The Aram Nagar Documentary

An introduction to the Aram Nagar Project. A documentary where I want to explore this place called Aram Nagar.

I won’t be exaggerating if I said that Bollywood fuels the dreams of millions of people and gives hope to billions. I have been so enamored by it that my first book, The Nidhi Kapoor Story (2015) was all about it!

And then, thanks to luck, sometime in 2018 I met Shikha and we somehow created The Red Sparrow (largely her effort) and it took me deeper into the glamourous world of the film stars that I had never imagined I could get access to.

And alongside, I saw first-hand how the world works. I saw how people you call friends stab you in the back to get a shot at fame, how guardian angels support you even if you are nobody, how the industry is and wants to remain a closed circle, how your heroes fail you, and how thousands of people chase the ever-illusive dreams of seeing their names and faces on the posters and hoardings that adorn the towns and cities across the country.

Truth be told, these dreams do come true. But only for a handful of these dreamers. The handful that “make it” make the headlines. And the hoardings. And more. The millions that are left behind are well, left behind. They become like that distant relative that you know you have to talk about but you get uncomfortable their name is brought up.

These people start their “career” in relative anonymity and spend their entire lives hoping to get that fleeting shot at fame. The hopes, more or less get dashed! Even though these people work the longest hours, in a neverending rat race. Slog the most even when they know they would likely face rejection. Face non-stop rejections, only to chin up and show up the next day. Hold their dreams the closest to their chests and open their hearts the widest. Seek and lend shoulders to others of their ilk. And hang out at communes at, well, Aram Nagar.

Aram Nagar.

Aram Nagar is where the cine aspirants go to learn the craft and hone their skills, participate in auditions that can make or break their lives, cry when the dreams are shattered, rejoice at even a remote hint of opportunity, celebrate their victories, play with each other and scheme and plot and plan and conjure elaborate ideas to get “noticed”. By casting directors, if not by the directors or producers themselves.

Aram Nagar.

A lazy village characterized by a tangled maze of gullys and dusty footpaths and bungalows in various stages of ruin. Most of these bungalows tote a “no audition” sign on their facade and yet there is always a group of “strugglers” hanging out. Hoping that they would get “spotted” and get that shot! After all, everyone has heard stories of how some random kid playing cricket at the maidaan was chosen for a meaty role. If this could happen to them, why not to us? That tiny, fragile thread that they call hope is a bitch. You don’t want to let go. You don’t want to stay tethered.

Aram Nagar.

Aram Nagar is their solace. It’s their hope. It’s where these people that want to conquer the world get called “strugglers”. A tag that gets attached to their lives till they make it.

It is this wondrous world of Aram Nagar that Mudit and I wish to explore, investigate, capture and immortalize.

Both of us are enamored by it. Both of us are keen on understanding the phenomenon. Both of us want to know more about the people that have left their homes behind. In search of what they think is their rightful place in the world.

More in the next few days as we get closer to doing this. Meanwhile, if you know people from Aram Nagar, please do connect me with them and help me pick their brains for this.

Update. 24 Jun 2021.
We put out an audition call for people that know more about Aram Nagar. Here…

The audition call for the Aram Nagar Documentary with Mudit

PS: Also, the content on this page is my version of the project. I am sure Mudit has some flavor to add. He may even disagree with a few of these things. So that.

The SoG Grant (draft)

SoG Grant – a no strings attached grant to individuals to pursue a creative project of their liking.

This is the first draft of this. Publishing to seek feedback from people. Please do let me know what you think.

TLDR: I am committing Rs. 100K a year of my money to create a microgrant for people that may need money to pursue any project of their liking. Read more for more details.

Update. On 11 Dec 2021. I am running way behind on this. Sincere apologies. Will pick this up #in2022.

Hello! Lemme talk of some themes that have shaped me and my life.

A. This couplet from Kabir.
I don’t know when or where I read this first, but this couplet resonates with me like nothing else has ever. Here it goes…

Sai itna dijiye, jaame kutumb samaay,
main bhookha naa rahoon, sadhu na bhookha jaaye

Attributed to the poet Kabir, though I am not sure.

This translates loosely into, “Oh, Lord, give me enough to take care of my family. Enough that I don’t sleep hungry and yet have enough left to support others that may ask me for it.”

