Thankfully this was a better day with more writer-filmmakers talking about writing than sociologists!
Anjum Rajabali – I appeal to the sanity of the audience regarding questions asked in the Q&A sessions.
SESSION 1 – THE NEW ‘WRITE’ BRIGADE
Pubali Chowdhary (Rock On, Kai Po che. The FTII Screenwriting alumni who touched her guru Anjum Sir’s feet when she came at the dais) –
I’m a Bong. Hindi films were not cultural for me. Like most Bongs, I’ve grown on Tagore & Ray. Sholay was the first Hindi film I ever saw. The rest followed when I was a teenager (Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander, Aashiqui etc). I was exposed to World Cinema in College. Mainstream Hindi Films were not talking to me. I’m a city girl. There was no depiction of Urban existence in Hindi films back then.
The reactions I got for Rock On were like – ‘Oh this is new modern India. Real and non melodramatic‘. The language has changed a lot for contemporary films. Technicality, Treatment, Craft has improved. The 60s melodramatic treatment is no longer relatable. Though 50s & 70s were slightly non conformist. Do Beegha Zameen, Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool, Aaradhana. If I were to pitch the story of Aaradhana (woman having a child out of wedlock and surviving in the world), it would be tough to push it through today. The Producers will as usual say ‘Let’s maintain status quo. Give feel good. Let’s not ruffle any feathers’
There is hardly anything that we’re doing ‘different’. Everything we’re trying already has a precedent. I’m sure when Akshat Verma is writing Delhi Belly he is aware of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron which is a classic.
Reema Katgi – I’m not trying to be different. Honeymoon Travels came to me. The genesis was a short story about a ‘perfect’ couple who never have any fights. But I realized no one will fund it. Then I wrote 5 other ‘real’ stories and juxtaposed with it.
Pubali – No one sets out to write ‘path breaking’ stuff. But what were you trying to say with Honeymoon?
Reema– Before Honeymoon I wrote a dark film and pursued it for 3 years. Nothing happened. Then I said I’ll do something light.
For me Talaash was a 5 yr struggle. Me and Zoya are from happy, comfortable and cosy environment. But we were dealing with darkness, demons and depressive material. It is hard but not impossible.
Pubali – Doomed Love story is almost a tradition. The Romeo-Juliet Space. How did you think you will make your film different?
Habib Faisal – You are not consciously working to create path breaking stuff. I love the power of clichés. Neither of the films I directed is ‘New’. Do Dooni Chaar is Bicycle Thief meets Garam Coat. For those who don’t know Garam Coat is a Balraj Sahni, Nirupa Roy film (written by Rajinder Singh Bedi). Balraj Sahni works in a post office and wears a coat which has a hole in the pocket. Pocket se sau ka note ek din kho jaata hai. Also Band Baja Baraat has the most clichéd rom-com structure. Ishaqzaade wasn’t Romeo & Juliet. I wasn’t doing a Vishal Bhardwaj-Shakespeare because in the play Romeo and Juliet are innocent. Zoya and Parma however imbibed venom & hatred in the space which they grew up. The film was about how women are used in politics. The first victim in the war/battle is usually woman (property). The device was the sense of ‘others’ underneath the surface. For me the smaller things, details were very attractive. Like the idea of a hard-core Hindu man spending time with a Muslim woman and seeing her offer Namaz. Or whether he will touch her parents feet or do salaam or a namaste when he meets them. It is a film. We want to be entertained and not strain ourselves. We will explore new what we want to do but it will be in a genre space.
Pubali – When you are writing you are not being analytical. But later don’t you analyse your work or critique it?
Habib – Yes, I do analyse but not mathematically. ‘Is this falling into a certain genre while there are these rules of the genre not meant to be broken? Should I fix it?’ – No I don’t do it. If I did it would’ve become a cliché.
