Alum's short story scores top prize at Bollywood's premier film awards.

He'd Like to Thank the Academy

April 1, 2014

 Mohan Sikka with his Screen Award for his short story, The Railway Aunty.

Sikka, far right, with filmmaker Ajay Bahl and lead actress Shilpa Shukla at the Screeen Awards earlier this year.  

The Screen Awards is a very glittery ceremony held each January in India.

Even now, it's still a blur for Mohan Sikka '06.

He just remembers the glitzy outdoor stage. That Shahrukh Khan, a bonafide Bollywood superstar, called his name. "The winner for Best Story is . . ." Then everything started moving in slow motion.

"It's cliché but it was one of those situations where I heard it, but in that second, it was hard to process," Sikka says now. He didn't have a speech prepared but he thinks he blurted out some thanks to his partner, his family, and friends. "Thank you for giving my story a vision in the larger world," he recalls saying about the filmmaker, Ajay Bahl.

This was a pretty big deal for a former MFA student who still hasn't quit his day job as a management consultant. Sikka's short story, The Railway Aunty, which had been adapted to a screenplay, had just earned him a golden statue at the 20th annual Life OK Screen Awards—India's first juried film awards and the Bollywood equivalent of the Oscars—held this past January in Mumbai.

"I haven't heard of the Golden Globes or the Oscars actually honoring the story or the writer behind it," he says during a recent return to campus. "We often don't get any validations."

And yet Sikka, who won the very prestigious PEN/O. Henry prize in 2009 for another of his short stories, Uncle Musto Takes a Mistress, seems to be batting a thousand in his relatively brief literary career. The Calcutta-born scribe came to Brooklyn College a decade ago when he was looking to tap into his creative side after working as a chemical engineer and then a business consultant for years. He was attracted to the fact that the college's creative writing program was then run by Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Cunningham, and under his tutelage, Sikka received the Hiram Brown Award and the CUNYarts First Prize for Graduate Short Fiction.

He wrote The Railway Aunty, a story he describes as "a noir world of perversion and brutality," in 2009 when a friend asked him to contribute to a crime fiction anthology he was putting together. It tells the story of Mukesh, a small town young man who finds himself in Delhi looking for work after his parents die in an accident. When Mukesh meets a woman, she convinces him to sell himself.

"It’s a pretty wrenching plot," Sikka says.

Bahl, the plucky first-time director and producer of the film, thought so right away. He contacted Sikka back in 2010 when he first read the story and asked Sikka's permission to turn it into a film. After much soul searching, Sikka agreed.

The movie, "B.A. Pass," went on to several film festivals around the world, including the New York Indian Film Festival, scored a distribution deal, and went on to sales that were two to three times the production cost. The film, available on iTunes, also scored nominations for Best Debut Film, Best Director, and Best Actor in a Negative Role at the Screen Awards.

These days, Sikka is living in Brooklyn and working on a screenplay for what he calls a medical thriller, another dark story also based in Delhi, as well as trying to finish a short story collection he has been working on for years.

He says he is trying to find more balance between his craft and the work he does to pay the bills, having recently given up a full-time position in order to have more time to write. He's still, in many ways, coming out of the fog.

"I'm still pinching myself," he says.


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