B. Giants, their shoulders, and their kindness.
All my life, I have benefitted immensely from the kindness, generosity, and shoulders of strangers and giants. Whatever little I know or whatever tiny I have has come to me because I was a beneficiary of an unexpected gift. Each time, some chance brought me close to strangers and they were unnaturally kind to support me and literally changed the trajectory of life altogether. From my admission into MDI to my first real “education” with Raj at CLA; to the startup with Kunal; to Suvi’s blind faith in me; to the mad dream that we had at 5X5; to Social Wavelength’s risky bet on me; to Rajesh Sir’s support for C4E and me, each “career” move happened because these literal strangers trusted me and allowed me to make mistakes. I was on a long leash and I could learn all that I wanted to. and countless others that have helped me do things.

Even in terms of people that sort of mentored me (the list is a mile long and if I were to make that in public, this post would run in hundreds of pages), they did so without expecting anything in return. They were truly the giants that gave me their shoulders to stand on and look farther. The following quote, again I dont know by who describes me the best…

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

More about it here.

It essentially means that giants (and strangers) that have achieved a lot more than me have allowed me to learn from their experience and build my life on top of their work.

Isnt all life that? Arent all great innovations not built on top of what others have done prior? That.

C. I stumbled on this post from Thejesh where he has created a “no strings attached” microgrant in memory of his mother.
The idea is fairly simple. He created a tiny corpus from his savings to create opportunities for people that are little less lucky than him. He says, “I am creating a yearly $1000₹80,000 ₹1,00,000 micro-grant to support something meaningful. Grant is named after my mother – Nagarathna. The reason for grant could be anything as long its meaningful to you and people around. Though I prefer free and open source or creative commons projects, It’s not a must. It’s a no strings attached grant.”

I have always thought about giving back paying it forward, even though my own house has never been in order. All the “projects” I created as C4E partnerships were attempts at paying it forward. However, since I know that that model is essentially broken, I need to find an alternative to continue to pay forward. Thejesh’s post comes at the right time. And thus, the SoG Grant!

So, combining A, B and C, presenting The SoG Grant!

Hello, SoG Grant!

Inspired by Thejesh and others that have created microgrants (see this on Github), I hereby create The SoG Grant.

What is The SoG Grant?
SoG Grant is an attempt to pay it forward by supporting the ones that are less fortunate than I.

What is the corpus of this grant?
I will start with a total corpus of Rs. 100K from my personal savings. If I get more people to back this up, I will add on top of this. If you want to help me grow this basket, lemme know.

Update (4 Apr 2021): Krishna from Tezi.app has agreed to add another 20K to the corpus. He wants to support people building for SMEs in India.

So, as of now, it’s Rs. 120K per year. This could be given to one person or split among at most three.

Who can apply for this? Who is eligible?
I really really want this grant to help people that need it. I am not sure how I would validate the financial status but I will find a way as I go along.

No, it will NOT be easy for you to get this grant. I will make the selection process extremely difficult to weed out non-serious applicants.

Who is NOT eligible?
You have to prove your intention. While I am a dreamer and chase lofty goals that are beyond my reach, for the grant, I want to support people that are damn serious about it. You will have to prove that you have skin in the game.

What kind of projects / people would I support?
You could be whoever and you may want to do whatever. However, I’ll admit that I have a bias towards creators and education. So if you seek money for creating something or pursuing some course / education, I am more likely to support you.

Some projects that are great fit for this are…

  1. You want to take up a course that you cant afford
  2. You want to cut a music album and need money to pay for the studio etc.
  3. You want to write a book / script etc and need to pay your bills while you write it.

Please note that this is an indicative list only and the grant is available to anyone under the sun. As long as i believe what you do has the potential to make a difference.

Who can apply?
Anyone. From India.
I don’t know how to do the logistics of expanding it beyond borders.

What’s the catch?
No catch. I dont want you to thank me. I dont want you to include the C4E logo in what you do. I dont care if you forget me. All I care for is that you are accountable to me. That’s it. And no, I dont care about output. As long as you are good with the input, I am ok.

How can you apply?
I will announce more details over the next few days. I am hoping for the following timelines…

  • Applications Open: April July 2021
  • Application Deadline: May Aug 2021
  • Decision and Disbursal: June Sep 2021

In case you need this money urgently, do write in and I will make exceptions.

So that’s about it. Do let me know should you have any questions. More on the next few days.

Thank You!

33rd day of 30 days of writing challenge

Commentary on the 30 days of writing everyday challenge that I took in Nov 2020. I reflect on the experience and I talk about what next for me.

Time flies. And how.

