I was lost. Literally. It was my second day on campus. I had attended the international students’ orientation which, on the map, was less than a mile from my apartment. I stood at an intersection, debating which way to go, knowing I had a terrible sense of direction (literally and metaphorically), without a smartphone to guide me because I had just landed in August and wanted to wait until Octoberfor the new iPhone. I played a little game of “you first” with a driver at the intersection, the concept of “right of way” still so alien to me, the alien non-immigrant in this country. I shouted out, “Please go, I have no idea where I’m going.” I was rewarded with an annoyed sigh and a whoosh of tires. I obviously hadn’t met Los Angeles drivers before.
My first screenwriting class went pretty much the same way. Having been raised on a solid dose of bad Hindi movies and worse Hindi television, I was clueless. Everyone else had either been in the industry for a while, had been writing screenplays since they were teenagers, or had been obsessed with Hollywood for a long, long time. Me? I had written short stories, watched Friends, and coolly decided I could write for Hollywood. It was a harsh wake up call. I spent a rough night googling every name mentioned that day, trying to cram everyone’s résumés and credits into my still-jetlagged brain. I didn’t even think about the fact that I had literally no idea how to write a screenplay. I was lost, again.
I thought about home a lot the first few weeks. About how easy it was to just walk up to a stranger and ask for help. About how it had been so easy to do well without trying too hard. About how everyone had expected me to be successful, but I still felt like a fraud in my heart. About how I didn’t want to let anyone down. There may or may not have been one too many tearful nights. But I pulled through. Don’t give me any credit though.
Just after I had sent off my application on November 1st 2011, I started prowling the internets, looking for clues about when I could expect to hear back. I stumbled upon the studentfilm forum and joined a thread following the application process for the UCLA MFA programme. It was thrilling to be a part of a secret group with a shared experience. To those that don’t know me, I’m not the most social person and I’ve always had trouble making friends. But in that group – strangely – I felt at home. It is no surprise to me today that the people that I met in that forum, online, before I knew any of their names or what they all looked like, are some of the best friends I have ever made in L.A., and in my life. These are the people who defined my life at UCLA, and in Los Angeles. These are the people who pulled me through – one word at a time, one script at a time, one piece of life-affirming advice at a time.
There is something about having friends who have gone/are going through your same journey. I didn’t feel the need to explain. I didn’t feel the need to hide. My “weirdness” was appreciated and understood. I spoke to people who finally understood the vague abstracts in which I had always thought my whole life. Through them I learnt the fundamentals of friendly competition, of generosity of spirit, of creative compassion. I learnt that writing is a lifelong struggle. That “kill your darlings” wasn’t just a cute, quaint expression. That being truly helped is opening myself up to questions that I was maybe not prepared to answer. That I will have to tear apart and stitch back pieces of myself with every word I wrote. That it was all okay when I had amazing friends who always, always, always had my back.
Of course, I still felt alien, I still missed references, I still don’t really “get” Beyoncé. But, surrounded by these guys, I no longer felt lost.
They made it easy to be found.