The Stuff Of Movies: How Suman Kumar Made It To The Director’s Chair

By Rohan Krishnan 14 October 2023 7 mins read

From making mountains out of molehills while telling stories to classmates in his hometown of Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh to developing some of India's most critically acclaimed series, we follow the journey of comedian Suman Kumar.

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If you’ve been paying attention to the Indian entertainment industry over the last few years, you’ve probably heard of Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K. The screenwriter-producer-director duo have been behind some of the most exciting films and TV shows of the past half-decade, including The Family Man, Farzi and Guns & Gulaabs, all critically acclaimed shows that have earned them millions of adoring fans. But what you may not know is that there’s an Indian standup comedian who has been a big part of that success. Comedian and writer Suman Kumar—friends with D.K. since school—has been in the writing room for many of their recent projects, even picking up a Fimfare OTT Critics’ Choice Best Dialogues award for his work on The Family Man.

Now Kumar is gearing up to add another feather to his cap, making his directorial debut later this year with Raghu Thatha for Hombale Films, the makers of mainstream Kannada hit movies like Kantara and the KGF franchise. DeadAnt caught up with Kumar to learn more about his journey from comedian to film director. Kumar is insightful, humble—giving due credit to his friends Raj & D.K. for offering him the chance to immerse himself in the world of cinema—and more than happy to share his experiences and insight. 

Growing up in a small town in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh, Kumar fell in love with the written word at a young age. He would run errands for his mother, going to the local tuck shop to pick up coffee powder or some other household necessity. The groceries came wrapped in paper—a magazine or newspaper—and Kumar would make sure to open the package gently, so he could read the contents of the page. He soon discovered that, along with a love for reading stories, he also loved telling them. 

Kumar recalls being punished for tardiness or tidiness in school, sent to sit under a tree somewhere on the school grounds. To pass the time and entertain his fellow punishees, he would make up stories on the fly, cooking up tales of epic battles between the red and black ants marching up and down the field. “And then around eighth standard, I started reading English novels and I then met D.K. He was a big fan [of English novels] as well and he read a lot. I used to borrow books from him because his uncle was in the US and would gift him books,” says Kumar. “I had this innate, irrepressible desire to tell stories.”

By the time he reached college, Kumar had already written two or three novellas—all unpublished—but it never occurred to him that writing could be a full-time career. Like any middle class Indian kid, he was supposed to work hard and get into a good engineering college. He refused, opting for a degree in commerce before becoming a copywriter, later switching to the IT industry. “I realised advertising is basically selling stuff to people,” he says. “It doesn’t conform to the morality, righteousness and honesty that you would expect from a good writer who’s writing a piece of fiction.”

After switching to the IT industry, Kumar rediscovered his love for writing in the form of blogs. He would write about everything from his childhood in Chittoor to hobbies like birdwatching and cooking, building a small following of avid readers through his blog.

Then Kumar then set out to write a full-length novel. But those ambitions clashed with his office job in the IT industry. “A corporate office, with all its cubicles and whatnot is a microcosm of the system at large, where there’s an established power structure and it doesn’t matter what you bring to the table,” he says. “You’re supposed to conform, wait for your appraisal and collect your 10 percent and win the employee of the week, of the year. I thought to myself, ‘this is so fucking meaningless. This is not what I want.’ The writing dream was distant and I was so confused.” 

I had this innate, irrepressible desire to tell stories.

Suman Kumar

In 2011, during a performance appraisal, his boss told him he lacked communication skills. Kumar responded by quitting his job. He moved to Kolkata and began writing his debut novel in earnest, with emotional and financial support of his wife Dr. Chitra S. She had seen him struggle to cope with the rigors of the corporate world, and pushed him to chase his dreams instead. As luck would have it, it was also around this time that D.K. stumbled upon one of Kumar’s blogs—an anecdotal piece about writing the perfect love letter—and invited him to join the Raj & D.K writing team. Kumar split his time between working on his own novel and sitting in writers’ rooms alongside Raj & D.K.

Ranga Half-Pants would only be published in 2016. In the five-year interim, Kumar polished his screenwriting chops and started doing standup comedy. “In 2015 I was a very depressed person,” he says. “I was broke, but thankfully my wife is a highly qualified doctor and she was taking care of the bills. At an open mic in Indira Nagar, I was hanging out with my comedian friends and thought ‘Ohh my god, these guys are so unfunny.’” 

