Nidhie Sharma who has written Dancing with Demons, India’s first Boxing fiction novel and for the soon to be released Emmy Award nominated sports web series, talks to The Pioneer about her journey into Sports and Action storytelling.
You have written an action drama set against the backdrop of Combat Sport. What inspired you to use this backdrop?
I grew up in an Armed forces environment, which among other things, predisposes you towards sports; so my interest in this genre happened organically. As far as boxing goes, I love it for its raw athleticism and have also come to view the ring as a visual metaphor for life. I have trained in the sport informally while in the Film School in New York so it was easier to put the protagonist into the boxing ring and let the ring take over.
You’ve also worked on an action web series. Do you have any tips for writers of action?
By and large, I think screenwriters writing in action and sports genres must visit sets during filming. Often writers prefer to stay away from the chaos and madness on sets. If they were to visit the sets often and watch how an action or sports scene is being filmed, they’d write in greater detail and also learn if their scenes can actually be filmed. Sometimes an action scene needs a rewrite on set because it cannot be executed the way it is written. For example, the opening shot is sometimes the last line written in the scene. It also helps to describe the action in as much detail as possible on paper so enough numbers of days can be allotted to film it. In my directorial capacity on an action series, I have personally witnessed a two-line description of fight taking two days to film. As a director who also writes, it makes it easier for me to break down literary source material and screenplays into a series of shots.
There are many approaches to writing. Some plot their stories first, others write without knowing where their story will go. What is your approach?
I do have a general sense of the Universe for my stories but I flesh out characters first; spending a lot of time thinking about their origins, motivations, dreams, fears, their worldview and even how they walk. Once I know my characters really well, I put them into the Universe of my choice. After that, there is no need to force-fit plot. The characters take over. In essence what I am saying is that characters propel the plot and not the other way round. For ‘Dancing with Demons’, I wrote a poem two years before I wrote the novel. This poem was about the heart of the story and the protagonists’ demons. When the reviews started to come, the one common thing readers said was that they loved the two protagonists and couldn’t get enough of Karan and Sonia. That for me was a big win.
How do you work on the sports element in your writing?
I grew up playing a variety of sports and also watch a lot of competitive sport so that really helps. It is very important to understand the technicalities of a sport and also its inherent USP. As a filmmaker, I tend to visualize a sporting event and describe it in detail. Everyone has their own process but when I was fleshing out the boxing bouts in Dancing with Demons, soothing piano and guitar compositions would be playing in the background. I was delighted when the boxing bouts in the book were described as “visually spectacular and lyrical”.
You have also written the screenplay for ‘Dancing with Demons’. How was that different from the book?
For one, the book is nearly 300 pages and the screenplay a mere 99. Screenplay writing is a technical craft. You have to crystallise the story into how you want it to play out visually on screen. Enter the scene late and leave it early, among many others things. The cinematic medium is too expensive and the audiences’ attention too short to have any superfluous stuff. From my book, I have retained the characters, their chemistry and demons but moved the plot around, for example a revelation at the end of the book comes at midpoint in the screenplay. I have also dropped a few secondary characters to keep the narrative uncluttered. These are hard decisions to make but one of the things they teach you at Film school is that when you are directing, you should forget that you’ve written it and when you are editing, you should forget that you’ve directed it. Since I wear multiple hats, I follow this dictat to the T.
Tell us about your forthcoming projects?
Apart from the sports web-series later this year, I have a new book coming in July, titled INVICTUS (The Jungle that made me). It is an autobiographical account of my survival in the wild near the Indo-China border.