At a time when the youth of Mumbai’s Govandi slum were either doing odd jobs for money or were struggling to cope, Afzal Razvi was striving for something that people around him hardly dared to dream of – becoming a scriptwriter for Bollywood. Afzal, who is now 32-year-old and married, is the author of a novel and a writer for television shows. He’s doing all this from a one bedroom-kitchen house built by his father.
Afzal was studying in the seventh grade in an English-medium school in his neighbourhood when his first story, titled ‘Curfew’, was published in a Hindi newspaper. His story was so interesting that he was paid Rs 250 for it. He was about 10 years old at the time. “I did not expect the story to fetch me money. I was only interested in writing, and found out how to send articles to newspapers and magazines. So I sent my piece to a Hindi newspaper,” he says.
On how his interest in writing came to be, Afzal says, “My father would write stories in Urdu whenever he found time. Writing stories is in my blood.” Afzal’s father died ten years ago.
He then began writing more poems and stories in Hindi and tried to send them to as many publications as possible. “I was not consistent enough, as I was a child and wanted to play outside, watch movies, and prank people,” he explains.
After he finished 12th grade in 2000, Afzal began working at a call centre. This was not to support his family financially, but because he wanted to do something they were initially against. “As I was so interested in writing, especially crime stories, I couldn’t focus on my studies much. I wanted to become a writer for movies. To hone my story writing and scriptwriting skills, I decided to enroll in Zee Institute of Media Arts (ZIMA), which has courses on how to write for films, direct, and act. The fees was Rs 25,000. I took the call centre job to accumulate money for the course,” he says.
Afzal’s father was not willing to pay the fees for the course, as he believed the profession was not good for his child. Eventually, his parents acknowledged his interest. “Parents are always concerned about you, which is why they stop you if they think something isn’t good for you. But when they see your determination, they help. This happened to me too, and my father eventually gave me the fees for the course,” he says.
While doing the course, Afzal started making a YouTube series called Govandi CID, based on the existing popular series CID. He wrote stories and then picked young people from the slum to act in the episodes. He says he wanted to show the slums’ reality through the show. “Through Govandi CID, I wanted to show people that crimes took place in the area, and the youth were falling prey to drugs. I was also practising what I was learning from the course,” he says.
A gradual climb up the ladder
After his course, Afzal busied himself in finding work. However, he struggled due to lack of money and connections within the film industry. “I was trying to make connections, but they weren’t consistent. To meet directors and writers in Bollywood, you have to have money and wear dashing clothes. My family did not have the money to afford that. I tried as much as I could, and managed to get work that would cover my expenses,” Afzal says.
He adds, “I became a ghostwriter and also wrote for free for some time. Ghostwriting work would give me money, and writing for free gave me some credit for my contribution to story and scriptwriting. I worked for Kasautii Zindagi Kay, Crime Patrol, Shhhhh…Koi Hai, and a few other TV serials as a ghostwriter, assistant writer, or for free.”
After struggling for two to three years and living hand-to-mouth, Afzal began receiving projects to write for DD’s Urdu serials, Abaya and Akhlaq Gumshuda Hai. “While I was struggling to make a name in the industry, I met many who used my skills but didn’t let me climb even a single ladder in the industry. Because of a few good people, I was part of Kabuli Pathan as a dialogue writer,” he says. Kabuli Pathan was directed by Hridesh Kamble and released in 2016.
A writer’s journey
In an effort to narrate his struggles, Afzal wrote Falak Talak at the end of 2019. “The book is a crime thriller, but also narrates the journey of a writer. It talks about the struggles and reality of the film industry. Although the book is fiction, a lot of things said in it are real,” he says. The book is self-published through Notion Press.
So far, the book has sold 1,500 copies, and Afzal has earned around Rs 40,000. An English version of the book came out in November this year. “This book has helped me fetch more writing projects. Now, I am an exclusive writer for a 3 Wings Production web series, which pays me more than Rs 30,000 a month. Moreover, I am also writing a web series for Cinemobs Original among other projects, which gives me about Rs 50,000 a month. All this started once the lockdown was lifted in Mumbai,” Afzal says.
Hoping for a brighter tomorrow
On why he doesn’t shift to a better place, now that he has the means to support a better lifestyle, he says, “I’m not ashamed of living in a slum. We can make small changes to change the area one by one. Now, many of my neighbours, especially the youth, are inspired by me and seek my help to become writers. They want to do better in life, and I try my best to help them. This is how we can change society.”
Afzal says he is happy with the decisions he made in life. “Now I work from my home, and whenever i feel like it. I don’t have a boss to dictate my actions. I’m happy with my life,” he says.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)