#18 Shiraz Ahmed - Words On The Screen

Shiraz Ahmed is renowned name in the film industry and has earned the trust of the audience with movies like Race, Humraaz, Aitraaz and more. He once wrote a 25-minute episode for a series in one night and never in his career approached a producer with his work.

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Transcript

But at that point of time, there was a good friend of mine, he actually wanted to become a hero. He was good-looking, he was struggling. And I used to think he's going to waste his life because films were like I was never, ever interested in that. 

 

He's a renowned writer in the film industry and has been one for over 28 years now. He entered the industry at the age of 25, and since then has gone on to write over 20 films and several other shows. Some of his work includes films like Race, Hamraz, Edraz, and Wanted. But he never at any moment in his childhood thought that he would write, let alone be a part of this industry. This is his story.

 

Aamer: Hello there. I am Aamer Khan and this is the  Zed Medium podcast. A podcast that talks to people and about them too. We take out the most significant experiences of an individual and package it in the form of a story, sharing those with you. We narrate people's journeys in the simplest way we can. There's a new person every episode. 

 

So do check out the previous ones. I'm sure you'll find someone to relate to. Let's start with this one. 

 

From his childhood, Shiraz has been notorious for bunking classes and watching movies. He was smart, actually a little too smart for school. He comes from a conservative, middle class family that thought films were really not good for a child's character. Actually, let's hear it from him. So you've been essentially doing this for a very long time now. Do you have a number in mind as to how long you've been doing this for? 

 

Shiraz: See, I belong to a proper business family, so there is no writer in my family. And everything just happened. I did a lot of businesses. So we had a shop in one of the areas which is called Windy Bazaar, and that area is called Chor Bazaar. It was a family business, grandfather. And there was my father and his younger brother. And I was obviously in school, and I was like a very good student in school. 

 

But I was a menace, actually, sort of. I used to punk schools, and I used to be anything that a student shouldn't do, I used to do that. There used to be a lot of complaints and everything. And I used to punk classes. And at that time, I didn't even imagine that I wanted to be a writer. It was not even a slight thought also about it. I just wanted to have a career, make money, do something which I would feel that I have done something because I used to. And I used to love films. I don't know why. 

 

There were two things that I used to love. I'm not a sports person. I'm not interested. I was never interested in any kind of sports. And my thing was, my father used to tell me that if you come in the first five. What do you want? And I used to say books. I used to love books. I still love books. I've got a huge, huge collection of books in my house right now. I read mostly fiction. 90% I read fiction and I didn't even know what I was being prepared for. So what happened was I used to bunk spoon for films and films was strictly a no in my house. 

 

We are a conservative, middle class family where films were not like my father used to feel that films are going to affect your character and everything. Which was the thought of most parents in those days since I was like ten or eleven use to watch one film on each. That was it. 

 

Aamer: It's amazing to see how someone who was restricted to do something went ahead and made a name for himself in that very restricted field. When it's written for you, it will happen.

 

Shiraz is the least educated member of his family. And the very context of this episode, us talking about a wellknown writer proves that a lack of education really doesn't get in the way when you're hard working, talented and determined. It was only an obsession of films that somehow paved the way for what he was to become, nothing else. 

 

Shiraz: My sister is a principal. My son right now just completed his MBBS. My wife is more educated than me, but I read a lot. So I believe that it is not degrees that make you or it is not that MBA or I've done that I don't believe in that it is life that teaches you. You just need to know the languages. So I used to the money, whatever that I used to sell my books to watch films. 

 

And my school was near Regal Theater. There is a place for Kalaba in Bombay. So my school was there. So this theater was just next door and there were other theaters which were like 1520 minutes walk. So I used to watch a 10:00 film. It used to get over at 01:00 and watch a 01:00 film that used to get over at around 04:00. And then I used to walk back home because I was saving money for the other day. For that. I did everything. I begged, I stole. I used to take money from my father's pocket and anything that I could, I was just obsessed with. 

 

An obsession with films is different from what you really want to do in life. There is something you absolutely love, but if there are no means of making that your career. You have to start thinking about how you will survive in this world. 

 

Aamer: However, a young shiraz had no idea of his future and all he could do was go with the flow and dabble in a few things until he discovered what he really desired. If you're not wanting to or you didn't have the thought of becoming a writer what was it that you wanted to do at a young age? What was your aspiration like? 

