They are perhaps the first women co-writer team in Hindi cinema! Reema Kagti sums up their partnership saying, “I think we’ve complementary qualities as writers. I find it easier to look at the big picture and start writing a screenplay and moving on ahead, and I think Zoya is really good at detailing things – characters, dialogues, situations. She’s really good at honing scenes, so she kind of writes over me. Everybody’s writing over each other. It’s democratic. And there’s a lot of fighting and a lot of arguments! (laughs).
“The thing is we’ve kind of arrived at this process, at a very organic process. What we kind of do is, right from the germ of the idea, we kind of bounce it off each other, so whomever’s idea it is, it becomes the other person’s, because the other one is talking so much about it. Once that happens, we research it, we talk about it a lot and then we start putting one-liners down and we don’t get on to a screenplay until we’ve hashed this one-liner through all the way to the last scene. “I think we’re very intuitive both of us as writers, we like to work a bit spontaneously and we let the idea kind of lead us as opposed to us leading the idea.”
The duo has written some of the best stories for films like ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ and ‘Talaash’. Both are directors in their own right and their friendship started on the sets of Kaizad Gustad’s movie, ‘Bombay Boys’.
Reema won the hearts of her audience with her first directorial venture ‘Honeymoon Travels’ (2007). Sensible yet quirky, realistic and simply told, the movie with its ensemble cast showed Reema’s métier as a director with a difference. ‘Talaash’ proved it beyond doubt!
Reema was born in Assam and was a film buff ever since she can remember. She was a good writer and remembers earning her first paycheck writing a story for Tinkle.
“Since everybody appreciated my writing I thought it was feasible to either be a novelist or a journalist,” she says. Yet, in Class lX, watching ‘Salaam Bombay’ made her feel that filmmaking was what she really wanted to do. Her parents had the typical middle class reaction and discouraged her. “My mother, who is a teacher, was calm about it and didn’t say much, but my father who owns a farm was furious. The early ‘90s were not really a good time to be in the industry,” she reasons. It was her work as assistant director in ‘Lagaan’ (2001) that won her father over. “My father made his peace and was proud of me,” she says with a gleam in her eyes! Proof of this was her parents attending the premiere of ‘Honeymoon Travels PVT LTD’.
At 24, Reema had started working with Rajat Kapoor on his film ‘Private Detective’ and also assisted in every department. “Though the film never released, Rajat was a good mentor and helped me understand the whole process of filmmaking,” she says.
She also cherishes working as an assistant director to leading filmmakers like Honey Irani in ‘Armaan’, Mira Nair in ‘Vanity Fair’, Ashutosh Gowariker in ‘Lagaan’ and Farhan Akthar in ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ and ‘Lakshya’. “Observing these directors from a vantage point was the luckiest moment of my career,” she says. The translation of script into a film and learning from the errors was the perfect training. Yet, much as she admires her mentors, she wanted very clearly to create her own style as distinctly different from those of her mentors.
Reema dismisses the difficulties of working in a male dominated industry saying, “Our film industry is the best place to work, especially for women. Thanks to the democratic set-up, nobody here cares about who you are and where you come from. It is more about what skills you can offer,” she states.
“I’m not trying to use alternative subjects deliberately. It’s just the way I think,” she shrugs. “I want to be known as a filmmaker who is known for making more good films than bad ones.”