Roy D’Silva: From a Bollywood sub-titlist to creating a platform for Alternate Genre

From being a sub-titlist in Bollywood to writing content for Gaming companies and to now creating a platform for reviewing horror content, Roy’s journey has been humble, inspirational, and that of a quintessential Indian middle-class boy. With a dream of creating a platform for the Alternate Genre creators and for India’s own products, Roy is already on a mission. Read Roy’s story in this blog, for his journey, his storytelling, and his experiences. We are sure you will have a smile on your face by the end of this. Simple yet so joyous. 

Roy d Silva with Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane

Tell us about yourself? Where are you from? About your family, parents? How was your childhood?

So, I am from Mumbai, born and brought up here, though my hometown is Santhekatthe, a small fishing town a small drive away from Udupi. My family consists of my late father, mom, and brother. My childhood was a mix of boredom and entertainment.

You see, my dad moonlighted as a post-production guy. He used to subtitle movies from Hindi to English. Some of these scripts were pre-shoot scripts. That means, even the producers did not know who would be saying these dialogues. Some of these scripts were post-shoot scripts. The films were shot, and the subtitled script was required for festivals or foreign markets. These scripts had songbooks, little, colorful booklets featuring on-set photos of the movies. Those were the most influential images of my childhood. We did not have much access to color back in those days. I think it was my generation that saw the evolution from black and white tv to color tv.

On the other hand, my mom and dad gave tuitions in the house, so that brought in a lot of discipline in the household. So, my childhood was a ding-dong between the colorful, zany world of movies and the disciplined life of a tuition teacher’s son.

How did you land a job as a Bollywood Sub titlist? That is not a common starting point in this country.

By chance. We had recently shifted to a new house. For the first time in life, there was this idea that I, as an individual, needed to work to make money. During that time, Mid Day’s Big Break and Times Ascent were the two newspaper inserts that offered jobs. I had exhausted the job opportunities there and I saw an itty-bitty ad in the Classifieds section. It was a ‘come to work from tomorrow’ kind of scenario there.

Of course, the subtitling industry has evolved drastically. They subtitle in software now. Back then, I used to type a file in Word and someone else would do the timecoding. That way, creative people could subtitle. Nowadays, the same guy needs to type in the timecode as well – I think that will never get a creative guy’s juices flowing. I loved subtitling movies. My first full-fledged project was Mard (No, I am not that old, they just decided to re-release the movie somewhere). My first big project was the Bhatt Camp’s Zeher. Now, I see ads for such projects, there is simply no creativity there. They managed to convert subtitling movies into a humdrum job. Can you believe that?

Your career has some interesting turns from Bollywood to a Gaming website and back to Bollywood? How did all of this happen? Did you plan it like this, or it just came, and you seized the chances?

I did not. I was incredibly happy subtitling movies. My brother decided to get married. On a road trip to my sister-in-law’s place, my friend brainwashed me into leaving this work-from-home job and look for a real job. That is when I really ventured into the Timesjobs and Naukri territory. With no real credentials out there, all I could do was apply, apply, wait for the reply. Then, one fine day, I got a call from a company that was setting up a content department in the country. My mom used to tell me that no Indian company will ever hire me and someone from another country will have to come here to hire me. Well, that is what exactly happened. I did that for two years.

Somewhere, I had the idea of becoming a copywriter. Jobs were available back then; every employee had a low-key Timesjobs and Naukri account that they accessed during their downtime. I got a job offer from a company in Pune. I did that for two years, came back, and was instantly shot into the big leagues by becoming a content manager. In two years, I realized the Indian Gaming Industry will take decades to have their Quake or Doom moment. I moved on.

This is a question most of our readers would like to ask, so though cliched, but we will still ask? Do you know of any Bollywood celebrities?

The real answer to the question is that even celebrities do not know themselves. Their lives are much, much controlled by outside forces. By outside forces, I am not hinting at any conspiracy theory. It is like, you are VP of a company and there is an important event that the company has, and at that very moment you have an invitation to a casual acquaintance’s house party. It’s only in the movies that you will go to the house party and not to the company event. 

