March 30, 2016

Introducing 'First Draft'

Just one post in almost two-and-half months! I do come across as world's laziest blogger. But then something so amazing has kept me busy that I don't mind at all. You won't either, once you get to know about it. Or perhaps you already know, because everyone knows about it. My family and friends who call me these days begin the conversation with - "How's your course going?". Every trip that I have taken in the last couple of months, I have met people who didn't know me, but were well-aware of this remarkable endeavor I'm fortunate to be associated with. In fact, the boy sitting next to me on a flight to Bangalore had actually applied for the course and he couldn't believe that the person who is one of the decision-makers regarding his selection was this bearded, bald man sitting next to him, reading the screenplay of 'The Shawshank Redemption'. 'First Draft' is everywhere. And I think the time has come to share my experiences with it here on this blog.

I am sure most of you reading this are aware of AIB. If you don't know what AIB is, please google and check because it is not OK to not be aware of one of the biggest cultural revolutions of recent time. And AIB, in more ways than one, are also a major milestone, a watershed, in the way Indians have been offered and have consumed audio-visual and live entertainment. So let me not boast about how long I've known Tanmay, because it has been eleven years now, and his partners through him. Let me come straight to the point - the phone conversation one night between him and me that formed the foundation of AIB First Draft.

The phone conversation that night was simple. Both of us were aware of the problems we face as creators - the scarcity of good scripts and both of us wanted to do something about it. Tanmay proposed the creation of a writers' room, where we would train aspiring writers in the craft of screenwriting. He asked if I would like to lead the project. "I would give up all my teaching assignments for this" - I instantly replied. For me, it was clear that AIB's platform would help me find a bunch of really talented and passionate students from all over India. And knowing Tanmay I also knew that he will have them pay very reasonable fees. So my idea of sharing cinema with anyone who had the talent and the will despite not having too much money was about to be materialized here. The way this course shaped up, I was more than surprised by the intent and honesty of AIB.

On 31st December, 2015, AIB made the announcement on their Youtube channel. 'First Draft' is a six-month course where a handful of aspiring writers from all over India get to learn the craft of screenwriting - feature films and web-shows. Not only is the course free, and the writers get accommodation better than I can afford, they get paid some stipend every month to take care of their expenses. By the time the course started, AIB decided to provide them with laptops, screenwriting software, health insurance, and free movie tickets for these six months. And the course would not restrict itself to the genre of comedy. The writers would get to write whatever they want to, as long as it is good. Within four hours of the announcement video's release, we had had 2000+ registrations on our website. By 31st January, the deadline, more than 30,000 people had registered.

We had devised an assignment that the applicants were supposed to complete and send in within ten days. Ninety-per cent of the applicants did not or could not do that and hence we were left with a 'small' number of 3000 applications. Through several stages and a long process of evaluation, we selected 30 for interview. Meeting these final thirty candidates was an inspiring and humbling experience and extremely enriching for us - there is so much of passion and aspiration in every corner of our country and most of them never get any opportunity. By the time we finished the interviews, we were troubled - how to choose a handful from so many deserving candidates!

On 14th March, the selected students reached Mumbai. We have ten of them, three girls and rest of them boys. The age range represented by them is 22 to 43 years. And they have come from Mumbai, Delhi-Gurgaon-Noida, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Raipur, Korba, and Ranchi. 'First Draft' has started on 15th March and until mid-September, these students are going to single-mindedly work on learning the craft and practising it, every single day, and eventually come up with the first draft of their screenplays. I do not promise that the final content will be ground-breaking. I do not claim that I am the guy most suitable to lead this project. I know very well that my own journey as a filmmaker, screenwriter and a teacher has just started and my education far from complete. But I have promised myself that I will give my all, in these six months, to make it a fruitful and enriching experience for these bright and passionate students I am so proud of. How are we going to do it? Keep looking for updates on this space.


  1. Thank you for detailing the process through this post and others to come. I will follow and try to replicate as much as I can.

    Kudos to everybody in, or associated with, the program.