One of his friends challenged him to take the stage. He bombed, as most first timers do, but Kumar loved the experience of being able to tell his stories on stage. “Standup for me is a catharsis and I really love it,” he says. “It was the catharsis I so badly needed when I was going through a terrible phase in my life. The Family Man had not happened, and once it did, I got busier and I started performing less often.”

Juggling distinct writing styles—Kumar was writing a novel, standup sets and screenplays—brought some insecurities about language to the fore. “For a long time I felt I was not good enough with my English,” says the comedian. “I felt my language skills didn’t check the box for me to become a writer. But then I actually started studying grammar and reading books about writing.” 

The publication of Ranga Half-Pants gave him more confidence, and helped him become more comfortable with his writing in general. “I always knew that I had the storytelling chops, so even though I had [the sword of language] dangling over my head, I got over it,” says Kumar. “The day I realised that screenwriting isn’t a literary pursuit is the day it all changed for me. I realised that I’m laying the foundation for other artists to come and perform. I learned how to write less and still say more. How do you manage to tell a compelling story so whoever reads it is excited?”

Kumar went on to write a screenplay in 2015 for an episode of &Tv’s horror anthology Darr Sabko Lagta Hai, and was credited for additional story and screenplay for Raj and D.K.’s action-comedy film A Gentleman, which dropped in 2017. He was a script consultant for the duo’s Stree, which came out in 2018m and was assigned a role as the content head for YNot Studio’s 2019 Tamil and Telugu thriller Game Over. But Kumar considers The Family Man to be his big break and the first proper test of his skills as a screenwriter.  

It was through the course of season one that the comedian matured as a writer, mastering the screenwriting process while working closely alongside Raj and D.K. The duo guided him along the way, until he was trusted to write complete scenes on his own. His contributions to the final screenplay earned him a writer’s credit alongside Raj and D.K. By the time season two of the Amazon Prime Video thriller dropped, he considered himself a seasoned writer. 

Since his big break with The Family Man, Kumar has been on a roll, devoting a majority of his time to screenwriting. He works out of Raj and D.K.’s D2R Films’ office in Mumbai, or at home in Bengaluru. He’s worked on two Tamil feature films—Mandela and Aelay—as a content head, and dedicates almost eight hours a day to his screenwriting craft, working on shows like Netflix series Guns & Gulaabs and Shahid Kapoor-starrer Farzi. Kumar says he opens up his word processor and sits at the screen till inspiration strikes. “If it comes, it comes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t but the point is that I write,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll write 3000 words and delete every single one of them. For a series, what I usually do is crack the premise… What happens when an ordinary person is put in an extraordinary situation? The real writing—especially when you’re a storyteller—is your ability to identify what can be a good story. That is the true strength of a good writer.”

Raghu Thatha is one such story, and Kumar believes he’s uniquely positioned to be the one telling it. That’s what led him to don the director’s hat. “There are certain stories which I have to direct because I think I will be able to do justice to the story better than anybody else,” he explains. Once he had the story written, he pitched it to Hombale Films. Not only did they like the script, they also immediately accepted his request to direct it. The comedy film, currently in post-production, stars Keerty Suresh and revolves around a woman fighting for women’s rights and empowerment. 

For Kumar, directing a film was a completely new experience that came with a new sense of responsibility. He jokes that his comedian friends Anand Rathnam and Navin Kumar—whom he recruited for his writers’ room—saw a completely different side of him on set. “They’ve only seen standup Suman and party Suman, they have never seen the writer Suman or the filmmaker Suman,” says Kumar. “I didn’t know I could be this incredibly selfish, self-centered, ruthless person whose only purpose was to make this film, nothing else matters. Because if the movie does well, great. It’s teamwork. If the movie bombs, the buck stops with me. That is what being a director is about.”

When are we going to see Kumar back to performing standup? This is a tough one, because he’s hardly got any time free these days. DeadAnt had spoken to him in 2021 about his plans to take trial show Buttercup on the road, but there’s a Family Man-sized spanner in the works, with season three currently in development. The comedian has kept himself extremely busy these days, with more films in the pipeline, including a Kannada feature film—which he’s collaborating with his writing partner Manoj Kumar on—that he’s directing. He’s also optimistic that Guns & Gulaabs will return for a second season. Kumar is currently a man on fire, tirelessly putting in hour after hour to bring stories to life. Even so, when asked to sum up his body of work, he nonchalantly calls it “not much.” Seems like there’s plenty more still to come.


Rohan Krishnan


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