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Exclusive | Scoop writer Mrunmayee Lagoo: ‘Audience is realising that written word is important’

Following the success of Scoop, Mrunmayee Lagoo is working on another show with Hansal Mehta

Exclusive | Scoop writer Mrunmayee Lagoo: ‘Audience is realising that written word is important’
Mrunmayee Lagoo

Last Updated: 10.59 AM, Aug 09, 2023


If you think the ‘Great Bollywood Dream’ is about aspiring actors alone, let us break the news to you that the tables have turned! Screenwriting is what’s experiencing a gold rush in India ever since the explosion of OTT platforms, and we are not complaining. In what can be described as a creative land of storytelling, filmmakers and streaming giants are providing writers the much-needed scope to look beyond melodramatic rom-coms and clichéd murder mysteries to come up with content that is precise, relatable and narrated with a fresh perspective.

While the rising prominence of female gaze in narratives and command over stories with regional flavours are among the curious trends that are widely in discourse, there are other nitty-gritties too that make for a nuanced story worth narrating. To discuss that and more, OTTplay recently caught up with noted screenwriter Mrunmayee Lagoo. Although she’s been associated with films like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Talaash: The Answer Lies Within and PK in the past, screenwriting is what has gained her more attention lately. Mrunmayee penned the script for Hansal Mehta’s sensational crime drama web series, Scoop, streaming on Netflix, while she also co-wrote the screenplay for the Taapsee Pannu-starrer Thappad. Excerpts from the interview:

Q. How would you describe screenwriting in the age of OTT?

A. A couple of things are different when we compare screenwriting in the age of OTT to earlier times. I think the range of subjects that we can explore and the formats that we can dabble in have expanded. All the rules seem to have been appended. So, it gives a very long rope for a lot of deep diving into a specific subject or a character. And that’s something very interesting.

But at the same time, one has to be very cognizant of the fact that the narrative has to be engaging every second, because it’s completely at the mercy of a click. Losing interest and disengagement are fairly important factors. So, while we can be indulgent and go off on different tangents on OTT, the constant struggle is to keep it engaging all the time. That is the biggest difference. I personally don’t find it any different, so to speak, because my career began when the OTT was already up. My entire perspective is from the time OTT was already in existence. Before that, I was an audience member, and I can say that OTT has offered me a lot of range in viewing, not just in India, but across the world.

I can choose what I want to see. I don’t have to only look for film festivals to find interesting content. I have it at my fingertips on multiple platforms. As an audience member, I think it’s a huge thing. But as a screenwriter, since I began with OTT, my perspective is around that only.

Q. A lot is being spoken about the male and female gaze in narratives, lately. What’s your take on that?

A. See, I don’t really subscribe to the notion of a male gaze or a female gaze, because there have been many male writers in the past who have written wonderful female characters. And there are enough female directors who have made amazing male bonding stories. I think this conversation has come about not for creative purposes, so I usually try to stay away from that. 

But what I can comment on is that with more females in the fields of writing and directing, we get a different point of view in narratives. I won’t call that fresh or new, but it’s definitely different. For instance, a male colleague of mine handling a particular subject will be different from how I handle that, because we’ll have different points of view. That different point of view is coming across as something fresh and interesting. And because we are women, we understand certain things better, or say, it’s our lived reality in a sense. So, there is more detailing on that front. This detailing may have been absent earlier, which is what is making it more interesting and fresh.

But quite honestly, on both my films - Thappad and Scoop - I collaborated with directors who were men. And these have been a completely collaborative experience. But I believe because of that, these scripts became more well-rounded. I also feel that in long-format, keeping aside the male/female gaze conversation, more than one writer really makes the script richer, because there are so many characters and so many worlds that they come from. To have multiple writers with different backgrounds and interests make the entire content richer. 

