My name is Neeraj Katyal. I’m from Long Island and my parents are from India, which are two places that most people don’t want to be from. For what it’s worth, I’m quite proud of my roots.
I grew up in Smithtown, about 50 miles east of New York. (If you really want to get into it, I'm from St. James, which is part of Smithtown, but that's neither here nor there.)
In 2008, I sold a screenplay to Harvey Weinstein for $400,000 against $800,000. It never got made, as it faced a challenging landscape for independent films in the wake of the financial crisis. Given sustained interest in the project over fifteen years later,
I shouldn’t have sold it to anyone, much less Harvey Weinstein, The Devil's Only Son. Unfortunately-- sadly -- hindsight is 20/20. Also, at the time, I wasn’t keen on turning down the offer. It was worth a potential $800,000 in 2008 money (before residuals). Plus, Harvey Weinstein was a king whose Midas touch turned a writer's pages into Academy Awards. His films resulted in 81 Oscar wins and hundreds more in nominations. Before he read the script, I had my choice of roughly ten top producers to package the project with directors and actors, and then go out to potential buyers. I chose a former studio head who was previously named by Forbes as one of The World's 100 Most Powerful Women. She was running Disney as a woman, as a Jewish woman, as a gay, Jewish woman, and she was doing this all in her 30s.) Attaching talent would be easy, but stranger things have (and could have) happened. We closed the deal on April 14th, but the contracts weren't signed months later until August 11th -- shortly before
Lehman Brothers imploded and the economy collapsed. Financing for indie films dried up, and I wasn't going to be to be the guy at the end of the bar claiming that I could've had Meryl Streep as the second lead in my Oscar-quality screenplay. It didn't hurt that Mr. Weinstein thought the script was better than “Good Will Hunting,” which is one of my favorite films. (It was not better.)
You've seen “Good Will Hunting.” This is “Monogamous Duck.” No pun intended, but do the math.
Now, I'm no student of cinema, as I consider “Throw Momma from the Train” a masterpiece. My knowledge of drama stems from classic literature and team sports, as I root for the Mets, Jets, Knicks, and Islanders. Collectively, they’ve done nothing but cause me heartache and pain. In light of the crimes concerning Mr. Weinstein, I also choose men who cause other people pain, only with horrifying, real-world consequences. It seems male privilege knows few, if any limits. In contrast to our female peers, men are socialized to pursue and realize our ambitions. Literally and figuratively, our safe passage to Hollywood is only matched by our safe passage through Hollywood. While I explore this theme in various writings, I’d be remiss if I didn’t first mention it here.
Fast-forward to ~2024
I've been writing a book for years, and am finally finished with a draft. I'm so excited about life, which is saying a lot, as I'm always pretty excited about life. This is me, 41 years ago, on the day I finished writing my first book. (It was good, but not great.)
The manuscript I wrote at age five was about an Indian-American boy from Long Island. the current manuscript is about an Indian-American man from Queens. In terms of spirit and joyfulness, and I haven't strayed far from the kid I was in 1983. So with considerable editing and dogged revisions, I expect to have something well-crafted and heart-warming to put forth in the world.
If you need my writing help or would like to help with the draft, do reach out. It may take several days to respond, but I'm here.
Also, the button-down should be white, and the V-neck is absurd. Thankfully, I'm cuter now, and am able to dress myself in kind.
Update: I finished the manuscript. (A first draft, at least.)
Update 2: I finalized the screenplay. (The ~800th draft, for now.)
Highly capable people in Hollywood loved the screenplay back in 2015, and the “Uppercut” title as well.
That said, I don't know whether to go with “Uppercut” or “Shiva the Destroyer.” Both have their merits.
As expected, the manuscript is better than the screenplay, for all the expected reasons. The book is better than the script.
Update 3: I submitted the script to The Black List under a pseudonym. Here are a few of their thoughts.
This is a boxing movie unlike any we’ve seen. It's packed with laughs and heart, and has broad appeal and a modern feel. It evades the overly-earnest machismo of traditional movies about fighters. It refuses to treat women as prizes or victims of male aggression. It also refuses to turn its Hindu protagonist into an over-Americanized rebel against his family’s culture. It’s funny at many points throughout. Welterweight Shiva fights with his heart, his wisdom, and his keen sense of humor in real life just as hard as he fights physically in the ring. He’s Indian-American. His widower father, precocious younger sister, and lawyer older sister duck all the stereotypes. Characters are extraordinarily well-voiced and as diverse as the true population of the well-evoked setting. Even their longer speeches are engaging and readable. The action is clear and cinematic without being “voicey”. It seems impossible that Shiva could win until shortly before the last-minute climax, which is delivered as a memorable high-stakes nail-biter. The denouement will leave audiences smiling through tears.
SHIVA THE DESTROYER is the kind of cinematic, subtle, powerful film that breaks marketing departments because it's so many things. Audiences ranging from art movie fans who hate sports movies to action addicts of all genders who roll their eyes at indie dramas and comedies will enjoy it equally and it's a strong candidate for theatrical stardom. It’s hard to compare it to existing boxing movies because it knocks them all out cold. However, it has the groundbreaking underdog-hero power of the original ROCKY or MILLION DOLLAR BABY mixed with the multi-cultural authenticity of BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM or the teen series NEVER HAVE I EVER (more for the comedy than the cultural setting). While the street and crowd scenes and action make it a medium-budget rather than a low-budget project, the potential audience reach makes it viable. The brilliantly-written supporting parts could attract A-list talent, while the role of Shiva is the perfect breakout role for an up-and-coming Indian star. The writer is gifted; a new star.
Obviously, that was nice to read. Again, however, the manuscript is better than the screenplay. The book is better than the script.