It is not every day that one gets to talk to a writer who has more than 500 episodes credited to himself and also has his name in the Limca Book of Records for the same. Raaj Shaandilyaa is the writer of hit shows such as Comedy Circus, The Kapil Sharma Show and recent films like Freaky Ali and Welcome Back.

As his latest film Bhoomi gears up for release, the writer talks to Pandolin about his experience of writing an intense drama for the first time, the tight time constraints of Bollywood, and the looming pressure of delivering the highly anticipated comeback film of the iconic Sanjay Dutt.

Raaj Shandilya

Raaj Shandilya

Tell us about your experience writing your upcoming film Bhoomi. After a slew of films in the recent years tackling the issue of girl child, how did you attempt to make your story different and appealing when it comes to Bhoomi?

It was a great experience. Working with Sanjay Dutt on his comeback film was truly our pleasure; my pleasure especially. I didn’t know I’d end up writing the film honestly! (laughs) It happened very suddenly, there was no plan as such. When I was called in, the film was supposed to begin a long time ago but it shut down. They tried to make it work again, but stopped. Then all of a sudden, one day, Bhushan (Kumar) ji and Sandeep (Singh) sir called me to their office and told me that they want me to write a film and presented me with the thought.

They asked me if I could do something around it and also told me that they had Sanjay Dutt’s dates. I asked for some time, wrote something down and presented it to them and also gave a narration to Sanju baba. He liked it and slowly, we started developing everything. I think I wrote the film in around one and a half months. It was a very different experience since it was the first intense-drama-revenge story that I had written.

I believe that everything in the world has been done. When I started doing television, there were many comedy shows before mine. When we started Comedy Circus, we presented a different kind of a show because we didn’t think of comparing and just tried to make it the best that we could. That is the same thing that I have tried to do with this film. There have been many films on this topic. But like they say, perspective changes everything. We have tried to keep it subtle, more natural. It is about a common man, and how he holds his daughter in high regard, how much importance he gives her and is ready to do anything for her. We haven’t really exaggerated it; it is within the limitations of how far a common man can go.

The film is an intense, emotional drama, which I had never written before

Bhoomi is the revenge story of a father. On this subject, Sanjay Dutt has already worked on Pitaah. How different is Bhoomi from other revenge dramas?

A lot of films are revenge dramas. Baahubali too is a revenge saga. Time and again, we have seen the story of how a son takes revenge for his father’s death. Yes, one could compare it to modern day revenge stories like MOM and Badlapur. Though, I would not compare it to Pitaah simply because the social setting (village) and Sanjay Dutt’s character in Pitaah is quite different from Bhoomi. Even the way Sanjay Dutt goes about taking revenge in Bhoomi is very ordinary, not filmy.

You have written two films earlier, Freaky Ali and Welcome Back, along with over 500 scripts for television comedy shows. What was the process like, of shifting from slapstick comedy, to a social issue drama such as Bhoomi?

Comedy too stems from emotions. When one slips and falls on a peal of banana, it may be comedy for us, but it is emotional for the person who falls. Nothing in this world is without emotions. I was fortunate to explore other emotions besides comedy in this film. Sure, it was Baba’s comeback film so I had to restrict myself a little. It was challenging to shift from comedy to drama. Every concept will have one or the other emotion, but those emotions have to hit the right spot. I think what we are trying to communicate has more or less been captured in the film and I really hope people like it.

Raaj Shandilya

Raaj with Director Omung Kumar

With the movie touted to be Sanjay Dutt’s comeback film, what sorts of pressure did you face when it came to constructing his character and story arc?

One of the main pressures was the time; I wrote the film in less than one and a half month. Of course the pressure of it being his comeback film was looming on me. The final pressure was that the film is an intense, emotional drama, which I had never written before. But Sandeep had faith in me and eventually when I started writing it, the pressure slowly disappeared. Be it Welcome Back or Freaky…, every project comes with a certain amount of pressure. Without pressure, no work gets done.

How was it collaborating with Omung Kumar, Sandeep Singh & Sanjay Dutt?

It was my first film with Omung sir. It was also his first film that was not a biopic. We sat together, ideated and that’s how we slowly built the chemistry. Sanju baba also gave his inputs and that’s how the film came about. It was truly an amazing experience to work with all of them. I know Sandeep for a while now; we were supposed to meet almost two years ago, but we never did due to our busy schedules. One day we bumped into each other and it turned out Sandeep was looking for me. He just told that he had a film for me, he didn’t go into details at all initially, but I said yes anyway.

We haven’t really exaggerated it; it is within the limitations of how far a common man can go

We hear you are writing another film starring Sanjay Dutt. Could you tell us a bit about that, along with the other projects that you are working on?

My next film, Malang, is a romantic thriller. It a unique family film which also has a message. Sure, it is a little scary, but it also talks about how to get rid of your fears. The film is going on floors in December and is expected to release next year. Bhushan Kumar, Omung Kumar and Sandeep Singh are producing it. Sanju baba and I are quite excited about it.