Akshat Verma – I try and follow a character. I just want the scene to work. Give the audience what they want but not in a way they expect. It’s the same thing like saying audiences want the same old things served new. Every story has been told. Every story comes from a What If moment. Follow the moment. Spend 6-9 months with it. Why does Terminator 2 work? Because you don’t know how the villain will be stopped. Not even the writer knew. But when the solution comes, it is such a big surprise that we forgive.
Pubali – Was Vicky Donor a spec script? Commissioned? Or was it your own script?
Juhi Chaturvedi – You all have had ‘struggle’. For me Rock on, Delhi Belly, Do Dooni Chaar etc were good films already released and appreciated by the audience. I wanted to do something good in that environment. To do something good and respectable when great stuff is happening around. I laughed at the idea of a sperm donor who couldn’t have a baby. The whole day I kept on being troubled by the thought. It was a serious subject but not a serious film. Shoojit had made a great film with Amitabh Bachchan called Shoebite (unreleased). When I told Shoojit about it he didn’t react. Luckily I didn’t mention infertility else he would’ve thought this is a message oriented PSA. After 2-3 days he called back. You can come up with a wacky idea but it is important that someone believes in you. After reading the 1st draft everyone said write a nice rom-com, but they couldn’t figure out the genre. It wasn’t a rom-com or a social film. It was drama. We waited for it to go on floor and then showed it to people who liked it then. The director always believed in me and I just wrote.
Pubali – At least now can you say what kind of film it is?
Juhi – No!
Pubali – I haven’t seen your film. Could you tell us about your experiences?
Sanjay Patil (writer of 5 national Award winning Marathi fim Jogwa) – Main Kolhapur se hoon. Sugar belt area. Wahaan Devdasi ka tradtion hai jinko hum log Jogtin bolte hain. Agar koi accident hota hai toh uss ghar ki betiyon ko unke paas le jaaye jaata hai Tuesday aur Friday ko Bhiksha maangne ke liye. Yeh ek Jogwa aur Jogtin ke prem kahaani hai. Maine script likhi par 4-1/2 saal lagey. Jis kisi ko sunata woh shock ho jaate thay. ‘Hero (Upendra Limaye) poori picture mein aurat ki tarah sari mein hai!’ aisa bolte thay. Phir main iDream Productions ke Sripal Morakhia ko mila jinhoney Monsoon Wedding produce ki thi.
Unhoney kaha ‘I don’t know marathi so why should I produce your film?’.
Maine kaha – ‘aapke production house ko ek bhi National Award nahi mila hai. Yeh film woh kami poori kar degi!’
Phir woh pooche ‘Tu direct karega isey?’
‘Nahin, main director laaonga’
Phir unhoney mujhe 100 rupaye signing amount diya. Main uss waqt sarkari post mein tha, films divison mein (Subsidy Department mein). Mera kaam tha roz din mein jaa ke 3-4 filmein dekhna, AC mein baithna, popcorn samosa lunch khana. Main roz subsidy wali filmein dekhta tha jiss sey mujhe pata laga kaun achcha director hai aur kaun nahi. Maine Rajiv Patil ko bulaya. Lekin milney par maine unhe koi aur play sunaya jo sunke unhoney mujhe kaha ‘ispey ek hindi film ban sakti hai. Marathi nahi. Tumhare paas aur kuch hai ?’ Phir maine unhey Jogwa sunayi. Hum raat bhar baat karte rahe aur subah woh maan gaye.
Dheere dheere Jogwa bani. Film hit ho gayi. Uperndra Limaye ko National Award mila. Uskey baad maine ‘Pangira’ pitch kari jo onion farmers ke uppar thi jinko minimum guarantee paise nahi miltey, aur jo aandolan kartey hain, jismey police shootout ki wajah se 8 farmers marr jaatey hain. Sabne kaha ‘End aisa kyun ? Isko Badal. Rom-com bana’. Lekin yeh never before seen subject tha aur main isey banana chahta tha.
