Thursday, Jul 07, 2022

Writer Harman Wadala Wanted To Break Stereotypes Around Punjabis with 'Tabbar'

Harman Wadala is gaining all the accolades for his writing in Sony Liv’s 'Tabbar'. In an exclusive conversation with Outlook, he talks about his journey as a writer and the creative process behind the characterisation of 'Tabbar'.

Writer Harman Wadala

Tell us about your journey and struggle as a writer.
I started writing short films while studying engineering at Thapar University. Since then, I have realised that I have a lot to offer as a writer so I hardly work on someone else’s project. I have made a conscious effort to develop my own concepts into scripts because they are close to my heart and I’ll go to any lengths to make them work. My only struggle as a writer is discipline. It’s very hard to sit every day and churn 4-5 pages and at least 1 good page. As Stephen King says, “Writing is a lonely job. Having someone believe in you makes a lot of difference.” In my case, it’s my parents.
How did 'Tabba'r happen and what was the idea behind the show and what were the major challenges you faced while writing Tabbar?
I had already started working on the concept in 2018 but the feeling of creating it got much stronger when I was at my hometown with my parents in the lockdown. Due to the rise in OTT platforms, my whole family sat down during dinner to watch web series and movies. We finished watching 'The Family Man' and my parents loved it. They wanted to explore more web content and that's where the problem began. I realized that there was a shortage of family content on OTT platforms. I loved 'Sacred Games' and 'Mirzapur' but couldn’t recommend that to my parents because of the vulgarity and nude scenes. I wanted to create something relatable, fresh, and yet which could appeal to each and every family. A show which I could watch with my parents without the hassle of changing channels repeatedly to avoid awkwardness with them.
It seems sort of a clash between two creative minds churning on something together. How was it working with Ajitpal, and how does his direction influenced your story?
Trust me, even I had the same fear when I met Ajitpal sir. But when I saw his Sundance nominated film 'Fire in the Mountains'. I was totally flabbergasted by the way he gave attention to each and every detail minutely. His approach towards his film is really simple yet it will pierce inside and touch you in many ways. Since then, I knew that my script was in the right hands. Before the shoot, he sat with me to understand my vision. I told him about my parents, my household and how I see this show as realistic as possible. Trust me, being a native Punjabi, he could totally relate to me. I am happy that he showed the kind of Punjab which actually exists in the real world and not just in the reel world. Ajitpal sir is a gem of a person.
Tell us more about the creative process behind the story of 'Tabbar' and where did you get your inspiration for penning down the characters?
I started writing the story of 'Tabbar' because I wanted to see something like that on the screen one day. I got irritated with the way Punjabi films show the caricaturist characters. Though not all of them, the last time Punjabis were seen real on the screen was in the film 'Angrej', I wanted to break this stereotype. The characters are totally inspired by my own family. Omkar Singh is inspired by my father, Sargun by my mother, Tegi by my younger brother Love and Happy is just me. My sister couldn’t make it till the last draft because of some plot points. Maybe that’s the reason that the audience is finding the characters too realistic and relatable. 
Apart from the popularity of the show, many compared 'Tabbar' with the Tamil movie 'Drishyam' and find similarities between the two stories? What are your views on it?
I can totally understand that. The premise is very much similar. But that doesn’t mean they both are the same. 'Tabbar' is a highly intense dark thriller where the morality of a common man is questioned. My main focus wasn’t on how far a family will go to protect their loved ones. It’s already been said multiple times but the journey of a regular person who gradually loses what’s human inside him just to protect his family is what fascinated me to write this story. In Omkar, I could see clearly the tragedy of a man’s moral corruption. 
Expansion of OTT brought quite a lot of changes in the stories and thus the audience, how does it help a writer?
The long format has changed the way we experience stories. Web series build curiosity episode by episode. They keep the viewer engaged for a longer time, entertaining them even more. Because the story is scattered in multiple episodes, writers get enough time to fully develop the characters. The subject can be explored in detail, giving the viewer an in-depth insight into the topic. Movies, on the other hand, are made for the masses and miss out on a chunk of the audience. There was a time when a Friday would pull the crowd to the theatre; that equation is now changing. A season premiere of a popular series has the same crowd-pleasing potential and effortlessly drives more subscriptions and renewals.
Debate over censorship on OTT platforms is no new, what are your views on it?
As per my opinion, there must be censorship on OTT content but it is different from regular movie censorship as the OTT scenario is very much different from regular Cinema. There can be a requirement of censorship on some parameters such as nudity, violence, anti-religious and anti-national content. But it should not hamper the flow of the storytelling
You are working on Luv Ranjan’s 'Wild Wild Punjab', share some insights about your upcoming project?
It's going to be a fun ride. That's all I can reveal about it right now.