Paulami DuttaGupta is a novelist and screenwriter. She shuttles between Kolkata and Shillong.
She has worked as a radio artist, copywriter, journalist and a television analyst at various stages of life, having been associated with AIR Shillong, The Times of India—Guwahati-Shillong Plus, ETV Bangla, The Shillong Times, Akash Bangla and Sony Aath. Her short stories have appeared in various anthologies and literary magazines.
Paulami also writes on politics, social issues and cinema. Her articles have appeared in Swarajya, The Forthright, NElive, The Frustrated Indian and Mumbai Mom. Paulami’s first film as screenwriter, Ri-Homeland of Uncertainty, was awarded the National Award for the Best Khasi Film at the 61st National Film awards. She is currently writing the screenplay of Iewduh, a Khasi film, and working on a couple of short films. Research on a documentary is also keeping her busy these days.
A Thousand Unspoken Words, her fourth book, was published by Readomania.
Onaatah—of the earth is an adaptation of the National Award winning film by the same name. Onaatah was awarded the Best Khasi Film at the 63rd National Film awards.
Tell us about yourself, your background and what you do currently
I was born in Shillong and completed my college from there. I then relocated to Kolkata for my post graduation and stayed back as I worked in Bangla television. For a brief period I have also worked in Hyderabad. I have fond memories of my hometown; was a daydreamer and largely a loner in my childhood. Had a laid back life, and even though my parents were teaching in colleges, there was no real pressure to get the best grades. All possibility of puppy love was put to rest when I read Pride and Prejudice while in class seven. Thankfully there was one man who graced Indian cricket two years later and I got to date someone mentally. That’s Rahul Dravid, and I have been a fan for the past twenty years.
I watched so much cricket over the next couple of years that I almost failed my exams. The years that followed were also the time when we saw the Kargil war, and it left a lasting impact on me. That was the time when I started writing, articles, a love letter to a war hero, and also a few poems. Now, my father was teaching Geography at a boy’s college. The year I wanted to take up English honours that same college, St Edmunds decided to take a few girls, if they had good grades in humanities. So you can imagine how it was. I was in Loreto Convent for eleven years and then for my plus two in another very strict girls college. Seeing so many boys around would do little for my confidence for the first fifteen days.
We were always moving around in all girls groups. But the three years in college was absolute fun, and also turned this shy girl into a debater, argumentative whenever I did not agree to something. College was what made me realize the freedom I actually enjoyed, shattered taboos for me and even though it might sound clichéd, it contributed to what little I have achieved today.
I took up full time writing much later and my first film as screenplay writer Ri, won the National Award for the Best Khasi Film. And since then I have been writing each day.
Tell us about your last project Onaatah
It was right after we finished Ri- Homeland of Uncertainty that we started working on the script of Onaatah – of the earth. The judiciary would take its own course and give them justice. But would they have their share of joy? Would they get their share of love and respect in the society? Why would they be deprived of their lives?
With that thought started the screenplay of Onaatah and the director and I kept working on various drafts, reworking, reframing, and rethinking the characters. When Onaatah was finally made we hoped people would choose to identify with the choices the female protagonist was making. The film being awarded at the 63rd National Film Awards was, of course, a encouraging and the film also hit the theaters around that time. The appreciation we received from the people made me realize that I need to reach out to more people. By then I had lived with Onaatah for almost a couple of years and wanted to reach out to more people with her story. That was also the reason for adapting the film into a book. There are people who help Onaatah heal and they were never given due space in the film, because we do have a time constraint while making a motion picture. In a book however I had the opportunity to write about Onaatah’s journey and about the choices she makes in life.
I had approached Readomania with the book idea of Onaatah. Readomania also had published my previous book A Thousand Unspoken Words and I have also been part of many of their anthologies. When Onaatah was accepted by them, I knew I had a chance to give voice to my characters one more time.
Tell us about any current projects or initiatives you wish to promote
I am currently working on my next film titled Iewduh. Iewduh is the largest and the oldest market of Shillong. The film is based on the market and talks about unusual relationships.
A support group named Onaatah- for the survivors of sexual and domestic violence- or just women who need to reach out to a friend, is something I and my friends are working on. It is still not a reality; we are taking baby steps, planning etc and hope to have something to offer by the end of this year.
What has been your biggest challenge in achieving your success?
Of course my erratic schedules, laziness and a complete lack of discipline. Concentration levels have never been something I have been proud of and this causes a lot of waste of time and energy. Also, learning the nuances of screenplay writing has been a challenge too.
What has been your greatest achievement personally?
Nothing much to talk about until now. I believe I have reached just the halfway mark of my life. Maybe will have an answer to this thirty-five years later.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing?
Now this is a scary question. I would still be working at some Television channel, digging out TRPs, making channel strategies and reports and posting sad statuses on social media. But this option is really boring so in my parallel dream world I believe I would be selling vegetables outside William Thacker’s house with a blue door in Notting Hill.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
The common Indian man/woman, the nameless faces on the road, public transports, government offices, cafes, sports stadiums. It is they who give me story ideas. They remind me that in spite of the heat, corruption, poverty, heartbreaks, and terror attacks; they continue to celebrate life. What bigger inspiration might a writer have?
What does the future hold for you?
I want to write more, a lot more than I am doing now and maybe make more than one film a year. I want to work on issues that will help me connect with the grass root level. Even though there has not been too much of progress on that front, I am optimistic about achieving it. Also, I would want to shift to a smaller city and never come back to a metro.
Based on a National Award Winning Film:
Is there justice outside courtrooms for a rape victim? The law might take its own course, but what does a woman do when the society shuts its door on her?
Onaatah, a young victim of sexual assault, is shattered from inside. Shunned and shamed by the society, including the man she loved, she sees a very long and hopeless road ahead of her. When almost on the brink of giving up, she makes a journey, in search of hope, to discover her purpose in life. Along the way, she explores diversity of relationships and realises love has a vast and varied meaning.
Does she find what she is looking for? Does she remain a victim or emerge as a survivor?
“I must say that all of us were very taken up with this film (Onaatah). It’s a very admirable effort and the way it has been dealt with, very sensitively and very nicely. It is indeed one of the nicest films I have seen.”
– Ramesh Sippy
Chairperson of jury for
Feature category of NFA.