For Sejal Pachisia ’13, arriving at Princeton from Bangalore (Bengaluru), India, was an opportunity to explore. She switched majors from mechanical engineering to psychology before finally settling on economics. She also discovered a passion for theater and screenwriting.
“I’ve always loved writing as a hobby,” Pachisia says. When she traveled to Galway, Ireland, for a summer program focused on Irish theater, Pachisia wrote her first play. That was the initial spark.
In May, Pachisia won first place in the Cinestaan India’s Storytellers Contest for her script, On The Boundary. It’s a coming of age story about a teenage boy who wants to be a cricketer. The main character was inspired by both Pachisia and her brother, she says. The story tackles struggles between collective and individualistic values.
“It’s really a story about coming to peace with who you are and what you want from life, even if it’s not what everyone expects from you,” Pachisia says.
Pachisia initially thought of the story and wrote the first act four years ago. Then the competition inspired her to pick it back up and finish. It took eight months and many writes and rewrites. At one point when Post-it notes were scattered around her room, she stopped and rearranged them to help figure out where the different scenes should go.
She also workshopped her draft with other writers to get feedback and studied different movies. One of the keys to screenwriting is structure, Pachisia says. “In a movie every single scene needs to reveal something about your character, or it needs to move the plot forward.”
While screenwriting has been her hobby for years now, winning this competition was truly validating, Pachisia says. More than 3,000 writers entered. When the panel of judges announced the top five scripts live on YouTube, Pachisia assumed her story didn’t make the cut once the fifth, fourth, and third place finalists were announced. “I had actually given up… and then when they announced my name in the first place, I was pretty shocked.”
Pachisia won a cash prize of about $33,000 and received feedback on her script. Now, “my main focus is just improving the script to the point where I can potentially pitch it to studios,” she says. She’s identified a few in India to approach about turning it into a movie.
The entire process of working on this script and submitting it to the contest also served as a learning moment, Pachisia says. While skills and talent are important, Pachisia says, she has come to realize environment and circumstances can play a big role in accomplishing goals. The deadline of this competition was the driving force that helped her finally finish.
“I’m a big believer in not agonizing so much about changing yourself,” she says. “Just try to change your environment to make it a little bit easier for you to live the way that you aspire to live.”