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Rising Through The Ranks: Screenwriter Aarthi Ramanathan

March 31, 2021
4 min read time

As an eight-year-old child, Aarthi Ramanathan, and her family, were ripped from their home in Kuwait and forced into a refugee camp. It was the beginning of the Gulf War, and within what seemed like moments, Ramanathan’s life turned upside down; she went from living comfortably to sleeping on a very sharp, rocky bed at a camp called No Man’s land. She describes it as a deserted strip of land in the middle of nowhere.

When fleeing their home, Ramanathan and her family had to leave all of their possessions behind. But she did manage to bring along a few items for comfort: some of her favorite books and videos. She says that during some of her darkest, scariest moments, those stories saved her.

Stories and storytelling managed to save Ramanathan more than once in her life, leading her to where she is today. Ramanathan is a screenwriter, currently wrapping up two features, one of which was on the 2020 Bitch List.

Ramanathan’s journey to Hollywood began in India, where she was born, before moving to Kuwait. She grew up with a family of storytellers, including relatives who “always regaled us with a crazy song or story about something I had never heard before.”

“Once I learned how to read, I became an incredibly avid reader, consuming every story I could find,” Ramanathan says. “Not to mention growing up in Kuwait; a desert. As a kid, I was fairly lonely, so I relied on my love of stories for both entertainment and comfort.”

Ramanathan reminisces about when her father would bring home movies from the local video store. “It was the best way to be spoiled as a kid; forget all the actual necessities in life – money, food, shelter – THIS was true love,” she says.

Her parents exposed her to animation and Disney classics; some of her favorites included Snow White, Bambi and Pinocchio. She also enjoyed The Land Before Time and live action films such as Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones. At around seven-years-old, Ramanathan decided to write her first short story on an aunt’s typewriter. But just a year later the Gulf War began and Ramanathan was forced to leave the only life she ever knew, even questioning whether she would ever see some family members again.

“Even though it was pretty scary in many ways, I somehow managed to block it all away by just reading and immersing myself in the wondrous, imaginary worlds behind the book pages. And it was my love of movies and story that gave me both courage and laughter during such a turbulent period in my life,” Ramanathan says. 

“These story worlds also reminded me even when I was scared or miserable or bullied, I wasn’t alone. It gave me the gift of being able to focus on some beautiful moments I may have never noticed otherwise.”

While in the refugee camp, Ramanathan focused on the kindness of strangers from the American Red Cross and the night sky, with its never-ending stars. She focused on stories in her books and mind that ultimately led to her passion for writing and storytelling.

Years later, Ramanathan and her family would end up in Toronto, Canada, where she still lives today. Her first experience writing a script was when she was a teenager. She and her cousin had watched a Disney movie and felt they could do better. They wrote a movie based on an Indian mythological character – a princess, who, after her husband died, decided to make her way to the lair of the God of Death to plead for his life.

“I had zero idea that what I was doing was called a screenplay and screenwriting could actually be a job (God forbid because that would be amazing!), but once I started, I was already hopelessly in love with the process,” she says.

In school, Ramanathan joined theater and eventually began writing and directing plays, before attending Sheridan College in Oakville, Canada, where she graduated from their Media Arts program. Looking back, she says, one of the best takeaways from college was getting to pitch, direct and write her thesis film.

During her final year of college, she began volunteering on sets in her spare time. After graduation, she became a production assistant, a director’s assistant, and worked in storyboarding and editing various indie and television productions. She even interned for a few weeks with Sophia Loren’s company in Toronto and worked briefly with Samuel L. Jackson’s body double. All of this work led her to where she is today: screenwriting.

Ramanathan says she could never have imagined she’d be where she is today, as being a screenwriter always felt like an impossible pipe dream. But after overcoming self-doubt, she learned never to give up regardless of the obstacles and to stop waiting for permission. Instead, that it's all about the work.

Ramanathan focuses on creating stories focused on diversity, disability and the power of individuality. After her two eldest daughters were diagnosed with autism, she turned her sadness into purpose.

“I was devastated," she says. But "the devastation I felt, along with my children’s unique personalities and resilience — and how they still somehow continued to power through everything despite being told by doctors that they may never lead fulfilling, normal lives — helped me truly see my kids as the absolute PERFECT beings they were. And ultimately, going through that journey is what inspires me to write the stories I write,” she says.

Currently, Ramanathan is repped by Krista Sipp and Devon Byers from First Friday Entertainment. Her advice to other writers? Follow your heart, and stay focused on living and writing your truth.

“The more authentic and true to yourself you are, the better your writing will be. There are always going to be a lot of opinions coming our way as writers and creatives. Still, once you know who you are as a writer, I am a firm believer in remaining focused on your goals, writing from your heart, and tuning out all the other noise.”

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