Sripal Morakhia ke paas gaya toh unhoney kaha ‘Subsidy (30 lakh rps approx) sirf 1st film ko milti hai. 2nd ko nahi.” Yeh baat mere ko maloom thi. Phir unhoney poocha ‘Budget kya hai?’. ‘1 cr 30 lakh’. ‘Theek hai. Main sirf 30 lakh daalonga!’. Baaki ka 1 Cr maine apni taraf se jugaad kiya yahaan wahaan se intezaam kiya.
Film bani, release hui aur pitt gayi ! Abhi main phir bhi udaas nahi hoon. Meri agli marathi film titled ’72 miles’ Grazing Goat Films (Akshay Kumar ka production House) fund karegi. Aur main pichle 5-6 saal se Naxalism ke subject pe kaam kar raha hoon.
Pubali – What is the hardest part of writing process for you?
Reema – I write with Zoya. We first write story and then get into writing scenes & screenplay. Getting the story is the toughest!
Pubali – But honeymoon had multiple protagonists.
Reema – The story was the perfect couple superhero story which had stayed with me while I was AD-ing on Lakshya and working in the mountains. Post the film got over, I eventually penned it down. I don’t plan or analyse but go on my instinct instead. I’ve not done ‘Rewrites’ but sometimes because of ‘fabulous inputs’ from actors I have had to incorporate some stuff into my scripts.
Habib – I am often called a ‘late bloomer’. I’m an accidental screenplay writer. I was happily covering shooting for NDTV for 5 yrs. But then News started becoming fiction. It became a monster! I didn’t find it exciting anymore. So I said let us get into fiction honestly. I directed a TV serial first. Worked on a project called ‘Electric Moon’ through which I knew Tishu who later introduced me to Shaad Ali.
My first film was Salaam Namaste. My 1st half was there in the story. 2nd half was inspired by 9 months. Salaam Namaste was a story about a live in couple with Saif from Ludhiana and Priety as an RJ from Lahore! The interval was that their respective parents land up at the house!
But then around the time before shoot, some big TV serial was announced which was something similar. Siddarth said ‘Hold onto the thought. We’ll change it to 9 months. Something else will happen’
I wrote Ta Ra Rum Pum & Jhoom Barabar Jhoom.
I used to get responses for Salaam Namaste writing like -‘How can my hero make breakfast for the heroine?’. I used to respond ‘Because it is a cool thing to do for a hero!’. I’m not a feminine/feminist person. I’m very particular and anal about cleanliness so I put all those personal traits into the film. Through Ta Ra Ram Pam, Salaam Namaste, Jhoom Barabar I felt my voice isn’t being translated. Not ‘Blooming’. So I told myself, the next idea I will make myself. I went ahead and made Do Dooni Chaar. DDC happened before BBB. DDC gave Aditya chopra the confidence that BBB can work.
Pubali – You came out of film school. How did Delhi Belly happen? Was the story always set in India?
Akshat – I never wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a porn star. DB was written for India. I had spent a limited time in US only so didn’t have enough experience to base it there. I had 12 weeks to write a script I would’ve got an F grade. When the pressure is on you, you fall back to the world you know and come from. So I wrote DB. The comedy was very specific in the nuances. People were laughing in the workshops. They were interested and suggested I set it in NY. But I always saw it as an Indian film.
Juhi– The hardest part of writing? I didn’t start to become a writer. I wanted to be a painter. I’m an art college graduate. To earn money I started working in advertising, so that I could continue painting. I would like to thank my writing partner because she used to pitch my scripts (AD film scripts) but while she was doing so, I felt she was pitching it wrong! So I started doing it myself. I started writing Radio spots. And I’m from Lucknow so I used to write long pieces. My boss Piyush Pandey used to say ‘Chota karo!’. I struggled more in advertising trying to convince people that I can write, I can express. In films, I didn’t have very many struggles. May be finding the right ending of the film was a struggle for me. I didn’t know how to end it. Shoojit gave me the adoption idea.
