind, not to create another script like that. Sometimes just little conversations with such people help. You know people like Ismail Merchant, their film called The Householder, I mean how... or Junoon or Shatranj Ke Khiladi... I just feel kahin kisi tarah se unn logon se aamana saamana ho jaye,  aadhe ghante baat hojaaye ki kaise kara yeh?

Juhi Chaturvedi with Raam Reddy, director of <i>Thithi</i>.
Juhi Chaturvedi with Raam Reddy, director of Thithi.

Q: A word of wisdom for all the writers out there, especially in today’s world where you have constant distractions of logging onto the internet or checking your phone.

Juhi Chaturvedi: You have to just surrender yourself to your idea, you have to commit yourself, surrender comes later but first is that commitment that I have to do this and I have to get away from all those those things that are distracting me from doing it. Commitment because some beautiful thought has come in your mind, so how can you let it go, how can you not live with that thought?

Some thoughts will take months to take shape, we have to be at it not because iski bahut achhi film ban jayegi, do it just because of some due respect to your mind, to your own thinking. It has originated from you, from inside you. I do believe that stories choose you. It’s the most cliched thing I heard after joining the film industry, but it’s true, it’s a fact.

What if that story is knocking at your door and you are not giving it it’s due. If you sit down thinking that you are going to write a film, there itself you have lost yourself and your credibility. You have to do it first for yourself, your idea, your mind, ussi wajah se toh woh idea aaya hai na tumhare dimag me, kuch hoga shaayad andar nikalne ke liye?

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