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Cinestaan script contest third winner Soumil Shukla: Everything else in life had to be paused for this script

Soumil Shukla won the third prize at the Cinestaan India's Storytellers Contest with a cash award of Rs7 lakh for his script, Laakh Maavlaa.

Photo: Courtesy Soumil Shukla

Sonal Pandya

Mumbai’s Soumil Shukla won the third prize at the Cinestaan India’s Storytellers Contest, the results of which were announced last week by the jury chaired by veteran scriptwriter and teacher Anjum Rajabali and comprising actor-filmmaker Aamir Khan, writer-director-editor Rajkumar Hirani and screenwriter Juhi Chaturvedi.

Shukla, a graduate of political science with a post-graduate degree in history from the University of Mumbai, also received a cash award of Rs7 lakh for his script titled Laakh Maavlaa. He currently teaches writing at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, where he also learnt screenplay writing.

Shukla still finds it hard to believe that he came in third from among close to 3,000 script submissions. “Till the last moment I kept telling myself that I'll probably not be among the winners, just to not feel heartbroken if that was the case,” he wrote to Cinestaan.com on e-mail. “So when Juhi Chaturvedi, my absolute favourite among contemporary screenwriters, declared my name on national television, I almost had a stroke!

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"I have busted my hump on this particular script. I was working full time at the time of writing, first at Network18 and then at the FTII, Pune. So I had to stay up nights and write, that was the only option. Everything else in life had to be put on pause for this script. But in the end, it was all worth it!

"To be recognized for one's efforts by such stalwarts like Aamir Khan, Rajkumar Hirani, Juhi Chaturvedi and, most importantly, Mr Anjum Rajabali, who has done so much for the writing community, it’s an amazing feeling,” he continued.

Shukla was alerted about the contest through the internet and the Screen Writers' Association (SWA), which supported the contest. “The prospect of such a substantial and appropriate prize money and the chance to be able to pitch my story to leading production houses was what compelled me to work hard and submit my best work,” he said.

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The writer describes his Laakh Maavlaa screenplay as one containing lots of action and blood, with a strong emotional kick.

“It takes place in a narrow mountain pass, over the course of a dark, stormy night, in the year 1660,” Shukla explained. “It’s a fascinating tale of two warriors, fighting on opposite sides, and the women whose iron will changed India's history forever. The script belongs to what you can call the 'heroic bloodshed' genre that originated in the Hong Kong action cinema of John Woo. It has copious amounts of stylized action and deals with dramatic themes like duty, honour, brotherhood and redemption.”

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Shukla went on to state that we live in a very polarized world and, as a nation, we either worship or vilify people. “The truth lies somewhere in between, and India's past is the prime example of it,” he continued. “As a post-graduate in history, I felt compelled to pick up a small incident from our rich past, give it a modern twist, and present it to audiences in an absolutely engaging, exciting, action-packed manner. That was what inspired me to bust my hump and write this script.”

Shukla’s hope is that Laakh Maavlaa will be turned into a motion picture by a major production house. He certainly wants to pitch it to one.

“It’s a dense story with strong characters and genuine emotion," he explained. "In a time when there is a content boom in India, I really hope this humble attempt of mine will find some takers.”

Though Shukla is now a prize winner, he doesn’t believe his life will change much. “I will still sit to write everyday, still rewrite everything I had written yesterday, and still try my best to pitch my stories to everyone with even the slightest interest," he said. "What this award should change, I am hoping, is the producers'/directors'/actors' willingness and response time to read my work.”