TBI has partnered with Mumbai- and LA-based talent and content management company Tulsea to get under the skin of some of the best showrunners in the business and find out what makes them tick. Here, we speak to Alankrita Shrivastava, the writer, director, and showrunner for Netflix’s Bombay Begums.
Shrivastava also co-wrote the first season and directed episodes of Amazon Prime Video’s Made In Heaven and has written and directed feature films such as Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare and Lipstick Under My Burkha.
She is currently working with Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti on the second season of Made in Heaven.
In two sentences, tell us how you became a showrunner/producer and why.
I created a bible for Bombay Begums – a show that was developed in association with Chernin Entertainment and eventually greenlit for production by Netflix India. As the creator of the show, and given my experience with writing, direction, and production, it just felt like the right time and project for me to transition to the role of showrunner.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
I think the hardest part of my job was to strike the right balance between staying true to the vision I had for my show and the budget allocated. Reworking scripts so they fit the budget without having to make undesirable compromises, to cut down locations, and contain the number of shooting days – I found that challenging. It was also very difficult to do the post-production of the show and deliver it in the midst of the pandemic. It was a very lonely journey to finish the show.
What’s the best part of being a showrunner/producer?
The fact that you get to tell your story exactly the way you want to. Telling your story in series format provides so much room for exploration – of your story, your characters. I think the kind of overarching direction you can give to the material in terms of cast, tone, vibe… I love that. It’s more than just directing episodes. It’s finding and infusing meaning in moments through an entire season.
What single action most helped you to become a showrunner/producer?
The fact that I had an original idea for a show, and I was able to write a long and detailed bible on my own. My bible was almost 70 pages with a clear outline for every episode, all characters etched out. And of course it helped that I was already writing and directing features, and I had already written and directed for another show. I think I was totally ready to showrun!
What is the biggest single challenge facing the industry?
In India, I think it’s the self-censorship that has become normalized. There’s a lot of self doubt – ‘can we say/show this’ – because there is fear of backlash.
How can the industry improve diversity off-screen?
I think more women have to be hired pro-actively for writers’ rooms, as directors, as showrunners. Specifically with respect to India, to start addressing caste/religious discrimination, writers and directors from minority groups have to be hired and enabled. But it has to go beyond hiring, new talent must get the space and support to tell the stories they want to tell, the way they want to tell them, from their own authentic perspective.
Name your favourite show of your lifetime?
Mad Men. My all time favourite show. More recently it has to be Succession.
Best show to be cancelled too soon?
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. I loved that show!
Which show nailed its finale and why?
After Life had a beautiful finale. For me what is beautiful is that nothing changes, yet everything has changed. There is a feeling that Ricky’s character has made peace with his wife’s death, finally. But it’s internal.
What has been your proudest moment in the industry?
I guess there isn’t one. But the joy you feel when you see people really connecting with your material. When people feel heard and seen by watching your show or film. When they feel your work gave them courage, made them think, or cry, or feel. Especially when it changed their heart. That makes everything worth it!