 

Shiraz: See my aspiration? I'll tell you one thing. At that time, I didn't understand my own mind. I was just going with the flow. Then later on, I realized I was doing the right thing. So it was not like I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to be an engineer. I just didn't know what I wanted to do. I just wanted to see I was in the shop where you have these uncles. The uncles were, like, very kind of oppressive also a little bit. So I used to always get these storms because I used to come to the shop also very late. 

 

And then when they shifted, when my uncle and my grandfather's family shifted to the business, so there was no one who could speak English. And most of the customers that we had were all foreigners. They used to come from all parts of the country. When I went to the shop, the sale started in speaking, because I knew the language. 

 

So I was speaking to all these customers and everything, and I got a lot of what shaped my entire career later on, which I realize now, is that I met so many different kinds of people there. The foreigners, of course, were there, and they were like, I got to know that. Okay, this is a British accent. This is an American accent. These guys are German. These guys are Russian. So I used to recognize the faces, and all that stuff happened. 

 

And besides that, the people from all walks of life used to be in Shor bag when I used to go to the shop, and I used to go late. So always used to come to me and used to tell me, you get out of the day, you get out stuff. At that time, parents and elders used to speak this kind of language. You step out of the shop and you just earn Rs1. 

 

Aamer: That really hit him, the fact that they thought he couldn't do something on his own, he didn't take that with a pinch of salt. So the only way to prove that fact wrong was to do something on his own accord. At 17, he, along with one of his friends, set up a workshop nearby that sold ready made garments. They could have made it into something big, but that business was shortlived. 

 

Pretty soon, the area was hit with heavy rains, floods, then the Mumbai riots happened, and that chapter of his life had to come to an end. He never thought of that as a failure, though. It was just another learning for him. Even in business, he claimed that many people took advantage of his innocence. As a youngster, he wasn't street smart, but the experience taught him to be more careful. It made him aware of sharp people out there in the world, and in no way, shape or form. 

 

Did he ever stop? He did something or the other to earn money. It wasn't long lasting. He didn't think about the future a lot. He was just going with opportunities that came his way. 

 

Shiraz: But at that point of time, there was a good friend of mine, he actually wanted to become a hero. He was good looking, he was struggling. And I used to think he's going to waste his life because films I was never ever interested in this field. But I used to read so much. There was the stories that were coming up in my mind. And so whenever I used to meet him, used to take me to his shoots. So he signed up and I used to just tell him some random stories when there would be this lunchtime and I thought of something. 

 

So I used to just generally conjure up a story. I never written an episode, not a screenplay, it was the story. So when I used to narrate the story, you wouldn't believe this. I should mention this given I used to narrate the stories. These guys used to give me a signing amount. At that time, signing up used to be like 2000 Rs2500. 

 

And you won't believe it. Most of the signing amount I never cashed because I was so scared if I spend this money and tomorrow when I will write these episodes and I can't do it, I'll have to return the money. Then later on I understood it doesn't have work that way. And actually just narrated to him. And whatever I narrated at that time also were very visual things that I used to narrate. 

 

So whenever I used to narrate these stories to him, they were very visual. And he said, you should become a writer as I have, you lost it or a company. This is not my job. All it takes is a nudge from someone for you to start thinking about something. In this case, it was that friend who instilled the idea in Sharada's mind. 

 

Aamer: One thing led to another and he was introduced to a lyricist who later became his co writer. They started hanging out in the vicinity of people already in the film industry. That's when someone introduced him and his lyrics. Co writer to one of the finest actors of comedy today. Then a stand up comedian, of course, Johnny Lever. 

 

Shiraz: So he introduced us, both of us, to Johnny. We used to just have normal conversations. He started liking us. So we used to go to shows at that time, used to do a lot of stage shows and everything. And he was also doing films. And then one day what happened, he gave us a call and he said there is this director called Pancakes Parasha. And I knew Pancakes Parashat because Pancakes Parasha at that point of time he had made a very popular television serial called Karamchan. 

 

It was very popular in those times. And he had made a film called Chalwa, which was a huge hit. So he was a big guy. So he had a television serial on air, which he himself was directing. And he had a writer who was at that time, at that point of time, a big writer from the industry. And that writer got too busy. So what happened was he was neglecting the episode. 

 

So three or four episodes had been telecast. And then this writer, he just vanished. So now Punk Prasher was very scared because he had to shoot this johnny river meets Pancake Prasher somewhere, just abandoned meeting. And he says, what are you doing? He said, Here, I'm doing this serial. But the problem is this writer has become very busy and I have to chase him and everything. 

