The story of how Akshat Verma’s script of the black comedy Delhi Belly (2011) got produced is often cited to discouraged strugglers. The story goes that filmmaker Kiran Rao picked up the script from a neglected heap lying at the office of her husband, the actor and producer Aamir Khan. She began reading the screenplay and convulsed into uncontrollable fits of laughter. The rest is history. But rather than waiting for serendipity to make its entrance, the production company Drishyam Films has launched an initiative to encourage aspirants to take the first step towards fame and possible fortune.

Drishyam Films, founded up by Manish Mundra, has launched a month-long online competition called Quest For Stories on its official website. The competition, which will run until April 20, invites writers to submit their concepts. Five stories will be selected and developed into film scripts. The competition especially hopes to attract small-town talent.

Drishyam has previously produced such acclaimed movies as Ankhon Dekhi (2014), Masaan (2015), Umrika (2015) and Dhanak (2016). Low budgets, social themes, and realistic storytelling unite the diverse narratives. “We have been doing content-driven cinema for the last three years and we want to continue doing so,” Mundra said. “Our vision is to reach into the heartland of India and tell stories from the small towns and cities.”

Mundra has announced a fee of Rs 5 lakh for the rights of each story. The acquisition fee is what will encourage applicants, Mundra told “One aspect of filmmaking that is ignored is content development, and writers are not rewarded properly,” he said. “I hope to be able to find the best kind of writing talents with this initiative and help them turn their stories into a reality.”

Manish Mundra.
Manish Mundra.

Mundra launched the competition after his collaboration with the Sundance Institute Lab Program did not produce the results he was hoping for. In 2015, the producer had collaborated with the institute founded by Robert Redford to support independent filmmakers. The Drishyam-Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab hoped to mentor the development of local film scripts.

Nandita Das’s upcoming biopic Manto, on writer Saadat Hasan Manto, and Atanu Mukherjee’s Rukh are the two films that were developed through the initiative. The collaboration has, however, been discontinued from this year. “The collaboration with Sundance Institute had a great impact,” Mundra said. “We were getting international exposure in terms of mentoring the scripts, but many of the stories were not designed around a particular genre, an Indian theme, or a budget suiting our needs.”

While Mundra has produced Rukh, Das had to look for producers for her biopic. The new project will ensure that promising scripts are not orphaned. “With Quest For Stories, we will only select those stories that we want to convert into films,” Mundra said. “We will develop the stories into scripts, working around a particular budget. The one big difference is that previously we only mentored and then the writers had to go out and look for producers. This is not the case anymore.” The story writers will be credited when the film gets completed.

It’s apt that Drishyam has launched a talent hunt on the internet. Mundra, the 43-year old managing director of Eleme Petrochemicals Limited in Nigeria, famously turned producer after he replied to a tweet posted by filmmaker Rajat Kapoor, who was looking for funds to complete Ankhon Dekhi. “Even with my first production, Ankhon Dekhi, I did not have any film connections back in India,” Mundra said. “So in a way, am going back to social media to look for writers and stories to find interesting ideas that I can back, especially local stories about Indians.”

Drishyam Films has a busy year ahead: it will be releasing Amit Masurkar’s Newton, Rukh and Nila Madhab Panda’s Kadwi Hawa. “Two films going in production this year are Cycle and Anaam,” Mundra said. “Apart from these projects, we are looking at producing another two-three films from the Quest For Stories initiative.”