Be yourself, no matter what: Niranjan Iyengar

Celebrity lyricist and talk show host Niranjan Iyengar speaks on why it is okay to be an oddball.

From a research aspirant to an avid writer of letters, writer Niranjan Iyengar has gone on to become India’s most sought after screenwriter, lyricist, talk show host and author. He dons many roles — musician, author, to hosting his talk show, Look who’s talking with Niranjan Iyengar. A Jack of all trades and master of many, he is not just an explorer but a master of everything he has explored. Excerpts from an interview.

Lessons from school:

There was a newly-started school called Adarsh High School in Dombivili, Mumbai, which was a quaint little town back then. My mom decided to let me join that school. According to her, her logic was that since the school was new, I would grow as the school grows. Initially, I was hesitant because I had friends from schools such as SSEI which was a big school with a playground. I would regret not studying there. It was only later that I realized how good my school was. The school was small with around seven classrooms. Every month we would be taken to a nearby playground for sports day. The teachers also invested in individuals and they nurtured all students. The teachers were multifaceted. For instance, the history teacher was also an avid music-lover. When we went out for trips, she would play antakshari with us. So School taught me to respect people no matter what. And that was ingrained into me deeply.

Higher education:

My college education was chequered. After school, I felt I had learnt everything I could from Dombivilli. But for vacation, I would either be at my paternal parents’ place in Chennai or with my maternal parents at Parey, which was close to the glitz and glamour of Mumbai. I went to the Williamson College. I was initially uncomfortable but then got used to it and made many friends. Then, I felt Williamson wasn’t right for me, so I told my mother I didn’t want to continue and switched to Ruhiya, where I pursued science for two years, got tired of it and wanted to do something else. What I learnt at school stayed with me in the sense that it was okay to explore different things.

Education – India Vs. Abroad:

In India, we concentrate more on frills as opposed to providing core education whereas, the reverse is true, abroad. We have started a supply chain manufacturing education. We do not really look at the holistic growth of a student.

When I was in school, I was an oddball. I had a habit of writing letters to everybody. I have written letters to Thai Airways, Queen Elizabeth and many others too. I loved writing letters. And during those times, if you didn’t put a stamp on the letters, the person receiving a letter was asked to pay the postage and get the letter. And almost 90 of the 100 letters I would write would be accepted. Some of my relatives would sometimes ask my mother as to why I did so. Mom would tell them not to pay the postage. But she never asked me to stop writing, and relatives paid to get the letters. It all eventually helped me in my writing career. As long as it is not detrimental, we should let kids explore life themselves.

What does a screenwriter do?

A screenplay writer, commonly called as screenwriter writes the scenario for films/plays in the way it needs to be played out. In other words, visual representation of the film/play in words. If that seem too technical for you, here is another way to understand it.

Script for a film = Story + Screenplay + Dialogue

Any script will have the following skeleton:

Protagonist or hero.


Antagonist – the opposition or the villain.



Between the ages of twelve and seventeen, kids are unsure of what they want to be, but society makes them want to be sure.

Let us take this instance – elders appreciate kids who know what they want; it is only but natural that a child wants to be clear. So with the limited options they have about career choices, they pretend to know what they want. This, we all know by now, is the worst way of making a choice. As a society, can we help the child explore careers instead of putting it in a spot by asking, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Can we replace this question with ‘How can I help you figure out what you want to be when you grow up?’

Tenacity is the key to success.

Any profession or art can get boring after a certain point, no matter the level of passion one brings to the table. But without tenacity, excellence is only a dream.

Message to the youth:

Everybody’s journey is unique. Be yourself, no matter how easy, torturous or long it is.

Interviewed & Written by Mala Mary Martina

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