{ Page-Title / Story-Title }

Interview Hindi

Firsts (Season 3) is the kind of representation I would want to see out there, says Sulagna Chatterjee

The writer of the third season of the web-series speaks about her first independent project.

Sonal Pandya

The latest season of Dice Media’s Firsts features a couple that moves in together after two dates. Ritu (Shreya Gupto) and Lavanya (Himika Bose) explore the ‘firsts’ of their growing relationship during the lockdown in the third season of the web-series. From the first gift to their first fight, the couple experiences the different stages of a romance, with dialogues loaded with pop-cultural references.

Writer Sulagna Chatterjee, who turned a year older earlier this month, spoke about her first project as an independent writer, creating a queer relationship that has its ‘awww’ moments, and advice she has received from her mentors, in an interview with Cinestaan.com.

Chatterjee explained how the third season differs a bit from the previous two more linear seasons that were released earlier this year.

“We are showing a same-sex love story, but we wanted to do it slightly differently, in the sense that we wanted to play on the awkwardness of moving in,” she said. “As the story progresses here, these two people meet on a dating app and because of COVID and the lockdown, one of them basically gets kicked out of her house and they move in together, not because they are in love or they are an exclusive couple but because of convenience.

“In the first couple of episodes, you see that awkwardness, [and] as they move ahead, it’s also how they are getting to know each other more. The basic funda of the entire season is that everything in this particular relationship has just been so non-linear and may be random and that’s why it also makes it more special for my protagonist.”

To shoot the third season during the lockdown was a challenge. The previous season, which was also shot during the lockdown and released in April, featured Kriti Vij and Pranay Manchanda, who was also the director.

For the latest season, only the director of photography and the actresses were on location, and everything was directed remotely by Bharat Misra. Eventually, the entire series was shot over four days.

“Basically, we were sitting in front of the screen for 12 hours every single day and watching things unfold,” Chatterjee said. “So, logistically as well as storyline-wise, I think it was something we hadn’t done before.”

Another test for Chatterjee was to condense the storylines for the couple to under a minute. Pranav Tonseker, who wrote the first two seasons of Firsts, advised her to not go beyond a page as a guideline.

“I think one of the biggest challenges for me in this particular project was the fact that these are one-minuters, considering the IP of this entire series,” she said. “So, to write romance in one minute and really show the progression of each character, so that even if the person is watching one episode in isolation, they should be able to feel the chemistry between the two people and want to watch the next episode, that was a huge challenge.”

Furthermore, Chatterjee said she was aided by creative director Riya Chibber on the different beats of the season’s script.

“That kind of collaborative set-up was really conducive for me to, number one, really put out what is required, the kind of representation that I, as a queer person myself, would want to see out there,” she said. “And, secondly, it kind of eases your anxiety, because it’s not hierarchical. The entire team of Dice is young and we are all almost on the same wavelength. So there were no ego clashes. Everybody just knew we were working towards the same goal to make something that is young, quirky, and that leaves people with an ‘awwww’ feeling.”

The 25-year-old writer shared that it was really important that the whole team was on the same page from the beginning and she didn’t want to focus on homophobia too much.

“Whenever you see queer content, in Indian media especially, there are two sides of it,” Chatterjee said. “One is that you try to make it too mainstream, too commercial, [and] on the other side, you try to put out a message way too hard.

“We all understand that alternative sexuality in India has been discriminated against a lot,” she continued. “That’s a reality, but at the end of the day, every relationship has its ‘awww’ moments. What I really wanted, and I’m so glad my team agreed to it, was that I didn’t want to focus on homophobia. I didn’t want to be really in your face with messaging. I just wanted content, wholesome quirky content.”

As Chatterjee said, normalizing conversations about sexuality literally means that you see all relationships in the same light, and Ritu and Lavanya are presented as a couple like any other.

This year has been a big one for Chatterjee, as she decided to go independent in January. There was a slight roadblock when COVID-19 forced the world to a standstill in March. “It was a really difficult time, for sure, because suddenly you are stuck in the four walls of your house as a writer, not having any inspiration, and completely shut off from any kind of opportunities,” she said.

Previously she had worked as an associate writer on the ALTBalaji shows The Verdict and Code M.

“I started off in the long format with a writer-director called Shubhra Chatterji, who is like my second mother,” she said. “With her, I started working on non-fiction, followed by fiction. I worked with Samar Khan for a year at a production house called Juggernaut Productions, and working there taught me what platforms want and the technicalities required to make a show work.”

The experience helped her understand her space as a writer, and Chatterjee said she was grateful that both Chatterji and Khan encouraged her. Their advice also came in handy when it was time to branch out.

“It’s very important for you to be seen out there and your opinions and world view to be out there because that is what creators are looking at," she said. "Whenever anybody is looking for a collaborator, they also want to know if you are on the same wavelength as them. I’ve been taught to be shameless when it comes to promoting yourself, to getting your work seen out there.

“The kind of opportunities I got, I don’t think any other 20-something would have got,” Chatterjee elaborated. “I’m really grateful to them for the kind of opportunities and the kind of goodwill I got from there. I decided to quit my job, not because I didn’t like it, but because I realized that it was probably time for me to take a leap of faith. Being somebody who has a family in Mumbai, who doesn’t have to worry about rent, I could afford to take that risk and that’s what I did. Till date, Samar and Shubra are the first people who get to know about every new thing that I write, and it’s really nice how I’m like the little kid and they are always proud of my victories.”

Obviously, with the third season of Firsts, the writer has made a breakthrough of her own. Chatterjee is also working on her own screenplay for a feature film and another upcoming project she is excited about.

“There are a million people out there waiting to be seen in this weird dog-eat-dog world, but I think, in the past six months especially, I’ve really worked on my craft. I’ve read more, I’ve written more, I’ve re-written more, I’ve scrapped more. Then when these opportunities started coming up, it just felt like this is what I had been waiting for.”

Related topics