Five creative powerhouses who have elevated storytelling to an art
Entertainment trends come and go but what stands the test of time is a good story. Today, more than ever before, good storytelling is gaining primacy over formulaic narratives. As content becomes more diverse than ever before, here are a few creative storytellers who have rewritten conventions to redefine entertainment and expand its meaning in unprecedented ways:
Shailja Kejriwal has rewritten the rules of entertainment across the small screen, cinema, and theatre. In the 2000s, with Star Bestsellers, she launched talents like Imtiaz Ali, Rajkumar Hirani, Anurag Kashyap, Hansal Mehta and Sriram Raghavan. She has also produced acclaimed films like Madaari and Qarib Qarib Single.
As the Chief Creative Officer – Special Projects, Zee Entertainment Enterprises, she initiated Zindagi, which launched over 50 acquired shows across the border such as Humsafar, Zindagi Gulzar Hai and created original shows like Churails, Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam, Barzakh, The Pink Shirt amongst others.
By bringing international productions like The Sound of Music Live to Indian television and collating classic South-Asian stories in anthologies like Yaar Julahay and Koi Baat Chale, she has demonstrated that entertainment can build bridges between languages and cultures.
This winner of France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters), began his career by writing television serials, often without credit, and then got a break as the co-writer of Ram Gopal Varma’s cult hit, Satya. His first film Paanch never saw the light of the day but his next Black Friday announced that a new cinematic voice had arrived. Dev.D cemented his reputation as a maverick maker who was subversive, unapologetic, and brave.
Through various highs and lows in his career, what remained constant was his hunger to carve his own path as an independent maker. Gangs of Wasseypur-1 and 2, and in failure (Bombay Velvet), he remains true to his quirky vision. His latest film, Kennedy, is a neo-noir thriller that won much acclaim at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.
Vishal Bharadwaj would have been a cricketer if a thumb injury and a family tragedy had not put an end to his sporting career. It was his passion for music that eventually took him towards cinema, the path he was truly destined for.
He made his mark as a composer in Gulzar’s poignant masterpiece Maachis and ventured into filmmaking with a diverse range of works like the children’s film Makdee, the crime thriller Kaminey, and the acclaimed trilogy based on Shakespeare’s classic plays (Maqbool, Omkara, and Haider).
With an array of accomplishments, including eight National Film Awards and a Filmfare Award, he is known for his ability to create complex, yet relatable characters and tell authentic Indian stories that are truly clutter-breaking.
The teaser of Sam Bahadur, a biographical war drama based on the life of India’s first field marshal, Sam Manekshaw, has created a sensation. And reminded the trade watchers and audiences that Meghna Gulzar is a filmmaker with a distinct ability to bring unheard stories to life. Her first two films, Filhaal and Just Married, did not however do well, even though they tackled unusual subjects like surrogacy and incompatibility.
She proved her mettle with Talvar, a gut-wrenching investigative thriller, and followed its success with Raazi, a blockbuster spy drama headlined by Alia Bhatt and Vicky Kaushal. It grossed over ₹1.96 billion worldwide and also earned her the prestigious Filmfare Award for Best Director.
What sets her apart is her eye for detail, her sensitive portrayal of a diverse range of characters and empathy as exemplified in the Deepika Padukone starrer Chhapaak. All eyes are now on Sam Bahadur and on how she has handled an important chapter of history.
One of the leading female directorial voices in the industry, Zoya Akhtar now also heads a bustling production house, Tiger Baby Films, along with longtime associate Reema Kagti. She is currently making news for the impending release of the nostalgia-evoking The Archies, a live-action musical comedy set in the 1960s. What defines her trajectory is her ability to tell fresh stories in a commercial format.
Be it the introspective gaze of her debut film Luck By Chance, the themes of self-discovery and complex human relationships in hits like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Dil Dhadakne Do, or the gritty portrayal of Mumbai’s underground hip-hop scene in Gully Boy (India’s official entry for the Best International Feature Film category at the Oscars), she has always told stories that she believes in.
Two seasons of her production Made in Heaven have also established her as a maker who wants to find nuance even in something as conventional as the great Indian wedding.