"Don’t follow techniques, follow your heart and the techniques will follow your story"
Rakesh Dasgupta is a Los Angeles based writer & actor. His feature screenplay "Shiva", recently won Best Drama screenplay at the New York Film Awards.
In "Shiva", a South Asian movie star in Hollywood struggles to hide his troubled family history as his advancing terminal illness threatens to destroy an unfolding romance.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Rakesh about his early life in India, his career as an actor, and the writing process of Shiva.
Tell us about your background. When did you decide to become an actor?
Firstly I would like to thank New York Film Awards for selecting Shiva as the Best Drama Screenplay. I would like to thank New York Film Awards for this interview . The questions you are asking me, I mean, I can’t give out everything, it’ll be scary. Some things will just remain answered and will go with me in my grave.
I am native Indian. I was born in India. I left India after completing my Bachelors degree and moved to Australia. I pursued my Masters degree in Australia and ended up doing a double Masters. I guess I have studied so much in this life that some credits should roll over to my next birth so then I could relax a little bit then. A Masters in Accountancy and Finance and then weirdly I became a police officer. But I guess, my fate was writing something else for me. I quit every single comfort to become an actor.
When I was working as a police officer, I realized I am cheating myself. My heart was somewhere else and I was somewhere else. That’s it. Overnight, I decided that I’m not going to do anything else but follow my heart. And the rest is in front of you...
What made you choose to go into screenwriting?
I didn’t choose to go into screenwriting. It just happened. I have never taken any screenwriting lessons, never been to any screenwriting classes. I didn’t know anything about screenwriting and that’s just a fact. Apparently, it’s a crime to write a screenplay without taking screenwriting lessons. Apparently, you need to know the “formula” to write a good screenplay. Anyway, there was a time when I couldn’t get an opportunity to open my mouth for weeks. I was kind of forgetting if I could speak at all, if I really had any voice. It was painful and that voice needed to come out and eventually it did come out. It came out in the form a screenplay.
Do you have an acting or writing role models? What inspires you in your work?
I have never followed any writer otherwise I would know that hit screenwriting formula. As far as acting is concerned, I like the way Johnny Depp presents a character. It is always a learning experience watching him on screen.
The fact that I can entertain people with my work, is what inspires me. The fact that my work can bring smile in someone’s face in their saddest times, is what inspires me. The fact that I can scare the shit out of someone brave through my work, is what inspires me. The fact that I can make someone cry during their happiest times, is what inspires me. I don’t know how I do it but I can just do it.
Your moving screenplay, “Shiva”, recently won the well-deserved Best Drama Screenplay award at our film festival, and we couldn’t help but notice that your character SHIVA and you have a few things in common. What inspired you to write this story? How much of your own personal experience is written into this character?
Nothing inspired me to write Shiva. I didn’t know the story. I didn’t know any of the characters in Shiva. I didn’t even know who is Shiva. But there was this face that was popping up every time in front of my eyes as I kept scribbling with my pen. I still don’t know whose face was that. I could also hear his voice but I still don’t know whose voice was that.
Many have said that this story is my biopic. It is not. It is not my biopic. I am still searching for that face that was popping up when I was writing Shiva. I wish I could see his face or hear his voice again. That face is Shiva, that voice is Shiva but who is he? I still don’t have an answer to that. May be one day I will see him again...
What would you say is the main theme of the story? Why did you choose to deal with this matter over the silver screen?
Shiva is about DREAMS. Shiva is about BELIEF. Shiva is about LIFE. Shiva is about LIVING. Shiva is about LOVE. Shiva is about RELATIONSHIPS. Shiva is about TRUST. Shiva is about SADNESS. Shiva is about MADNESS. Shiva is about HAPPINESS. Shiva is about NO FEAR. Shiva is about BEING HUMAN.
Shiva has not gone to the silver screen yet. But it will soon.
Shiva starts at a very low point in your story, seems to get no sympathy from most of the people around him. What messages were you hoping to send across through these interactions?
I was not hoping to send any message. Post Offices and mailboxes are there for that and they do a great job. May be Shiva was reflecting the word “BELIEF” which I personally think is lacking in today’s world - “Believing in yourself.” If someone can see themselves in that reflection, I guess that could be termed as a message.
The relationship between Shiva and Kristy is rare and unique. You created two very humane characters with captivating personalities, that made them both relatable, even when their relationship wasn’t as sturdy. Tell us about the writing and development process of these two fascinating characters.
Honestly, I don’t know anything about this development process. I have no idea if there was any process.
Insecurities stop people from saying and doing a lot of things. The relationship between Shiva and Kristy remains interesting and as you said “unique” because both of them suffer from certain insecurities in their lives and those insecurities were creating this huge wall. Eventually, the wall breaks but...
Shiva hides an important fact about him from Kristy (“Some things are best left unsaid”), which leads to a very intense reveal and a shockingly unusual ending to the story. It’s safe to say that this screenplay is a much needed rarity in the Hollywood film industry. What do you think about happy endings, and why did you choose to do the opposite?
A movie with a happy ending is good, I love it.
But I couldn’t take that wall anymore. That wall needed to break...
The dialogue in your screenplay is always sharp and clever, and feels realistic and life-like all the way through. Tell us about the process of writing for your characters. How did you manage to give each of them such a unique voice?
There was and there is no process. I didn’t give the characters any voice. It’s their own voice. I could hear Sophia talking to Shiva. I could see Sophia touching Shiva. I saw all of it but I don’t know who they are. So, I didn’t give those characters anything from my end. I just wrote what I heard and saw.
What are your tips for up-and-coming screenwriters?
Art is not about 2+2 = 4. There is no formula. YOU are the formula.
Don’t follow techniques, follow your heart and you’ll see those techniques are following you.
If you are needing alcohol or drugs to write, you’re are not living - go do something else.
What was your biggest challenge in working on this script? What did you learn from this experience?
My biggest challenge in writing Shiva was to have a normal life like everyone else and write Shiva at the same time. I didn’t have a set time everyday to write Shiva. I was not waking up everyday in the morning at 8am and write from 8:30am till 10:30am. I could not write anything until I could see or hear those voices and those flashes used to come to me without notice. I remember I was working at this restaurant at the time and one day, while I was talking to the guests, suddenly I could see this particular scene, the visuals and the voices were floating right in front of my eyes. So I then rushed to the restroom to keep a note of what I saw. And then after I came home, I would write that down. I almost lost my sanity.
What are you working on now?
Trying to give Shiva “life.”
If you could work with anyone in the world, who would that person be?
Please share with us where people can find you on social media, so our readers could keep track of your career :)
IMDB - imdb.me/rakeshdasgupta
INSTAGRAM - @rakeshdasguptaofficial
FACEBOOK - @rakeshdasguptaofficial