1. Don’t you get frustrated when the director changes your script?
Habib – The final author of the film is the Director. I’m a crew member like the DOP, Editor, Art Dir etc. If he wants a 90 min film, I’ll do it. If he wants a 3 hr long movie, I will charge more and do it. If the Dir wants flat lighting for a scene, then regardless of the fact that the DoP may light it up brilliantly in high contrast, the Dir has every right to insist on the flat lighting. Then the DoP will try and interestingly do a good job in that flat lighting. Same is the case with me. The ultimate author is the director. Because the film is told cinematically. However, more and more directors & producers are giving respect to the vision of the writer. The collaboration is becoming more synergetic and organic.
Reema – I never had this problem since no one was changing my script, since no one was interested in it anyway!
2. Is this the time for non interval 90 min films like Delhi Belly?
Habib – I love the interval time. I love the structure. It gives me two climaxes! I need to have them by their balls at the interval point so that they are eager to find out what happens post interval, while they are buying the samosa popcorn. Agar aap interval nahi dete, toh Ratlam/Bhopal mein woh Theater owners waise bhi beech mein kaat hi deengey picture ko aur samose popcorn bechengey. Uss sey achcha toh main hi kaat doon.
Reema – We need a loo break in films. We need the popcorn samosa to be sold. If we took out songs from our films, it would become 90 min films. But I personally like songs in the films
Akshat – The interval doesn’t work for me at all. I really worked hard following the 3 ACT structure, and try and build up my scenes. But when an interval comes, all the effort goes wasted away.
3. VO in films.
Akshat – VO is bad writing. It is a short way of getting the point across. Despite the occasional Sunset Boulevard & American Beauty, VO is often bad.
Reema – VO is used as lazy scripting often. But it can be used interestingly too at times. In Honeymoon the radio show (agony aunt) almost acts as a VO. In a ‘confessional’ format.
Habib – I’m guilty of having used the VO in DDC. But it was fun.
4. Last few words?
Sanjay Patil – Main jo bhi likhoonga social context mein hi likhoonga. Naxalite film ke alawa main ek Hindu-Muslim relationship pe kaam karna chahta hoon, jo mere experiences pe based ho.
Juhi – Good writing happens when you don’t succumb to the pressure. The script has to be inventive and should come from within, despite (if at all) being borrowed from somewhere. A little bit of Ego is important to believe that writing isn’t pure entertainment for you.
Reema – I’ve been around in the industry for nearly 16 yrs. Now people are wanting to explore different films. I’m not against blockbusters. But space for alternate films should be there. I was so depressed at a time I was considering taking up playing professional poker for a living. But I’m hopeful.
Akshat – Too many blank pages and not enough sleep!
Habib – My wife Shaila teaches in a school for slum kids. The ages of the kids vary from tiny toddlers to 14-15 yr olds. Every now and then, BMC mows down their houses. These kids are on and off education and they do not even know how to write their names! And yet they sing and dance to Chikni Chamelis, Sheilas, Munnis! That is the amazing power of Cinema. We owe it to them.
Juhi – We’re making safe films compared to yester-years. Guide was so path breaking in the 60s! If today we were to make it, Marco might have a hriday-parivartan. Let us attempt more Guide & Mother India.
Habib – There’s a lot of anti establishment films which are being made in recent times. Both my films were anti establishment.
Pubali – Being a writer all you have got is that computer screen. So, be at it. Work, Work and work a little more.
SESSION 2 – IS THE OLD ORDER CRACKING?
