Mithila Gupta blazes a trail for diversity

Mithila Gupta.

After screenwriter Mithila Gupta began her career in the Neighbours writers’ room in 2010, she often found she was the “only brown person” in the room.

Nine years on, Gupta is a torch-bearer for diversity in her craft, with an impressive resume that includes Winners & Losers, Playing for Keeps, Network 10’s upcoming Five Bedrooms and the ABC’s The Heights.

“We’re taking the right steps,” Mithila tells IF. “The biggest challenge is having more people of colour in the writers’ room. This isn’t just ticking boxes, it is getting authentic voices who can provide a fresh perspective. Diversity is personal to me; it is emotional.”

The Indian-born writer who came to Australian when she was three hails the formation last year of the Australian Writers Guild’s diversity and inclusion advisory committee as a big breakthrough. She is serving on the committee alongside Niki Aken, Kodie Bedford, Jaime Browne, Benjamin Law and Que Minh Luu.

In consultation with the committee, the AWG launched a diversity program encompassing partnerships, opportunities and events aimed at fostering inclusion and equal opportunity in the industry.

After graduating from RMIT University’s media studies course she worked in art departments until realising that writing was her true passion. So went back to RMIT to do a two-year advanced diploma in screenwriting, which led to her gig with Neighbours, where she introduced an Indian family to the regular cast of Ramsay Street.

She spent three years working on the Fremantle soap, describing it as a “fantastic training ground and the hardest job I’ve ever done.”

That led to two seasons of Winners & Losers and writing two episodes of Home and Away. Being hired as assistant script editor on the second series of Goalpost Pictures/Pukeko Pictures’ Cleverman was a game changer she says, signalling her move from “light dramas” to an acclaimed drama.

Among her other credits, she penned the pilot and two episodes of The Unlisted, Aquarius Films’ children’s drama created by Justine Flynn and commissioned by the ABC; several segments of the serial The Heights for Matchbox Pictures and For Pete’s Sake Productions; and she co-wrote with Christine Bartlett an ep of Screentime/10’s Playing for Keeps.

Gupta collaborated again with Christine Bartlett and Michael Lucas on Hoodlum Entertainment’s Five Bedrooms, which is now shooting in Melbourne for 10. The drama follows a diverse group of people who meet at a singles table at a wedding and decide to buy a house together.

Thanks to her, the cast includes Harry (Roy Joseph), an Indian-born guy in his mid-30s who had been living with his loud, controlling mother.

The writer is spending the next few months in the writers’ room for the fourth series of Easy Tiger/Nine’s Doctor Doctor. After that she is keen to devote more time to her own projects.

One is Salsa Masala, a feature about a young Indian-Aussie woman in Melbourne who defies her father’s wishes when she decides to pursue a career in Bollywood. She started developing the project in 2012 at Film Victoria’s Catapult Concept Lab and has since received development funding from Film Victoria, Screen Australia and Scripted Ink.

Another is Spousemates, a comedy series co-created with Mahjid Heath which Sticky Pictures is backing. In her words, it’s set at a big fat Indian gay Aboriginal wedding.

“Most shows are about people who are nice and likable,” she says. “I want to show brown people behaving badly.”