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Meet Vidhya Iyer, the talented Hollywood screenwriter working with Disney

by Ashima

Hailing from Chennai, India, Vidhya gets candid about her work in a Masala exclusive.

By Ashima Sethi

Born and raised in Nigeria to Indian parents, at the age of 12, Vidhya Iyer moved to Chennai, India to continue her education. Upon completing her studies and achieving a degree in Computer Science, Vidhya then pursued screenwriting at the American Film Institute Conservatory (AFI) that gave her a better sense of writing and filmmaking. Since her studies, she is now a professional screenwriter in Hollywood, working on both television shows and feature films.

As someone who has shuttled between many different cities and been exposed to diverse culture all her life, Vidhya takes pride in being a third culture kid and brings her unique perspective to her work. She has worked on Disney‘s new television show Mira Royal Detective that follows the story of Mira, a brave commoner who is appointed the role of royal detective after cracking a difficult mystery that ends up saving the Kingdom’s young price. She has also worked on the Season 3 finale of Hulu’s hit show, Solar Opposites that was created by the team behind celebrated show, Rick & Morty.

An avid writer, Vidhya has won the Imagine Impact Award & CAPE Fellowship. She was also the finalist in the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards, a semi-finalist in the Cinestaan Screenwriting Contest, and a recipient of the prestigious Alfred P Sloan Foundation Award. She has also been named as one of the eight Fellows in the elite CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) and has been named one of the Top 10 Writers by the Tracking Board.

Now that Disney+ Hot Star has premiered in Thailand, Masala speaks exclusively with Vidhya about her journey, her experiences working with Disney, and what to expect from her in the near future!

Despite having studied computer science, what inspired you to become a professional screenwriter for television shows and movies?

I’ve always had a passion for writing and have been writing through different mediums even as I studied Computer Science. But it wasn’t until after college that I chose to pursue screenwriting full-time.

Can you share some of your favourite professional experiences?

Most of my professional experiences have been amazing, however working with 20th Century Fox Animation has been my favourite. Writing on Hulu’s Solar Opposites and working with an incredible group of writers has been fantastic. I also had a great time working on Mira Royal Detective as writing for the first entirely South Asian American kids’ show was a life-changing experience.

In the past, there have been many Disney productions based off of different parts of the world. Now seeing a Disney show based on an Indian-inspired Kingdom, how does it feel to see parts of your own culture being shared with a global audience?

It’s fantastic. Knowing the phenomenal cultural and global impact that the show has is amazing. South Asian children in the Indian sub-continent and diaspora across the world see themselves reflected on their screens, and kids of other cultures get to learn and engage with Indian culture in a meaningful way. I absolutely love that I got to be a part of it.

Many of our readership (Thai-Indians) can relate to being third-culture individuals, does this facet of your identity inspire your writing and how?

Part of being a third-culture kid is the feeling of carrying your home and your culture in a backpack and picking things up to put in it on the way. I always feel like I’m straddling cultures, countries, homes and don’t always fit into one space. It definitely informs everything I write. I have a unique perspective on what it means to be Indian, Nigerian and now, an individual living in the USA.

After having worked this industry for a while now, what is something you would tell your younger self?

I think I would tell my younger self to be less intimidated about everything. I spend a lot of time thinking about what could go wrong. I still do, but it’s something I’d like to unlearn.

As a woman of colour working abroad, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced and are proud to have overcome?

Racism is always prevalent, and then as a woman you also have to add sexism to the mix.  However, I’ve been fortunate to have had very few such experiences. I can recall one project I was working on early on when I had just started out that involved working with a very problematic person. It was tough to endure, but I’m proud to have made my points and stood my ground without compromising my morals. I could have cussed out the racist woman but I’m proud to have maintained my composure and professionalism.

What tips can you give other young Indian professionals looking to make it in the entertainment industry?

Have faith in yourself and your unique abilities. Also, keep trying. This is a business of rejection, but it only takes one ‘yes’ to get you through the door.

What do you believe is the most exciting parts of being a screenwriter in the present time?

Being a writer is a really fun job and I think it’s really enjoyable being a screenwriter in the present because the lines of genre and format are being blurred and there’s space for a lot of unique content that doesn’t conform to what we’ve always seen before.

Now that Disney+ Hot Star has arrived in Thailand, what are some of your favorite Disney productions that you would recommend viewers to check out?

Definitely check out Mira Royal Detective on Disney+. I’ve also been rewatching a lot of old favourites, including the Marvel movies, WandaVision, The Proud Family and Kim Possible.

What are your goals for the near future?

 I’m working towards writing a comic book! And to learn how to really swim.

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