Anjum Rajabali – I would like to introduce this session by talking a little about my friend Mr Nihlani’s seminal film Ardha Satya. Back then (1983) there was a spate of Amitabh Bachchan films as angry young man, son disillusioned with his father, grey man. There was a set format which overshadowed everything else – Zanjeer, Deewar, Sholay, Trishul etc. Govind Nihalani got a rebel cop story written by the great Vijay Tendulkar similar to the themes that were in vogue. And Mr Nihalani chose Om Puri as his hero who did not look like a hero from any angle. It is dark, violent, cynical, ends on a bitter and pessimistic note. In those days there were two theaters which were considered benchmarks of ‘commercial successes were Novelty Cinema in Grant Road and Chandan in Juhu. The film ran for 20 weeks in Novelty Cinema and was a resounding success ! If a film like ArdhaSatya can be accepted by the audiences back then, then we have no business cribbing that audiences want this and that!
Govind Nihalani – Storytelling in Cinema is a complex process. Not a one to one transaction. It is not narrating a sequence of events. It is creating an experience for the viewer. The writer while telling something to the audiences also makes them experience it. To make them angry, happy, sad, delirious. Some response from the audience on sensuous and intellectual level is storytelling. Story idea could come to you anytime anywhere. To convert that idea into a script, we need to script it. Scriptwriting is craft. A whole are of making decisions opens in scripting. How will you want to tell the story ? A to Z chronologically ? Flashbacks ? Flashforwards ? Whose POV should it be ? Needs a very calculated, imaginative and mindful approach. How will you open the story? How will you end it? It needs to be calculated and put in order. Who is the most important element in the story which engages you from start? My choice is always the main character/protagonist. Is the writer enamoured by plot or by character? Keep in mind what is it that you want to say in the script. ‘Sabko sabak sikhana hai’ is a much maligned word. Put a POV. What is it that attracted you to the story in the first place?
The 3 ACT structure! Exposition, Escalation of Conflict and Resolution. Our own narratives stem from Tamasha, Ramleela, Parsi theater. Hindi Cinema Narrative is Song, Dance, Comedy. Then we have the Non Linear/Multi Story Structure. At Kerala Film Festival, they showed films not from Europe & US but from Latin America, Africa etc. I was surprised to see a number of films which do not follow the 3 ACT structure and yet are impactful. The 3 ACT structure emerges from the West due to their emphasis on plays. It works best there. That structure has survived 100 yrs of Cinema. Yet there is a quest to create new narrative energies. All different strategies/structures are not adversaries of one another. They are strategies to connect with the audience.
Abbas Tyrewala – I disagree humbly with Govind Sir. To me, the 3 Act and the Non narrative structures are adversaries of one another. William Shakespeare worked in 3 ACT structure. Let me give a few instances/points
1. A storyteller started narrating a story to the villagers on one bonfire lit night. He had all of their attention. He began the story – A beautiful woman is sleeping peacefully on a bed. A man walks by the window and sees her. He creeps in through the window and looks at her, remarks ‘She’s hot’; and then kisses her!
Every single villager started shouting ‘Bloody Pevert he is. Stop! Stop!’ and no one heard the full story. It actually was the story of Sleeping Beauty (a cursed princess who will be asleep for 100 yrs only to be awakened by a prince who will kiss her)
The next night the storyteller narrated the same tale differently and then the villagers were holding onto every word. By the time the prince comes into the window, they all start yelling ‘Yeah! Go on! Kiss the girl!’
2. The storyteller began with – ‘They all lived happily ever after. Cut to, we see a prince sitting alone, drinking alone, and looking at a glass slipper. Cut to, we see few hours ago the clock strikes 12 and a carriage turning into pumpkin. Cut to, we see a shabbily dressed but beautiful looking girl is cleaning the floor with a broom as her sisters are scolding her.’ And so on and so forth. It is of course the Cinderella story but the story teller kept narrating it in a trial and error basis. Eventually he realises that the story is good and impactful when you narrate from the POV of a protagonist.
3. The storyteller then for his next story, keeps intercutting between the Red Riding Hood and the story of The Boy who cried Wolf. He mixes these two stories confusing himself and the villagers and finally in a bumbling manner reveals the ‘twist‘ – it is the same wolf in both the stories!
