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Lokvani Talks To Darshan Thakkar

Nirmala Garimella

On the wall cabinets behind the desk in Darshan Thakkar’s office are books that could be any film directors envy. They range from ‘Four Films of Woody Allen’, Robert Mc Kee’s ‘Story’, Stephen Wiber’s ‘Keys to Great Writing’ and ‘Writing the Second Act – Building Conflict and Tension’. For a moment I am totally baffled. The setting seems quite out of place. For it is Darshan Thakkar's Law office in Burlington and I am here to talk to the man who admits that he rather be a writer than a lawyer any day.

Darshan Thakkar spends a lot of time these days working and interpreting the new INS laws for his clients and also, hold your breath on this one, writing the script for a film that is due to go to production very soon. I ask Darshan what made him enter the world of the writer? “I have been writing since I was in 9th grade and had my first poem published in the Times of India, Bombay. All my life I have been exploring the process of writing and have spent hours reading stories and writing them. I enjoy the craft of bringing up everything to a conflict and then resolving it".

As a young student in High School, Darshan dreamt of making a career in journalism. The passion carried itself so far that he enrolled himself into Journalism at Roosevelt School in Chicago with Walter Jacobson, CBS reporter acting as his mentor but fate willed otherwise. Due to intense family pressure, he opted for Economics at the University of Illinios. “I however made a condition to my family”, Says Darshan “that I will have nothing to do with Medicine and Engineering”. Economics seemed an attractive choice at that time and he also took electives courses in linguistics and writing. “The complexities of language have always fascinated me and I look for nuances and word meanings constantly". Darshan went on to learn a splattering of Spanish and French, Hindi and Marathi and is fluent in Gujarati, his native tongue, and has written stories in that language.

While at College, he got in touch with Prashant Shah of India Tribune, a newspaper based in the Midwest and became one of its regular contributors. He even made an attempt to establish the paper’s presence in the Northeast but it didn’t work out “I needed an income and living in Manhattan wasn’t easy. In the early 90s, there were really no jobs out there so I enrolled in a law school. Law School also required a great amount of writing and I read as many as 12,000 pages in Law” says Darshan ruefully. In 96’ he set up his own law practice and since then there has been no going back.

The idea of writing a film script percolated in his mind for a while and prompted him to take screen writing courses and become a member of the American Screenwriters Association. Darshan is now also working on a movie script for a producer in New York. The film goes into production next month and is a regular feature film aimed at sheer entertainment. As Darshan categorically puts it “This film is not about immigrants or cultural conflicts. It is purely commercial and is my first venture. I am extremely excited about it. In the past I had made short home videos but this is a two hour feature film and definitely a challenge”. The film is set geographically in three different States and so there is also a lot of movement". Darshan thinks that his wife Kruti is his best critic. "I bounce my ideas off to her, for as a writer you get caught up in your own writing and she is the one to bring me back to reality,” he says.

When does he find the time to write? “I spend two nights a week working on the script. It is peaceful and quiet and there are no interruptions. Consistency is the key to get a job done". So does he think in English or Gujarati while expressing himself ? “What I do is to take a sheet of paper and start writing in Gujarati. Language is a key part of your culture. So you can’t separate it. I then flip the paper over and write in English. My thought process works in either way at a given time.

He has also developed a program called the Brilliant Writer Program targeted for High school students and college graduates to help with term papers, book reports etc. The idea behind this venture was to help students to write clearly, concisely and effectively. Darshan admits that when he was a faculty member at Newbury college he realized the need for effective communication and he hopes that the community will benefit with this program.

We move on to talk on his law career and his major thrust on Immigration law. His clients are mostly companies and individuals. I ask him if he has noticed a change after September 11 and he agrees that INS has changed its laws frequently without adequate training to its officers and sufficient knowledge of the changing policies. Citing examples from his own experience he related an incident of an Indian parent arriving in US for the birth of their grandchild and forced to return within a month and missing the actual event. The discretionary aspect at the port of entry is what bothers him the most. “As a lawyer it is often difficult when they reject a file and send it back with questions. INS now has employed a lot of temporary workers and they are not knowledgeable about INS polices and rules and that can be frustrating. There are no special privileges as a lawyer to access information”. The web is useful as far as information is concerned but Darshan cautions against undue reliance. He contends that “It is a great educational tool but not for advice as each case may be different”.

Here is one tip that Darshan Thakkar gives on the latest rule in Immigration law. As of August 6th, President Bush has signed a law called the Age Out law that states that all those who have applied for a green card for the family back home and have received a visa call after completing 21 years of age or more are eligible for a Green Card. In the past the law stated that if you crossed the date of 21 years you would be pushed behind in the priority list. Not any more. The new law allows anyone beyond their 21st birthday to be current in the list.

Darshan Thakkar is a life member of Gurjar and also takes active part at the Satsang Center in Woburn. He writes and contributes articles to various newspapers and publications but has now channeled all his energies in writing the film script. This does not deter him from spending time with his two children. Son Nikhil is crazy about baseball and Darshan sometimes steals time in the lunch hour to go and play a game with him. Daughter Nimisha is a two year old. He also would like to be involved with the community but says he is deterred with the fact that there are too many organizations leading to too many politics and as he says, tongue in cheek "As a writer you want to avoid politics". In the end he also graciously commends Lokvani and wishes us all the best.

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