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Podcast – Mithila Gupta: Five Bedrooms and writing for Australian TV

Screenwriter Mithila Gupta breaks down writers’ rooms, strategies for hitting deadlines, and the joy of working on Five Bedrooms.

Mithila Gupta headshot

Mithila Gupta

Find this episode of the Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, SpotifyStitcher or Pocket Casts

Mithila Gupta can remember once feeling like screenwriting was an impossible role to crack.

Gupta’s first roles in the screen industry were in the art department and she says she used to have the surge of envy seeing the scripts come in.

“I think I always put writers on a pedestal,” Gupta says. “But then eventually gave it a shot.”

Since then, Gupta has gone from a traineeship on Neighbours, to writing for Australian television series including (but not limited to) The Unlisted, Doctor, Doctor, The Heights, Playing for Keeps and both seasons of Five Bedrooms, with season 2 launching on Paramount+ on 11 August.

Throughout the latest episode of the Screen Australia podcast, Gupta explains some of the realities of being a writer for hire, including her process, switching between writing on tonally different projects, and balancing the positives of having work coming in, but navigating multiple deadlines.

Gupta also talks to her experience working with co-creators Christine Bartlett and Michael Lucas on Five Bedrooms, where she has been part of plotting in writers’ rooms and wrote an episode each on season 1 and season 2.

She explains how she was immediately drawn to the “hilarious” pilot – about five people in different stages of life who decide to buy a house together on a whim – and working with Bartlett and Lucas.

“It was exactly the kind of story I wanted to be working on,” she says.

“I [also] knew that both of them had really good intentions for getting a diverse cast on screen, but there was nothing on the page at that point because they wanted to be open to options. But it's always my thinking with that kind of thing that being specific on the page allows you to tell specific stories that can resonate for people, but then hopefully more universally.”

Together they talked about the possibility of Harry (played now by Roy Joseph) being South Asian and bringing his mother in as a character – the scene-stealer Manju (Kumud Merani).

“So all of a sudden, a character who's battling with his sexuality and finding his place in the world is now working with a cultural identity that is difficult in a country like Australia as well…. [and] that enriches the story.”

She says Bartlett and Lucas were excited about the possibilities for Harry as a character and it went from there.

“Those brainstorming sessions kind of solidified our friendship and the fact that we can work together, but also it got me to really sink my teeth into the characters,” she says.

Despite so many markers of success to date, Gupta feels like the nature of being a freelance writer means the term ‘big break’ doesn’t resonate, because you’re always looking for the next gig.

“You carry the glow of your last script… into the next job and try and build on it,” she says.

But a career milestone she is looking forward to achieving one day is getting her own series off the ground – a goal that gets closer and closer as the years go on. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Gupta says she even went into a plotting room in Mumbai for her project with EasyTiger and Fremantle India.

“I think when I'm making a story from the ground up and it's my vision, that's when I'll not say I've had a break, but I'll kind of say that I've achieved something I really want to.”

Watch Five Bedrooms season 1 on TenPlay now and season 2 when it launches on Paramount+ on 11 August.

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