The point of these three instances being – As a ballpark, the simpler (masses) care about simpler stories.
4. Why do smokers smoke? Because they feel they get ‘high’. Non smokers don’t get/feel that ‘high’. When a smoker doesn’t smoke for some time he feels something is missing. There is craving for nicotine. When you get your nicotine you get back to feeling what a non smoker feels (without smoking) – ‘normal’. For a smoker, smoking a cigarette isn’t a high but returning back to being ‘normal’ is. At the end of each film, people will walk out with a ‘High’. A story should have its crest, a trough and then a crest again.
5. You need to have a hook point. Three qualities that a story can/should evoke in you
–sympathy (I feel sorry for the character)
–empathy (I connect with the character)
–antipathy (I want to kill the character!)
As sympathy you want to go through his journey. Classic revenge dramas (Apne baap ki maut ka badla lena hai) to Revenge taken is the graph of the character from depression to being ‘normal’. How much ‘high’ you get from a story is how well you connect/feel for/associate with the character.
6. In a screenwriting class I went up to the blackboard and wrote “Anurag Kashyap is a dickhead” as the students were walking in and continued to behave normally. I checked my phone, read my book, behaved normal. Once the students were seated I began my screenwriting lesson. Mid way during the lesson one of the students interrupted me and asked ‘I’m sorry why have you written that on the board?’. I said ‘You tell me’. And then they started asking me questions but I didn’t yield. Slowly they started accusing me of being jealous of Anurag Kashyap. ‘He is more successful than you.’ ‘You are a bad guy. You hate him’ and so on and so forth.
Eventually when they all became rabid and vociferous, I politely revealed the twist – ‘I hate him because behind my back, he slept with my girlfriend’. Then there was a sudden silence. And then slowly, they all started abusing Anurag Kashyap! I changed their antipathy to sympathy in a flash. But the trigger is Anurag Kashyap. And then I added a key question – “A Hollywood director wants to either work with me or Anurag Kashyap”. And I narrate what all Anurag does to get the film and what all I do to get the film. That is the plot point and escalation. Eventually it boils down to who will win. Say the Hollywood Director’s Indian representive Javed Akhtar has to make that decision. So both me and Anurag try to impress Javed Saab. Who wins and how? That’s the last act!
P.S – The whole Anurag sleeping with my G and Hollywood dir is obviously fictitious
7. Some boys like playing chess/bridge, putting together puzzles. So when they hear the storyteller’s multiple narrative version of the story, they love it! But others who play cricket/football couldn’t connect with it at all.
8. Music – We like listening to different forms of music like Stomping/Accapella and so on. It may work at times but not all the time. Instrumental (Traditional) Music will always be there.
Bottom Line – 3 ACT is not the only way to narrate stories. Some are telling stories traditionally. Some are playing with the aspects/changing cinema. It is not great just because it is different.
Bejoy Nambiar – Even Abbas Tyrewala’s speech had a 3 ACT Structure! I agree with him on lots of points. 3 ACT is a great device/template. I don’t have formal training in films. I learnt filmmaking by watching films. That explains why David didn’t work.
Abbas (interrupting) – Can we talk about writing structure without getting reminded of our last release?
Bejoy (continuing) – Stories need to CONNECT with the audiences. You can choose to tell it whichever way you want. I don’t subscribe to 3 ACT, though it works for the audience. I choose to tell it the way I want to because it works for me! The need came because the content caters to wide range of audiences. I felt there is an audience which wants more than what is being given. Audience here is ready for something new. It is ready and can process more data. I feel different kind of stories can also be told. But they need to be told well. Multiple story structure also follows the 3 Act Structure. Barfi didn’t follow a structure. It went back and forth. Yet it connected. Though the multiple story narrative may not be as simple, it may be truncated. It may have a grammar though not a prescribed one.