I did not realize when these 30 days that I was supposed to write for every day got over. I started on the 30th of Oct and published 23 posts (including this over) over the last 33 days.

Like most projects, the first few days were exciting. The next few, drab. And the last few, a pain. As I end this project today, it’s time to reflect, catalog some thoughts, gather some ideas and move on.

Here we go.

The Project

I’ve always known the importance of writing well. And one of the key components of writing well is to write often. It is exactly like building muscle, running, or meditation. You cant reap benefits if you do 24-hour sprints. You have to do it every day. Slowly, deliberately and with intention. As Will Smith calls it, brick by brick.

The idea of this project was to develop a deliberate, regular writing habit. Stack them bricks. On that count, I think I did ok. That was the primary benefit I was seeking. So, Check!

The secondary benefit I wanted was to get active on this domain (saurabhgarg.com). I have my content scattered all over the internet and if I were to point people at one direction, I don’t think I’d be able to. Plus, increasingly, our personal brands are getting more and more important and thus it was imperative to create a homepage for self. I am not sure if I’ve met that objective. So, half-check.

Finally, I wanted people to read what I write, send me feedback, and help me get better. Even though I wrote a lot, I haven’t been able to get that. So, fail.

While I can end the post here, I do want to take the opportunity to talk more about the project and a few things that I am taking away.

A. On Writing

I have been writing and publishing my thoughts online since 2004 (on my personal blog) and it has helped me in numerous ways. I have made friends. I have learned new things. It lead me to a book! It has allowed me to expand my world. It has opened new work opportunities.

However, it has remained a mere hobby that I have been damn serious about. Also, I think writing keeps me sane. Writing allows me to feel that I have someone to talk to (#foreverAlone). It gives me that voice that I think is getting heard by someone, even strangers, in this world full of cacophony. Even if no one is responding to what I write. I write for the sake of writing. And then everything else (connections, lessons, opportunities, etc) is like a cherry on the cake. You know what would be the icing on top of the cherry on top of the cake? Ability to make a sustainable and lavish living with what I write! In fact, I’ve thought often about pivoting to becoming a full-time writer but it has remained a thought at best.

Three reasons.

  1. I am harsh af on myself. And I know it. To a point that I am critical. If I were my own mentor, I would have broken down. That bad. And that means even if I write a line that I think is as good as the worst that Bukowski wrote, I would consider mine as pathetic. So I am not sure if I can deliver. And thus, I am not active about seeking writing opportunities.
  2. I am not consistent. I have these bursts of creativity where I am freakishly productive and I can push out a tome in minutes. Words flow like tears flow in saas-bahu serials. Ideas are aplenty. Fingers fly on the keyboard to a point of producing literal sparks. And then there are days, even weeks when I just want to disappear under a rajai and not come out. Everything looks dreary. Dark clouds don’t seem to dispel. I think most artists suffer from such bouts and fluctuations (taking the liberty of comparing myself to an artist). And I don’t know a solution. The only advice I give myself at such moments is that old adage from Fitzgerald I think – live a rich life when not writing and retreat into a boring world when you write about that rich life.
  3. I never had the luxury to take long breaks to write. I’ve had to run my house. Luckily I do not have a lot of responsibilities but I do not have a freewheeling life either. Writing, thus, has always been the second or even third thing I’d do. Even these 30 days that I wrote, I would steal time after the day’s chores were done. PS: The lockdown did give me an opportunity to write. And I tried to be honest. But I could not sustain. I have nothing to blame but my laziness. So that.

While I know of these three issues and trust me when I say this, I have tried to fix these, I haven’t been able to. If you know of a way out, please do let me know.

Oh, I must mention that I believe writing can help me reach one of my #sgLifeGoals of impacting a billion lives. And this also fuels the on and off seriousness about writing. Every time I slack, I pick it up thinking writing is my shot at changing the world.

B. Traffic / Quality of writing

Like I said I have not been able to grow my audience, lemme talk more about it.

The dismal traffic on the website, despite my attempts at marketing it, tells me that either people are not keen on reading what I write or I am lousy at marketing. Lemme give numbers.

As of writing this, I have had 158 unique visitors and 600 odd page views to the website (as per Google Search console). One of these 158 is me. The second is Arti (I’ll talk about her towards the end of this post). And then there are 156 other people. And if I were to do simple maths, on simple average, it translates into 5 new users per post and 4 page views per reader. That means even the ones that read a post or two do not come back. So, dismal.

Lemme decode this.

Of course, I don’t want to be harsh on myself and I believe I am good at marketing. So, it has to be the quality of content.