A celebrity’s life is all about prioritizing and making the most of the moment, I am not most of the moment for any celebrity. If you ask me whether I know some actors, well, I am on WhatsApp terms and Facebook friends terms with some of them, not the Bollywood crowd though, the ones who are now starting out in streaming, and in horror, etc. But again, I am not most of the moment for them as well. Maybe they will reply to my congratulatory WhatsApp message, but nothing beyond that.

How was your family’s reaction all this while for choosing unconventional career options back at that time?

My family knew both the kids could never work ‘for’ someone; they always knew both us would always work ‘with’ someone. Also, they knew that we had the skill and dedication to do something in life. My brother is a reputed horror fiction author today, and I am in the entertainment space as well.

You should ask me what their reaction is today when my peers drive off home at 8 PM in the evening from a party because they have to reach the office at 9 AM. These guys are not small fry, okay? They run entire departments in financial institutions and report to the top floor in entertainment and media companies. Yes, they make much more money than me. They have their vacations (I think they call it vacays now) in some of the most exotic places in the world. But I know they must demand it, if not fight for it. I know that from the first day of their vacay to the end, they have this dreadful feeling of ‘Monday, I have to work’. I do not.I am writing about movies from my suburban flat. That does not mean I have tons of money. I can never afford a holiday like that, unless, I do not know, Reliance buys up my investor. But what I have is peace of mind and the joy of living a low-key life.   They are whizzing off in their Honda City at 8 PM and I am singing and making merry until 1 AM because I have already worked for tomorrow and need not bother. I still must travel in a rickshaw, though, even an Uber is sometimes expensive for me.

To do what I do, your family needs to be an incredible support system. My family was that. My spouse is that. They understand my inherent need to do my own thing. That does not mean I do not understand my responsibility. I realize it’s all fun and games until that electricity bill hits home.

They have been an incredible support. It was not easy being a content writer in Mumbai in 2005 and my parents took that well. To people who understood, they described. To people who did not, they said, “He makes money legally, that’s enough.” People would look at you with puzzled faces. The questions would be like, “So, he just writes? And he makes money?” That was more infuriating than IT companies putting content writers under IT project heads. We were just a resource for them. They had absolutely no idea of what content writing is. Content writing is a fun task. You either write something of your own or research and inform your audience. When, and why, that fun task went under an IT team leader who was only worried about how many times the resource goes to the loo is beyond my comprehension.

Roy d silva family photo

What was your trigger to start the Indian Horror club? Did you envision this at some point in time?

Ah that, rewind to the time I told you about the songbooks. Well, most of the songbooks had photos of Govinda, Jeetendra et al. But some songbooks were different from the rest, the songbooks of the horror movies. I had not watched any of them, but those songbooks left an imprint in my mind. When I finally saw these movies, I was fascinated – this was a world of make-believe, a truly jugaad from movie directors like the Ramsays and the Talwars and the Bhakris.

I was enamored. I thought I was the only one, until one day I read about Ed Wood and saw that movie. That is when I realized how famous the B-movie brigade was in the West. These were the early days of the Internet, so I only got an inkling of the foreign audience knowing about the Ramsay movies. Some new and loved them, some did not and were curious. I thought I am Indian, why don’t I start a website that tells the foreign audience about horror movies? Why not start a website that talks about the art of film making and not just celebrities?

That was my trigger for making a website that covered horror movies. I didn’t even have the name pat-down for several years. I first started out with Then I went on to Much later, I understood that I am not just covering Indian horror movies, I am well damn celebrating them, that is when I came up with the name Indian Horror Club.

I did some research and I can count ten websites that talk about the art of filmmaking. This might seem like an incredibly foolish statement, but after and a couple of others, the Indian Horror Club is the only website that covers Indian films and is ‘the’ only website that covers horror films in India.

What is your best work to date? Why do you think is the best?

I started out reviewing movies for a now-defunct website. That had some of my best work. But today, my best work is the database of Indian horror movies that I am making over at Indian Horror Club. I want everyone to read and watch the movies I have listed and understand the art and verve that goes into making a movie. Making a movie with a 20-crore budget is easy. Everyone reading this article will make a smashing movie with that budget. But making a movie and raising a budget, that is the magic of cinema. Read through the database to get a sprinkle of that magic.

