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October 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.  Happy Diwali to all our subscribers and Distributors       October 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.   Happy Diwali to all our subscribers and Distributors       
Issue:Sep' 2017


'A tete-a-tete with Gajra Kottarys'

Purnima Sharma

Gajra Kottary Best known for her serial Balika Vadhu that had made a history of sorts, being the longest running soap on TV, the multi-faceted Gajra Kottary has just released her fifth book – Girls Don't Cry -- that traverses the life of three women belonging to three different generations – Amala, her mother and grandmother – their relationships with each other and their men.
The 51-year-old started out as a journalist with The Statesman, and post-marriage in Mumbai, with the Society magazine. When motherhood happened, Gajra discovered fiction writing and soon published two short-story collections.
The "need to explore" herself further took her to filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and his wife Soni Razdan and soon Gajra was working on the film Yeh Zindagi Ka Safar and TV serials Hamare Tumhare. Realizing that the TV medium is what interested her more, she scripted the hugely popular Astitva—Ek Prem Kahani about a 34-year-old doctor in love with a 24- year-old man. And there's been no looking back since then....

Q: Your book Girls Don't Cry deals with familial relationships and also offers a relook on many aspects, rituals and thoughts that u n n e c e s s a r i l y keep us in a bind. Tell us more about it.

Balika Vadhu A: The fascinating thing with families and the r e l a t i o n s h i p s within them is that they are the same and yet they are changing all the time. While we all want the warmth of the family structure, we also want our relationships to reflect some of our changing needs and wants. The mother and daughter bond is a perfect example of this duality— there is love and hate, unconditional love and rebellion, tranquility and volatility.
I observed this in the relationship that my mother had with my grandmother, I had with my mother, and my daughter has with me. It got me thinking that it was a bond worth weaving a story around, and it would be more fascinating if there were three generations of women to explore their interrelationships with each other. Girls Don't Cry is about women accepting and questioning each other at the same time.
Q: Your work generally deals with strong women characters. Where does the inspiration come from? Is your work, in part, autobiographical?
A: You're right…I guess my personal faith in the intrinsic strength of women comes through in my stories and characters. As for the inspiration, well I have seen a lot of strong women around me. My mother was one, and I can pat my back on this one and say I am strong too.
It's not so much physical strength as strength of character and mental strength. That's also why, across the board, women have a higher EQ level than men. Girls Don't Cry is not as autobiographical as my first novel Broken Melodies, but I don't think that makes it any less true than a story that takes inspiration from an author's reality. Over the years I have become extremely sensitized to women.

Q: With your success, particularly with TV soaps, any plans of turning this book into a serial and reach out to a lot more people?

A: It's a bit too bold to be aired as a serial story on the mainstream television, particularly with the current trends of TV soaps. I would love to have it adapted into a film with a definite beginning, middle and end, which would help retain the originality of the story. There has already been interest shown in its film rights and I am hoping it goes into the right hands!

Q: From journalism to showbiz – what was the journey like? Did it need a lot of 'unlearning' to adapt to a new medium?

A: The journey has been truly wonderful….From a medium that entailed me to be rational and build on facts, being transported to a world where t h i n k i n g emotionally and imaginatively was at a premium was a long journey indeed.
So yes…you said it. There was a lot of unlearning that had to be done, but in hindsight, it's good that I started life as a journalist. Once a journalist, you can't completely unlearn or remove logical reasoning from your system, and that actually becomes a big plus point when it comes to creating convincing stories and characters. I also attribute the realism of my characters to my training as a journalist. It gave me the ability to soak in characters and situations from around me.

Q: Does the public acceptance of the story and the characters dictate the way any serial moves (from what we know, it does). As an author of a book, you have full control on your story and characters -- so which medium do you enjoy writing for more?

A: Yes, you are right and I won't deny it. It's not only public acceptance, but the perception and anticipation of makers about how and what people want to see on TV that puts immense pressure on TV writers to mould their writing as per TRP numbers. So it does get a bit frustrating for TV writers. Writing a novel is a dream, as there is virtually complete creative liberty. The audience for a TV serial is really large….it gives you a different high, but if I were to talk about the medium I enjoy writing for more, it would have to be books.

Q: How difficult is it for you to adjust to the kind of soaps being made, with their all-black and all-white characters?

A: It's very difficult…if I were to be brutally honest, I don't think channels would approve an Astitva or Balika Vadhu today, with its unhurried story telling nature and the layers in its characters. I am grateful that I can get to write books, so I am gainfully employed, because I really don't think I would be able to adapt to creating or writing the kind of stories that are immensely popular today. So Plan B, might just become Plan A for me!

Q: Most of the Indian soaps are pretty regressive. Do you agree?

A: Yes, across the board it is true. There are exceptions but they haven't done well. And, sadly, there are shows which started off sensibly but didn't gain numbers and then went the melodramatic and regressive way to do better…and then stayed that way. The relationship between the viewers and bad serials has become like the chicken and egg argument-- viewers lap up bad shows as there aren't good ones to see. And because they see bad ones, more bad ones get made. I am disillusioned, though haven't yet become completely cynical…Abhi mujh mein kahin….baaki thodi si hai zindagi…

Q: Even though it's been a while since Balika Vadhu was stopped, people still remember it with affection. Any plans of reviving it?

A : Thanks for that appreciation. As for any plans for reviving it—there are no plans at the moment. Through the eight years of Balika Vadhu, we said everything that was related to the concept…and then some more too! So unless there is something really definitively new and different that strikes, it's not likely. Sometimes it's more important to live with good memories than to just cash in on brand value !

Q: Tell us about your forthcoming work...

A: Well I definitely have lots of stories left in me…..There are three novels in various stages of almost completed writing. I want to explore the digital space as well as films….I want to groom young and talented writers who could benefit from my experience. It's been a good life though….