Zoya’s ZNMD followed a 3 Act structure. But it had consecutive characters, whose stories we saw one after the other. Because David didn’t work doesn’t mean I will stop making multiple narrative films. Not because I want to be different but because this kind of form appeals to me. Stories can be complicated or simple. But both need to have a connect.
TV has been following Multiple character narratives for a long time. Buniyaad did it years ago. When TV why not films? Sadly when multiple narrative films don’t work, people write off the whole ‘genre’ of multiple narrative films.
Govind Nihlani – Marathi has 3 Act plays, 5 Act plays and experimental theatre. Even practitioners (writers, actors) come from stage. In contemporary Marathi cinema you can see both traditions.
Sanjay Patil – Marathi theater bahut rich hai. Kirloskar, Keshav Bhonsle, Acharya, Raglekar, Tendulkar – yeh sab legends hain. Acharya aatre’s Shyaam chi aai got Swarnakamal award. Master Vinayak with his bramhachari, Bhalji Pendhalkar, Raja Paranjpe. Kumkum Manush by Shantaram was very strong content wise. Rau Kadam, Vasant Pawar ka toh base hi folk pe tha. Marathi cinema mein social context tha jo Sahukari Pash se initiate ho gaya tha. Dr Jabbar Patel, Sati Salekar, Vijay Tendulkar Pune Theater se thay. Among the other important films we had Simhasan, Saamna and Umbartha (All made by Jabbar Patel). Satish Saleskar made Jait re Jait jiske dialogues bhi lyrical thay. Jabbar Patel and Pula Deshpande worked omn Ek Hota Vidushak. 90% of all the actors, writers, filmakers in the award winning recent marathi cinema are from theater. Shwaas se marathi film ne classical boundary cross kiya intellectual region mein. Ravi Jadhav ke teenon filmon ka (Natrang – tragedy of the Tamasha kalakaar, Bal Gandharv, Balak Palak – teenagers is psychology pe bani film) genre/texture/content/presentation ekdum alag hai.
Unless I understand tradition my experiment will not be fulfilled. Marathi has classic literature. Sadly we haven’t even explored .01% of it in our films.
Music is a very powerful compared to the music in other regional language films.
Except Simhasan political subjects pe marathi films nahi bani hain. If we don’t write about what is around us then what is the point?
Urmi Juvekar – What is the effective format? How do you write something effective? What is (more) effective? Something which appeals to 50,000 people or 5 lakh? This is subjective. Audience decides what is going to be effective.
Dibakar told me an anecdote once. When he was a child his grandfather would narrate him stories. One day DB wanted to hear the story of ‘shikaar’. His grandfather started narrating.
‘Ek shikaari tha. Jungle mein aaya. Gun wagairah ke saath ek dum tayarri karke. Kaafi intezaar ke baad aakhir usey ek Sher dikha’
Suddenly DB interrupted – ‘Nahi nahi! Sher nahi marna chahiye kahaani mein!!!’
Bottom line – story is incomplete without audience participation & response. There are two important elements
1. Audience ek tribe hai, code hai culture hai. They engage with the material onscreen by popcorn, talking to friends, BBM-ing, discussing with each other. So it is a many to one audience-film experience. They want to share their experiences. Unko lage give me the ‘same stuff’ taaki aasaani se woh share kar sakein.
Aur kuch log hotey hain jinke liye film watching is a one-to-one experience. They want something ‘new’. Not trite stuff.
2. We’re selfish audiences. We don’t want the Lion to die.
Dil To Pagal Hai had a ‘new’ idea. There was the Valentine’s Day concept introduced in the film for the first time. But it wasn’t an ‘Indian’ concept back then. So how do you get the audiences to accept it ?
