From the age of 12, after returning from Nigeria, Vidhya Iyer lived alone in an apartment in India with no adult supervision, which allowed her obsession with television to flourish. While pursuing a degree in Computer Engineering, she also ran an Italian restaurant. Post this, she realised her unnerving passion for screenwriting, deciding to move halfway across the world to LA to become a TV writer. Vidhya has several shows to her credit — like Little Voice, writing an episode for Disney’s Mira Royal Detective. The 2020 short film Kanya, which garnered critical acclaim, was co-written by her. In an interview with the Cinema Journal, she recounts her journey. Excerpts from the interview:
What was it like to co-write Kanya, which is not the usual comic writing that you do?
Kanya is a short film that I co-wrote with director Apoorva Satish. It was a fun experience because I generally never write dramatic scripts, but this was super cinematic and not the usual comic writing that I do. The film was based on the topic of menstrual taboo in India, specifically in Chennai. We tried to create something that is very unique and visual.
You had moved to Chennai from Nigeria when you were 12-years-old. Do you have any memories of Nigeria?
Yes, I do have a lot of memories of Nigeria as a kid because that’s where I spent most of my childhood. It’s definitely home to me. Even after I had moved to Chennai, I kept travelling back and forth to Nigeria. I think the best part was to be an Indian kid going to an Indian school in Nigeria, studying amid kids who were from Norway, Lebanon and Nigeria.
What motivated you to study screenwriting in America?
I had a flair for writing since I was 12-years old. By then, I had dived into writing short stories, fiction, journalistic pieces that got published in magazines like Young World, etc. I was also the editor of my college daily. Initially, I had never thought of making a career out of it. However, as time passed, I realised I wanted to pursue writing professionally and went on to study screenwriting. It was a mammoth task to convince my parents. However, it worked out after a long time.
Tell us about your experience as an Indian-Nigerian writer in Hollywood.
Being an Indian-Nigerian writer in Hollywood is interesting because I get to experience a global perspective. My experiences are mostly very unique and different and they add a lot to my writing. This is something I have learnt to articulate over the years. I try to highlight all these experiences into my writing by creating unique characters and by also building different worlds for my stories. It is really fun to find a community like Hollywood to tell my stories.
Writing an episode for the first season of Mira, Royal Detective (2020), how was that?
It was great because I got an opportunity to work on a show depicting Indian culture, although set in a fictionalised version of an Indian city. It was fantastic to work with such talented South Asian actors, besides writing a script for a kid’s television show. It was also a learning experience because it wasn’t the usual form of writing and it helped to sharpen my creativity. My favourite part was discovering how emotions could even be conveyed without dialogues by physical humour.
And, you also worked on Little Voice. Did you write it during the pandemic?
Working on Little Voice was very thrilling and fun because it was based on a musical set in New York. It was an enriching experience to write for a show that has music ingrained in it. Both (Kanya and Little Voice) released during the pandemic, but I wrote them before that.
What has changed in your writing over the years?
I think any creative pursuit evolves over time, much like my writing has. One of the major changes in my writing is that I can now quickly break down the structure of the story and figure the chronology. My speed has also increased over time. The biggest qualitative change that has come about in my writing is the realisation and discovery of my specific writing voice that is comedy.
Any message to those who want to pursue screenwriting as a career?
My advice to anyone who wants to be a screenwriter would be to watch a lot of television shows, web shows and films to figure out the structure and how scripts are written for the screen. However, in the end, one has to remember that this is a business and anybody who wants to pursue this professionally, should have a very strategic approach to this creative field.
I am writing for the third season of the television show, Solar Opposites. Season two of this show is going to be aired in March. I am also working on a bunch of other projects like a development coding and animated show loosely based on nightlife.