Team Kitaab is in conversation with writer and filmmaker Bela Negi whose story is soon going to be published in TBASS 2021.
Bela Negi is a filmmaker and writer based in Mumbai. While she has been working as a screenplay writer for the last one and a half decades, she has recently ventured into first short fiction writing.
Her debut feature film ‘Daayen ya Baayen’ (2010, Hindi) as well as her subsequent work explores the contemporary reality of the Himalayan region, the landscape of her childhood.
She also runs a production house Nitric Films, that creates content for film and web series and is the founder of Leafbird Foundation, a trust that runs educational and environment awareness programs in remote Himalayan regions.
Her story ‘The Way Home‘ is going to be a part of TBASS 2021 (Kitaab, 2021)
Team Kitaab: Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?
Bela Negi: It is the struggle to express a timeless thought, along with the need to rediscover the familiar, that draws me back again and again, in my writing, to the landscape of my childhood – Uttarakhand. I wish to give voice to the experiences of people living in the mountains, in some way to document the forgotten stories, struggles, and lives of people, which is also mixed with nostalgia, a desire to hold onto the stories that I heard from my parents in my childhood. Also through the stories I wish to make sense of my life and understand my own dilemmas.
Team Kitaab: Share a bit about your writing journey so far. How did you start? Any roadblocks? Who were your strongest supporters? Any tips to share with aspiring writers who are just beginning their journey or are about to begin it?
Bela Negi: I started writing film scripts almost 15 years ago and have subsequently written all the scripts for my film projects. My feature film DAAYEN YA BAAYEN (2010) was written and directed by me. I would take great pains to write my scripts ‘well’, pay an inordinate amount of attention to the language and descriptions, which was sometimes unnecessary, but when people read my scripts they would comment – you should write a book, and of course I began to feel more confident about my writing skills.
I never really got down to it till the lockdown, when I thought – its now or never, I will never get undisturbed time like this again. And that was when I started working towards a collection of short stories.
My strongest supporters have been a few friends who generously and patiently read my stories and were very encouraging, also my younger son who enjoyed the stories when I read them out to him.
The only thing I can say to anyone who wants to start writing is to start writing, that’s the only way to get it done. Also to not be afraid to open themselves up and expose their innermost thoughts and emotions in the process.
Team Kitaab: Tell us about your most recent book or writing/editing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
Bela Negi: I am working towards a collection of short stories which are all set in the rural Himalayan landscape. The Himalayas which can be breathtakingly beautiful or overpowering and foreboding in turn give rise to a particular type of storytelling. They naturally suggest a mystical connection between everything that surrounds us, especially between our lives and nature.
The landscape mirrors the wounds of loss, the wounds of development, the wounds of a people who feel a loss in political relevance. I hope through my stories to attempt to understand the character of development, to illustrate how our natural environment is intertwined inextricably with the fate and decisions of humans.
Team Kitaab: Describe your writing aesthetic.
Bela Negi: I always thought of myself as a humourous writer but this collection of short stories GANGRENE AND OTHER STORIES brought out a serious, contemplative, melancholic note in my writing. But however I write I always like to draw connections between my characters and their physical as well as social environment. My stories are about individuals but also attempt to tell a larger story of the landscape.
Team Kitaab: What/ Who is your writing inspiration?
Bela Negi: The Himalayas have always been my inspiration.
Team Kitaab: How do you deal with writer’s block?
Bela Negi: I keep staring at the blank screen and thinking, and when the writing is not flowing I jot down pointers and thoughts, sometimes even turns of phrases that will come in use later. A good walk, when I keep story running in my head, usually helps.
Team Kitaab: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Bela Negi: A bit of both, I like to have a broad idea of where I am going and then wing it. Sometimes the story changes so much as I go along and sometimes it stays pretty much as I had planned it.
Team Kitaab: Who are your favorite authors/screenwriters?
Bela Negi: VS Naipaul, Samuel Beckett, Joseph Conrad – very simple on the face of it, but richly layered and replete with nuance. Beckett’s sardonic humour and Naipaul’s harsh yet truthful humour has been very instrumental in shaping my writing.
Team Kitaab: What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
A screenplay for a feature film in the horror genre, because it is not my comfort zone even though I enjoy good horror. It took me some time to figure out how to balance my style of story telling with the expectations of a horror film.
Team Kitaab: What’s your idea of bliss?
Bela Negi: Mountains, a comfortable cottage, long walks with dogs along an emerald green river, and if I were to throw in a book which I will have managed to write and publish, it would constitute utter bliss.
Team Kitaab: What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
Bela Negi: The rapid and unabated ruin of the Himalayas makes me not only raving mad but also very sad.
Team Kitaab: What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
Bela Negi: Don Quixote
Team Kitaab: Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
Bela Negi: After the animate beings it would be my laptop as it has become the repository of all my writing and memories.
Team Kitaab: Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
Bela Negi: Never take anything too seriously, especially not oneself.