 

So I'm looking out for some good writers. So Johnny, by being a friend, said, I've got two young guys to meet them. We went there. So he was like he was quite apprehensive at the start. And then he said, these four episodes have been telecast and now I need to shoot the fifth episode. And these set of characters that are there, two central characters, they have some issue, some print shoot they have to go to. 

 

So they are not going to come to the shoot. So you have to take off those two central characters. And still the episode has to be interesting. Gave me some video cassettes and you said, you watch these four episodes and then you take the story forward. He said, okay, we'll do it. And there was kind of no experience in life. Never done it, no guru. So now I'm thinking, what to do with this? For two days, I didn't even watch those videos. It was Saturday. And I called him up in the evening at 06:00. 

 

And I asked him, listen, I saw the episodes. Can I introduce one character in this? He heard this, there was a big pause and he started blasting. It's been two days, he's not written anything. And now you're asking me this? I need the episodes tomorrow. He was about to keep the phone. I said, Wait, do you want it tomorrow? I'll get it for you tomorrow. I don't know why I said that. It was Almighty who made me say this. 

 

So I said I'll get them tomorrow. He said, Tomorrow 12:00. Anyone who's made that big a commitment normally gets to work immediately. But Shiraz and his partner, who was a lyricist and wrote dialogues as well, left for the latter's house. They were stressed. Yes, they probably had made a commitment they could not fulfill. The pressure was on. In a time when a person does not necessarily have the answers right in front of him, they seek the help of the Almighty. 

 

Aamer: That's what happens. And it's normal. Sometimes it's even hopeful to do that. So Sharaz took a plain sheet of paper from a store nearby. Actually took several plain sheets of paper, a pen and sat down by the shop's shutters as everything closed down. To write down an entire 25 minutes episode in the middle of the night on the streets of Mumbai. 

 

Shiraz: And I was just asking the Almighty, I want to write it. Time started going, 01:00 happened, 130 happened, 02:00. Suddenly some thoughts started coming to my mind. I started writing them, I started jotting them. By the time the Fuzzer namas Fazarazan happened, I had written the entire episode. Complete episode was ready. I read it, I reread it. I didn't know about timing, I didn't know about anything. I just knew the episode has to be 20 to 24 minutes and there are ads which are going to come in, where to make the ad break. Nothing. I didn't know any damn thing. 

 

So I gave it to him. I said, See, dialogues are written there. See what changes you can make in the dialogues. Make it more humorous or something. Because he had a very good sense of you. So I said to see what you can do. And then there was this small caught. So I said, I'll just take a nap. Got up at around 10:00, just washed my face. As soon as it was 12:00, I rang the guy. 

 

He looked at us, looked at the file in my hand was shocked. The papers in my hand was shocked. He said you did it. Yeah. So we got inside, we started this. I can still visualize the entire thing and sat down there. I started reading it, said, okay, start reading. He's not reacting. And it ended. There used to be no mobile phones at that point of time. So he picked up his phone, he called up his chief assistant. 

 

He said, Buddy, come immediately. These two guys, you don't know what they have. This guy comes and Poopy also comes and he starts selling and look at what they have written. He's even written intercuts. He didn't change a single word in the episode. Not a single. We just asked, how much money I need? Are you? And that's how it started. From a random introduction with Johnny Lever to meeting Pancake Parasha to bagging their first series, for a young boy who had not been exposed to a lot of money at the time, he was paid RS8000 per episode, which equates to about 85 to Rs95,000 today. 

 

Aamer: Not only that, but when the second season was made, they were brought back as writers. Shiraz always went with the flow, but this time the flow seemed to be in the right direction. A direction he was loving more than monetary satisfaction and peace. It was the realization that he could really write that made Shiraz confident. He was blessed with the ability to pen down his thoughts in a way that could be imagined and portrayed on screen with minimal effort. 

 

He respected the talent he was blessed with and became the highest paid writer at that point of time. If the industry rates were 20,000, he would be charging $25,000. But was not always for money for his friends or for people that wanted to do something good but didn't have the money for it. He wrote for free as well. As time went by, people started recognizing his work. If you're in an industry providing quality content that people are loving, opportunities rise in no time. 

 

And that's how he bagged his first film. It wasn't the highest budget film, but it was enough to get him in the eyes of the right people. Was like the maximum writer could get paid was those genre films used to get 75,000 rs50,000 were that common line because they were those middle of the run films. At one point of time was a huge star. And then he I should say he went to UTI. He settled down in UT. 