Solution – There is a scene where Madhuri Dixit talks to her saheli about ‘Sant Valentine’ and does the whole exposition for the audience. Then they nail it for the audience when Madhuri says ‘Lekin iss saal ka Valentine’s Day bahut special hai. Kyunki is saal Valentine’s day pooranmaasi pe aata hai!!!‘
Rakeysh OmPrakash Mehra – Stories are personal experiences. I’m primarily a director and a spare time writer. Story is THE king. When there was no structure were there not stories and storytellers? So is this structure only related to cinema? Yes there is a beginning, middle, end in a story but when you translate it on screen, it needn’t be in the same order.
Hundreds of poets and shayars have written about Romance, lekin kehte hain ki Ghalib ka andaz-e-bayaan aur hai!
Every film I make is a film school for me. I watch many movies, read many scripts. The driving force for me is when you want to say something and deciding how you want to say it.
In my next two scripts, I’m trying to discover a free flowing structure. I’ve done away with INT/EXT/DAY/NIGHT. That is for the 1st AD and the production to figure out. My next film I want to write a long essay. And want to translate it into cinema using a free flowing structure. Because I know the story and character inside out. I’ve followed the 2 ACT, 3 ACT, Linear and Non Linear structure in my movies.
Govind Nihlani – Rakesh even a free flowing structure is a structure in itself. By the way, recently there have been a lot of South Remakes which has also brought a lot of change in Hindi Cinema – A ‘Madras Cut’. Could you shed some light on it?
K Hariharan – There are two kinds of cinema down south. First is the Madras Cinema (which always saw itself as ‘National’ Cinema and not as regional cinema). Second is the Tamil Cinema. Madras Cinema was like kind of a ‘testing ground’. The scripts were written in English. If you see the scripts of L V Prasad they were written in English. And in south the audiences are far more engaged in cinema. So Madas Cinema was a great testing ground for these films. A film which became a hit would immediately be remade in Hindi. Gulshan Rai, Tarachand Barjatya were producers who used to enquire about the films ‘How many weeks did such-and-such film ran? 30 weeks! Ok then we’ll fund the hindi remake!’
L V Prasad made Samsaran (Telugu) which ran for 50 weeks and it was remade in hindi with Raj Kapoor and Meena Kumari as Sharada. Yenge Veetu Pillai with MGR was remade as Ram aur Shyaam. Namme Naal was remade as Haathi Mere Saathi.
I take Ghajini, Bodyguard, Singham etc very seriously. The story structure is very simple in such films. It’s a heroic story story with the graph from Zero to Infinity! Bodyguard has that slight college campus which is its USP. Rest all is the same zero to infinity flow. Bodyguard was a telugu film remade in Tamil and then eventually into Hindi. There is no space for complexity in such films. It is Melodrama and Melodrama doesn’t accept psychology. It’s pure structure of Ascendant. Zero to Infinity!
So you see in most such films, the villains have no motivation at all. They are mere walls/obstacles for the protagonist to overcome. When the audiences get lost in psychologically complex films, they want to take a break. Then they see such films. We don’t get into grey areas. The audience is being reassured that good will win and evil will be defeated.
Tom Schulman on why America is so stuck on 3 ACT structure –
By the way, Shakespeare used the 5 ACT structure and not 3 ACT. Personally I feel Analysis is Paralysis. I want the freedom to create. The only thing I think about is that my script should be between 100-130 pages and the film should be 90-120 min in duration. Lots of writers do rebel against the 3 ACT and the rules. The others still want an inciting incident on the 24th page and a conflict escalation point on the 85th page and blah blah.
I wrote ‘What about Bob’ and the director asked me during one of our many discussions –
‘Where is the 2nd Act Curtain?’
I had no clue what he meant but I vaguely described the scene which I thought was the ‘2nd ACT Curtain scene’. I said may be such and such scene is the one you are looking for.
‘Yeah this one. You are right. But which page?‘
I didn’t remember! I checked my script and replied ’93’
‘Oh that’s great. So we can knock off 3 pages and shift it to page number 90, where it should be!’
I was flabbergasted. Then he asked me –
‘What’s your favourite scene in the film ?’
I replied ