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“I will pay a million bucks to watch Ajay Devgn and Shah Rukh Khan in a movie”, says Bholaa writer, Aamil Keeyan Khan

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‘Bholaa’ (2023), starring and directed by Ajay Devgn released in cinemas last week, got a good response from the audiences. Behind every successful film there are many who make their valuable contributions. One such important person in any film is the film’s writer. Aamil Keeyan Khan, the writer of ‘Bholaa’ and who also wrote Ajay Devgn’s recent films like ‘Drishyam 2’ (2022) and ‘Runway 34’ (2022) talked to us exclusively about his career, and how he has learned to approach his craft differently.

Can you tell us about your background and how you got into writing?

I was born in Jamshedpur and grew up in Kolkata. I did my schooling from St. Xavier’s. It was here that I had my first brush with stage. I was the class clown, the entertainer and was very quick at picking up people’s voices and mannerisms. In sixth grade, my friend Anshuman, who headed the theatre group for school, noticed it and decided to give me a serious role for a theatre festival. Until then, I used to do many stand up gigs but that’s about it. That play made me popular overnight in school and I knew what I wanted to do with my career. I continued flirting with the stage and made it to even ‘The Great Indian Laughter Challenge’ (2005-2017). I was 19 back then and I remember Kapil Sharma was hosting it. A lot of people who started with me went to make it big for themselves. I remember Bharti being a part of that batch. I cried when I lost because of stage fright and I remember Kapil Sharma telling me I was still young and good things would come soon enough. I returned to Kolkata and started my own theatre group along with Anshuman. Back then, my father had just lost his job and I would do a night shift as a web developer to make ends meet. I would attend college in the morning, then do other freelance jobs as a web developer and then at around 1 pm, I would go for theatre rehearsals. I barely slept but the bigger problem wasn’t the lack of time, it was the lack of money. We couldn’t pay to hire a writer, so I did it myself. And that’s how it all started. I shifted to Mumbai in 2016 and after five years of struggle, ‘Runway 34’ happened.

How do you respond to the wonderful response that you been getting for your work?

The great feeling when a film that you had been working on for years gets appreciation, lasts all of three days for me. By Monday, I’m back to whatever’s next. It’s like delivering a baby, exciting, painful and worth it but once the baby is out, it takes a life of it’s own. And you move on to the next idea that excites your soul.

How did your journey with Ajay Devgn begin and also you have written ‘Drishyam 2’, ‘Runaway 34’, ‘Bholaa’ for him. How was it to work with him? What were his outputs in all the three films, as an actor and as a director?

Mr. Tarlok Singh, who had worked on ‘Raid’ (2018) took us to Ajay sir sometime in 2019. I narrated ‘Runway 34’ (which was originally called ‘Mayday’) to him and he liked it but he wanted a few changes. We went back to the drawing board. Then Covid-19 happened. I remember I was living alone as all my flatmates had gone back home and I was editing dog pics to pay rent. Then a call changed everything. Sandeep (Kewlani) called and told me that Ajay sir wanted to hear the changed script. What was astonishing was he remembered every point of the original draft from just a narration he had heard a year ago. This time he liked it and within a month of it, I was in Hyderabad with him, shooting the film. Three films later, It’s been a very gratifying experience. Intellectually, it’s very stimulating to interact with him and talk cinema.

Tell us something about your upcoming films? Which movies are you writing?

I have so many originals that I’m dying to do so there’s going to be a big line up of that. There are a couple of web series and films in the pipeline that I’ve been wanting to start for a while. There’s ‘Rangeen Romeo’, which is a rom-com, ‘Sipahi: Volume I’, which is a mind bending action thriller, ‘Maar Dhad Samachar’, which is an edge of the seat thriller and a couple of others which will be announced soon. There’s also ‘Skyforce’ starring Akshay Kumar, which is jointly directed by Sandeep Kewlani and Abhishek Kapoor on which I have done the additional screenplay and dialogues.

Any specific genre that you’ll like to dabble into as a writer?

Romance, sci-fi, horror and you’ll see a lot of it in the upcoming stories I’m working on.

As we all know, ‘Bholaa’ is going to be a Universe film. So what are the preparations for its next edition? And when will the next part be out?

It’s too early to comment on this right now. All at the right time.

You started as a writer. Do you want to eventually become a director?

Of course! The thing is that I’ve been a director. I used to direct a lot of my plays in theatre and I have directed a couple of music videos and commercials here. Not many people know this but I started out as an editor in this industry. I still believe I’m a better editor than writer. Writing and editing are two of the three holy pillars of film making. The third being direction. Direction, again is all about storytelling.

Do you think you’re getting better at exploring the complexities of layered narratives, of your style of back-and-forth storytelling? 

Only the audience can answer that. I know I’m praying and trying and that’s all that one can do. With each film, with each story, there are things you learn and there are things you unlearn. You may get better at the technique but what’s important is to be receptive to the feedback you get, even while writing new stories. If five people give me the same criticism then I would like to believe there’s merit to the argument and see what can be done about it. The back and forth style owes its origin to Christopher Nolan, who uses a lot of non-linear storytelling in his films that I’m a big fan of. Ditto for Tarantino, who I still believe is the master when it comes to dialogues. Then there’s Vince Gilligan who is a master when it comes to world building and characters. Back home, I’m a big Salim-Javed and Kader Khan fan.

Rehearsals and actors are a big backbone of any film. Do you think Indian writers have any control over casting, rehearsals, or can they later contribute to this aspect at any stage?

I don’t know about others, but I’ve been fortunate that all my collaborators ask me who I see in which role and more often than not, they agree. Writers and actors are two sides of the same coin. I think it’s very effective to have writers on set where they can explain to the actors the rhythm that they have in mind. Since actors are a lot like singers, the best ones know how to sing their lines, when to pause, how much to pause, and how to throw their lines, there’s volume, pitch, tempo, so much to play with.

Any actor on your wish list that you’d like to write a script for? And if so, what style of script would you like to write for that actor?

Oh many! I will pay a million bucks to watch Ajay sir and Shah Rukh Khan in a movie. I’m also a huge Irrfan Khan fan but unfortunately that collaboration never happened. I also appreciate Manoj Bajpayee, Nana Patekar, Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Ayushmann Khurrana.


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