 

He stopped coming to Bombay. So there was this entire factory, film factory that he started there where there was this period where the producers used to go there, shoot films and come. 

 

Shiraz: So when I met this guy, the producer, someone, a director introduced me to this producer called Javan Albafna. And this producer had made a lot of big films like he had made films with Rajeshika. Those guys were big. Problem with me was because I wanted to write films before that, whenever people used to recommend me, I never went to a producer in my life. But that is not arrogance. But someone or the other used to get me introduced to something. Never used to happen. Now. I went to go to this producer, Johal Albafna, and I narrated the story to him. 

 

He immediately loved the story and said, I want to make this film now. I got very scared because the same thing happened with that TV series. I was scared. I'd never written a film. And writing a film and writing a television series are two different ball games. Totally different approach towards the screen. In a television series, you tend to elongate things. In a film, you tend to say a story of, say, ten years or five years or two years or one year. It has to be compressed into two and a half hours. 

 

My aim was films, but I got so scared. So he asked me how much money I want to take. So to get out of the thing where people used to charge 75,000, I quoted one last 25,000. So this guy started laughing. He said, you have lost your mind. And he says, I will give you $50,000. So he said okay. Javah Baafna thought they were negotiating. 

 

Aamer: Little did he know Shiraz’s was genuine in his fear. Which is why he was quoting a higher amount to get out of it. But this was not the end. 15 days later, Sharaz got a call from him again asking him to come to the office. This time with a 75,000 RP contract. Shiraz politely refused. And they parted ways again and yet again. 

 

Ten days later, Shiraz gets a call, this time for one like fifteen, zero rupee contract. Bafna was 58 at the time. Well known, respected. Shiraz was still young. And as the Indian culture goes, shiraz accepted the one lakh 15,000 rupee contract with 10,000 off as a sign of respect to Javahar laal Bafna. That was his first film. Ladakiri went on to do well. Shiraz got assigning amount for another film from Jaybafna before the release of The Misunderstood Boti starter Dalagiri. 

 

He was on a roll with a hit rate of about 80% in about 22 odd films that he did over the years. And that's because he constantly wrote. To write at such a high level for that many years is a process of its own. But what we have not discussed so far is Shiraz writing process and what it takes to actually come up with a good story, a good script and a good screenplay. 

 

Shiraz: I have a bank. Like, I've got comedy scripts, I've got action scripts, I've got pillars and all that stuff. Is there just one question here? Even when you're not doing a film or writing for a film, you're anywhere writing every day? Absolutely not every day. See, the thing is, you won't believe it, but most of the times I'm just watching films, I'm reading, I'm going out. Ideas strikes you. When an idea strikes me when I sit down to write it and I write it in a full one page, or you write the whole script. 

 

Sometimes I'll write the entire story in a one page. Sometimes it will take two, three pages. Sometimes I'll write it scene by scene, scene to scene. I'll complete the entire script. Also, I used to be in Kandala. There was this hotel which was my favorite for dukes. And I've stayed there for like 25 days, 30 days. Sometimes in offseason, when I used to go, I used to be the only guys staying in the entire hotel, which is a huge hotel, and I'm the only person staying there. 

 

And my thing was, whenever I used to go for writing, I never used to come out of the room. The room gets locked first. The deal is with the management. Everything is going to be served inside the room. So first time when I went there, the manager got scared. After three or four days, he rang the bell. He thought, everything is coming inside the room. He thought I was sick or something. When I opened the door, my period was like this week, it was like eight days. 

 

And he said, Are you sick or something? I said, no, you're not coming out. I said, does not come out per year. On a holiday, come out to ride so I can stay with myself. And which I thank the Almighty for that, because mostly you tend to get into all the wrong stuff. When you want company or when you are happy with yourself, with your own self. I'm my own company. I love it. I like to be with my family and my children. 

 

Aamer: That's the thing, Shiraz's work speaks for itself. Everyone who's made it in the industry gets talked about after they've made it. And so, as we come to the end of the podcast, we wanted to focus more on the process of how it happened, the hard work put in, the sacrifices made, and the behind the scenes of all of it. 

 

And that, for you, was the man whose word eventually came onto the screen. Hey, if you liked that episode, share it with others. You never know how you sharing it could impact someone in the most difficult of times. You never know, you might just share something lifetime changing for someone else. And yes, the common drill. Follow us for the latest updates on LinkedIn and Instagram. We're here to stay, we promise. And we're bringing a whole lot more for you. Stay tuned and goodbye for now.