When married well, I think you just get a much more authentic and interesting story. There are so many things that we think - that women won’t think like this or men won’t think like that. But when you’re collaborating with people, we realise that we were wrong and that it can actually happen either way. We are generally restricted by what we assume about the other gender. But when you’re collaborating with them, a lot of concepts come about. And that provides for some interesting new takes on older concepts. So that’s where I am from. I like to work with a variety of people; I like to collaborate with people from different backgrounds and genders. It just helps create richer material at the end of the day.

Q. Apart from rom-coms, dramedy and adaptations, there’s an increasing appetite for crime thrillers and stories inspired by true events. What are your thoughts on the diversity of genres that we are getting to see in the digital space now?

A. Definitely, when the audiences show interest in more genres, we as writers and makers get a chance to dabble in more stuff. If we have a story that doesn’t necessarily fit into the kind of films or series that are getting made, we still have a platform where we can go ahead and do it. So, that’s definitely interesting. In fact, after Thappad, there was a thing that I’ll get a lot of female-centred content. And while that did happen, whatever was coming was also extremely interesting. Despite it being female-oriented, there were a lot of different takes on it. These ideas focussed on very different worlds. Be it a spy, a cook, a nurse or a variety of other stuff that, maybe, one would not have considered making a film on earlier. So it’s definitely interesting. No doubt about that.


Q. Now that there is an upsurge in demand for good writers and content creators, do you see any improvement in their pay scale as well as in terms of opportunities?

A. I think now there’s a general awareness that writing is very important because, thankfully, the audience is also recognising that the written word is very important. When the audience begins to acknowledge that further, I think it’ll also make the studios and producers realise the actual worth of writers’ contributions in a project. So in that way, yes, I would say that as professional writers, we’ve come a long way from a time when everything would be in the hands of, let’s say, the director or actors. 

If not equal yet, we are at least getting our own view now, where it is perceived as something integral to filmmaking and not just the base upon which things are created. So in that sense, speaking from my own experience, I have been given a fair amount of importance as a writer in the room. That bit has certainly evolved. But I can’t say for sure whether or not it has changed for others, as opposed to the earlier times. But whatever I’ve seen and heard, I think it is changing for good. Writers are being looked upon as an extremely important part of the filmmaking process, which feels nice.

Q. New narratives kind of also allow the use of plot devices that were earlier not experimented with as much. How do you prefer to use them?

A. I suppose it all comes down to the story that you want to tell and using devices to build and narrate that story in a better way. There are dos and don’ts in everything, even in screenwriting for a film or for long-format content. There are rules. There are things that have been done. But once we arrive at the story and figure out the most interesting aspect about it, then to go about it, if we have to change things around, one should do that, keeping in mind what you’re trying to say, because only then you’re doing it for the right reason. 

Most of the time, making something different for the sake of it does not work, because it then feels like a gimmick. So, all these things like ‘cold open’ and all, all this terminology we’ve learnt from the West. And we need to understand how it works for us, in terms of our stories and the world that we are talking about. So, I think it stems from that. Then you’re trying to be authentic and that always feels different because then you’re anyway moving away from whatever formula exists, because you’re trying to tell something with honesty.

That’s the route that I usually take. I don’t necessarily crack a format first. There are formats and tools that interest me. For instance, there’s this show called Euphoria [a teen drama television series]. It had a very interesting format, where you would get a different character introduced at the top of every episode, which was a very interesting way to go about it. But I think even those formats come about when you know what you want to narrate, and you’re trying to find a way to do that. But when you’re struggling with that aspect, some original format lands up. If you look at a format and try to use it, you’re trying to force something which may not necessarily go well with your analysis.

Q. Any interesting upcoming projects that you would like to mention?

A. I can’t mention specific details about the new projects that I am working on yet, but I can tell you that there is a film I have written for Excel Entertainment, helmed by Nitya Mehra. Then, there is something interesting that I am working on with Vasan Bala. And hopefully, another show with Hansal Mehta and another film with Anubhav Sinha.

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