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Tulsea Pictures: Taking good care of Mumbai’s screenwriters

The Mumbai film industry can be a harsh place for those trying their luck as screenwriters. Tulsea Pictures, the only firm in Mumbai that manages writers and directors, is making sure talent doesn’t go to waste, says Payel Majumdar.

Payel Majumdar  15th Nov 2014

A film still from Sulemani Keeda, due to release in theatres on 28 November.

hink screenwriters, and the proverbial barsaati, pending bills and a burning lamp springs to mind. Like Owen Wilson's character in Midnight in Paris, writers (and screenwriters) often complain about being misunderstood, underpaid and (if lucky) overworked. This is certainly true of writers in the Mumbai film industry, especially if they're freelancers trying to get projects off the ground and ultimately get paid for them. While actors and stars have agents who streamline logistics for them, the idea of a writer benefitting from a similar arrangement seems implausible.

This is where Tulsea Pictures ("tulsi" or "tulsea" is Sanskrit for "incomparable") comes into the picture. The firm was set up in late 2010 by Datta Dave, former business manager to director Shekhar Kapur, and Chaitanya Hegde, a former advertising professional. By taking on writers and directors as clients and working on their individual careers, Datta and Chaitanya are doing rare work in the Mumbai film industry. Their first client was Delhi Belly's screenwriter, Akshat Verma. "After Delhi Belly released, it got rave reviews for its script," says Hegde. "Immediately after its release, Akshat was offered the role of a director in a film by UTV, and that film is going on the floors in a month," adds Dave.

Tulsea Pictures aims at building a long-term relationship with their clients that lasts beyond a project or two. Vikramaditya Motwane, who joined them as a writer client two years back before joining them as a director a year later, vouched for their efficacy and the gap that their firm has filled. "Writers — and sometimes directors — are very badly represented in India. There are very few people to negotiate or fight for them, their fees or their rights. Tulsea brings a much-required management and representation facet into the whole business. When they approached me initially to represent me as a writer, they asked me who I wanted to write for and I gave them a list. Within a month, they got me a writing gig with the name at the top of the list. So yes, it's paid off very well to work with them, I would say."

Tulsea Pictures has a bi-annual "Tulsea Talent Day" at major film studios in Mumbai, where studio representatives meet their talent in five-hour blocks, an interaction that goes a long way in clinching deals for both parties. But how does representing writers and directors, often underpaid in a star-driven industry, work out to be commercially viable for Tulsea Pictures? Datta and Chaitanya are very pragmatic about it. "When we first started this business, we never really knew where we will end up," says Datta. "It has been very organic. Representing writers and directors was initially an uphill battle, but we have been blessed in that regard, as our clients generally refer other clients to us. We are talking about people's careers here. It is about the long term, so we need to have some sort of matching of vision and sensibility. Much of what we do is about finding different kinds of opportunities for clients. And for new clients, it is about getting their scripts off the ground. "

ulsea Pictures' own production, Amit Masrukar's Sulemani Keeda — ironically, a tragicomic film about writers — will have its commercial release this month. They're also planning a biopic on Ranjitsinhji, the renowned cricketer after whom the Ranji Trophy is named. The project is being produced by Barrie Osbourne, the producer of the Matrix and Lord of the Rings trilogies.

Tulsea Pictures has a bi-annual “Tulsea Talent Day” at major film studios in Mumbai, where studio representatives meet their talent in five-hour blocks, an interaction that goes a long way in clinching deals for both parties.

Datta is positive that things have gotten better in the industry since Tulsea Pictures arrived on the scene, both at an individual level for their clients and in terms of the international representation of Indian cinema. "Our target was to get our clients into the international arena, which wasn't happening three or four years ago. For instance, we represent Amit Kumar, whose Monsoon Shootout has been all over the world and was picked up by Fortissimo Films, an international sales agent. We also represent Kanu Behl, who made Titli, and Vikramaditya Motwane, whose Udaan was at Cannes as well."

Sonia Bahl, a screenwriter from Los Angeles, and one of Tulsea Pictures' clients, sums up their role as managers. "You realise the need to keep writing as a hired gun while your own screenplay is out there," she says. "Tulsea Pictures does everything, beginning with matching the client with the producer. I never look at things like contracts anymore." She recalls a time when she quit her job as the creative director in a top advertising firm and set out to be a screenwriter. "I met so many directors who were on my wishlist and got wonderful responses. But the whole process is so gut-wrenching. People just hold on to what you have written and don't get back to you. Tulsea, on the other hand, has such a wonderful sense of what to get its writers involved in." Bahl is very thankful for Datta and Chaitanya for allowing her to follow her heart. "The road to hell is paved with works in progress. There is always heartbreak, but they hold your hand through all of that."

To get in touch with Tulsea Pictures, you can e-mail them at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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