This means that if I want to make a living off what I write, I need to get better. This also means that if writing has to be the tool that I use to make an impact in the world, I am failing at it. And bad. And I need to get better. And I do the word required. I read advice on writing. I practice it often enough (guess need to be more “often” with it). I follow other writers that are as widely read as the ones that wrote Geeta, Bible et al. I feel I am fairly deep with my ideas and I can explain those well to even a six-year-old. I write from the heart and I am probably as authentic as Corona beer is. I even publish often and I try to market what I write!

But, it’s not happening. I am not reaching more people. I am not expanding my world. Maybe I am in the second year of the 10-12 years it takes to be an overnight success? Maybe I am in the ninth. Who knows.

Or maybe, just maybe, Google is wrong?

C. Write AND publish thrice a week (and not daily)

Howsoever hard I may try, with all the things I do, I realized it’s impossible for me to write every day. But did manage 23 posts in 33 days. This tells me that I can definitely pull off writing every alternate day.

So when I start the next series of posts, I would aim for a 3-times-a-week cadence. I would try to better it but the thrice a week would be the bare minimum I’d want.

Oh, when I say write thrice a week, I mean I would publish thrice a week. I AM, I WAS and I WILL write every day. It could be a tiny scribble that gets lost in between the pages of notepads or it could be 2000-word posts. But I write every day. It’s the publishing that I am talking about here.

D. Acknowledgments

Oh, I can not end this post without thanking Arti. One, for painstakingly checking each post for typos. I don’t think in all the posts that I wrote, there was even one where she did not find a typo. She’s got that keen an eye. Second, the days that I did not send her the draft, she would pester me to write. Often there have been days when I wrote just because I did not want to disappoint her. I need more Artis in my life. Three, she did all this without expecting any remuneration or credits. I am not sure such selfless, such good people exist.

So yeah, thanks, Arti!

You’re awesome. The world needs more people like you. Dare you to find a typo in this one!

Other people that I have to mention here are Prakruti, Pradeep, and Suresh. For being the bouncing boards and constant encouragement nagging!

Honorary mention to the entire LFW Gang for reading and feedback.


And with that, its over and out from this one. I will be back with the next project soon. Till then, do let me know how I can improve my work. And do follow me on Twitter 😀

Over and out!

Review – Durgamati (2020)

A short review of an upcoming Amazon Prime film, Durgamati. The film starring Bhoomi Pednekar in the lead role is set to release on the 11th of Dec.

I normally don’t do pop-culture-y time-bound things but over at TheRedSparrow.in (one of the things I helped start), they were talking about the upcoming film Durgamati and thus I got curious and I went ahead to write it. This is a new thing. Lemme know what you think.

Every big-budget film demands the writer to pen a plotline that is so convoluted that you need a Sherlock to unravel it. And yet you want it to be so mass-y that even a 6-year-old relates to it. After all, big monies come to the producers when the film does well in the multiplexes and the single-screen cinemas. I suspect that is what the writer-director Ashok was attempting with Durgamati as he remakes his super hit Telugu movie, Bhaagamathie (2018) in Hindi. 

The story of Durgamati

The story is of two political rivals that are at loggerheads over pretty much everything. The one in power wants to pin the blame on the one competing against him (Ishwar Prasad, played by Arshad Warsi). Since he has the judicial and political machinery working for him, it is easy. So Rawat (played by Jishnu Sengupta) and Mahie Gill (her character’s name is not clear in the trailer) plot against Prasad. They try to manipulate Chanchal Chauhan (played by Bhoomi Pednekar), an old accomplice of Prasad, into conspiring against him. Chanchan is in prison because she was caught murdering a man in broad daylight.  

They put her in the holding at the Durgamati Haveli, which is apparently haunted. Mahie Gill coerces Chanchan by offering her freedom if she agrees to rat against Ishwar. Chanchan of course refuses. 

And thus starts the story of Durgamati. And the Haveli. And the film. 

What works for me? What does not?

What stands out for me, even though I first saw the trailer on the tiny screen of an iPhone X is the lavish, grand sets and impeccable CG. The cinematography by Kuldeep Mamania is brilliant. Mamania was a camera person in the critical and commercial hit Tumbaad (2018) as well. Even though the standards of visuals (a marriage of art direction, costumes, camera, and of course direction) in India have been raised to the Hollywood-ish levels in recent years, this one is still among the best I’ve seen. The shots look grand, crisp, and make me want to actually navigate the Durgamati Haveli in real life! 