What are your mission and vision? How do you want history to look at you?

My mission right now, and I am being incredibly humble, is to create a platform for alternate-genre creators to jam with alternate-genre fans. I want those weird creators to have a platform to showcase their weird work.  I love the idea of a 13-year-old getting 10 lakhs funding to make a fantasy movie with only the sticks and stones she can gather and be able to send that movie to a pen friend she has in Norway.

I want to make alternate mainstream. I want mainstream entertainment to show all aspects of all lives. Until Tarak Mehta ka Ulta Chasma shows the Marathi family having an egg omlette on Prime-Time cinema, my work is not done. Until the LGBT portrayal in Bollywood does not have the nuances of the one in Brooklyn 99, our work is not done.

I want to create a platform that encourages indigenous manufacturers to promote their products to people who believe in their products. I would love for my website to be able to sell Pitambari to a few households more. The indigenous industry in India is huge and thriving (at least before the lockdown), I would love to make someone putting up advertisements of Pitambari, BB soap, Sosyo on their websites the new normal. Patriotism has not extraordinarily little to do with it. What I admire is verve, verve with confidence. Pitambari should have been shot off the market years back. So should have Sosyo and Double B soap. They are not. Hajoori and Sosyo are still around. I want to promote these products. I want to show the whole world we have indigenous products with us.

It’s not about being aatmanirbhar, if that is what you are thinking. The way the Ramsays movies affected me, I feel the same way when I see the rustic, small scale packing of Double B sabun. Do you remember the packing of Fatafat? That packing and imagery are so Lamington Road and Ulhasnagar.  The taste of Hajoori, with all its flaws and diktats, has survived. I did not get this idea suddenly after May or June.  Have I worked on these ideas? Yes. Have they clicked? No.

One suggestion I’d like to give anyone who is thinking of being an entrepreneur, don’t do it alone. Search for like minded people. Talk to them. My previous two sites shut down because I didn’t have funds and the wherewithal to do this cheap. With IHC, I got Vikram Khakkar to fund me and Aniruddha Pathak to do the magic behind the scene for the site.

I am pushing 40, I do not think I will be achieving anything great in the next twenty years for history to look at me. But I would want everyone I ever met to remember – remember those early days of moviemaking when the Ramsays would shoot a movie in Mahabaleshwar in 15 days – and there was this boy with a website that tried to keep that flickering flame alive.

Roy d Silva with Vivek Agnihotri

What according to you is the best or worst thing about freelancing?

It evolved into a sweatshop and is choc-a-bloc with scamsters. It was a good gig a decade back. You see, the Internet has changed in the decade. Earlier, people came to the Internet to get tips., Tips to work, tips to date, tips to travel. Today, they visit websites to get information. Information on laptops, information about travel. Precise, updated, information. And unfortunately, there are few people who pay right. On Facebook, there are offering 10 paise per word. That should be a crime.

Freelancers need to be updated and careful. I have been freelancing for 15 years now. I have a portfolio on Freelancer for 11 years. 9 years back, because of personal issues, I had to back out of two projects. Those projects are still lying as ‘incomplete’ on my Freelancer profile. Those projects were worth around $100. If I had stolen $100, I would have been in prison and got out in what, three years? But that nine-year-old incomplete project is still sitting on my head.

What is the one thing you hate about clients? What can they do to make your life better?

So, I think I am one of the few freelancers in India who have worked with clients. Nowadays, we all have middlemen who know nothing about the skills required for the project. They are sitting in an office in Marol in Andheri and sending off e-mails to and fro. What they can do to make a freelancer’s life better is, quit. Clients do work towards making a freelancer’s life easy. I have had so many of them not bother about deadlines once the lowest common denominator is maintained, pre-pay when the freelancer has issues, give genuine references to others, so on and so forth.

Roy can be reached on Refrens, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and his own website.

Our latest blog on Hiring Full timers Vs Freelancers is a must read. Read it here.