I read that your parents bought you and your brother a lot of books to read during your childhood. Also that you decided to write while you were studying engineering. Can you tell us a bit about your journey so far?
Yes, the journey started in my childhood. I got lots of books to read. I grew up in a house in which the usual gift would be a book. I used to really look forward to going to a bookshop in Lucknow. There was a bookshop called ‘Universal Books’. It was like the Disneyland for us. We used to really enjoy going there. We went there only three-four times in a year on special occasions like birthdays or when our results came out. So I got attracted to reading and automatically to writing. As a kid, I wrote my first short story at the age of 10. It got published in a very famous children magazine of that time. So since then it was always at the back of mind to someday explore the profession of writing. My initial thought was to become a journalist. Because being in a small town, that is the only safe profession you can think which is associated with writing. You can’t really think of going to Bombay and becoming a writer. So that was not an option in my head. Option was that I’ll go to a journalism school and do a day job as a journalist. But as I went to college in Banaras and stated doing theatre, I realised that I can write and that there are other options also. I still did not have the courage to straight away go to Bombay from college. So I took up a job in a software company but luckily it was in Pune. So I kept travelling to Bombay every weekend or so just trying to explore things and met some people. That’s how I finally got the courage to do something. So I moved to Bombay after one year of job in Pune. So that’s how the journey has been.
And your first project was The Great Indian Comedy Show?
Yes, I had moved to Bombay in 2004 and in 2005 I got that first break with The Great Indian Comedy Show. I was writing the stand-up comedy portions for the anchors like Ranvir Shorey and Vinay Pathak and Shekhar Suman.
"The industry right now is being run by marketing people."
Talking about KATIYABAAZ, how did you get associated with this film?
The directors, Fahad and Deepti approached me because I think they had loved my work in GANGS OF WASSEYPUR. In the first cut of the film, before the rough cut, the reference music was mostly from Wasseypur. So the initial plan was to get Sneha Khanwalkar and me to do the music. But it didn’t work out with Sneha for some time constraints and all. So they told me to write the lyrics and then would figure who will score the music for that. So I watched the film and wrote one version which they didn’t like much. Then I wrote another version which was closer to what they were looking for. They took that version to Indian Ocean who composed it.
Does it always happen that the lyrics come first and the music follows?
Not really. In WASSEYPUR, it was a 50-50 thing. There were some songs which were written first and composed later and some were composed first and then I wrote the lyrics. For KATIYABAAZ, I wrote first and they composed it later.
What was your first reaction when you saw the film?
When I saw the film, I was really, really fascinated because growing up in Lucknow I could completely relate to the film. We had our own local guy who would do the same job as Loha Singh does in the film. He was from the electricity department but he was obviously doing it illegally. So I could relate to the anger, the irony of the situation and the whole dystopia kind of universe that was created in Kanpur. And Kanpur is just next door to Lucknow. Kanpur and Lucknow are like Bombay and Navi Mumbai. So it was almost like watching the same like that I had left behind 10 years ago and the fact that nothing has changed in those places.
Did your experience of staying in Lucknow help you to write the lyrics?
Totally. Lucknow as well as Kanpur. Since my younger brother used to study in Kanpur, I used to go there a lot. So I know the city, its lingo and dialect. So it helped me a lot in writing the lyrics.