I have to give a special mention to the art direction. The details are, well, detailed! I mean look at this shot. What do you think those windows at the back look like to you? 

Screengrab from the trailer of Durgamati.

As a big fan of Mahie Gill’s work in Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (2011), Dev D (2009), and Gulaal (2009), I expected a lot more from her. She looks unconvincing as a cop. I do hope that in the film she is more powerful. 

Arshad Warsi, again, to me looks unconvincing as a politician. I half expect him to break into a joke with every line he delivers.

Bhoomi Pednekar as the lead has done a decent job with the acting. When I see getting dragged for the interrogation, I see her plight. When she becomes the all-powerful Durgamati, I feel her power. However, the couple of dialogues that she has in the trailer, they lack any punch.

Also, for some reason, while I was watching it, I could not stop drawing comparisons with Vidya Balan in Priyadarshan’s Bhool Bhulaiyaa (2017), which itself was a remake of a Malayalam film. The mood, the costumes, the music, the frames reminded me of the film that was released 13 years ago. But then maybe it’s just me – an old, self-confessed discerning cinephile. 

I am told that the Telugu film was a phenomenon! However, I have not seen the Telugu film and thus can’t really draw parallels. What I do know is that as a standalone piece of work, I may not be too keen to watch Durgamati in the cinemas even though it promises to be a cinematic treat.

But hey, there are no cinemas and with it streaming on Amazon Prime, I might as well! 

What do you think of the trailer? 

PS: Like with all reviews that I post, I wish to draw your attention to this speech by Anton Ego.


This is part of 30 minutes of writing everyday challenge. Others in the series are at 3010, 3110, 0111, 0211, 0311, 0411, 0511, 0611, 0911, 1011, 1211, 1311, 1411, 1511, 1611, 1711, 1811, 1911, 2011, 2311, 2611.

Coming of Age

Back after 2 days. I read somewhere that when you are trying to build a habit, it’s cool to miss things for a day once in a while. The odds of you coming back are about 70%. If you however miss what you are doing two days in a row, the odds of you picking it up again drops down to low double digits. And if you miss three days in a row, the odds are less than 5% that you would pick the habit again. So, here I am. Not missing the third day.

When I say “Coming of Age”, I do not mean Bildungsroman (the German word that doesn’t really have an equivalent in other languages, but is applied to a young adult and means something like growing up). The word merits an entire book to be honest. May be at some other time. Today I want to talk about some other coming of age.

The coming of old age.

A rant about how age is creeping up on me and rendering me useless to function in the society that I need to be young and fast to operate in.

Once upon a time…

I remember there was a time when I could pull all-nighters for like 3 days nights on the trot. Without any fancy coffee, tea. May be I’d have a Red Bull but I don’t think I had the money those days to buy Red Bull. That’s not the point. The point is that I could stay awake for more than 3 days and yet no bat an eyelid. And function at more than my optimal. I was like Popeye with Spinach running through his veins, a car on Nitro boost, Bradley Cooper on NZT-48 in Limitless.

To a point that people would ask me if I was ODing and abusing substances.

However…

With time, I have seen this ability to stay up gradually diminish.

From uncountable streaks of these three-day don’t-sleep and crank-out-things fests to now a time when I cant get by even if I stay up beyond 8 PM. Take yesterday for an example. It sucks that age is creeping up on me like that.

Source: pa3kc on DeviantArt

Mind you, this ability did not go poof like that one fine day. It crept away from me. Like you know you have this house (imagine Carl and Ellie’s house in Up) tied to a million Helium air balloons. And as it goes up, the balloons start popping out and the house can no longer continue going up. In fact, the weight in the house starts to drag it back.

That is how I feel!

With each passing day the body seems to be weathering more and more and the ability to recover seems to be reducing more and more.

In the end…

As I write this, it’s 4:06 PM. I have just woken after an afternoon siesta. I did not really want to sleep in the afternoon. I just could not continue to stay up because I had to pull an all-nighter for a project that I was working on.

I need to go stretch my rickety old back and lie down on a hard surface till I feel like a human again.

That’s about it. That’s the post.

Oh, and, FUCK YOU, OLD AGE!


This is part of 30 minutes of writing everyday challenge. Others in the series are at 3010, 3110, 0111, 0211, 0311, 0411, 0511, 0611, 0911, 1011, 1211, 1311, 1411, 1511, 1611, 1711, 1811, 1911, 2011, 2311.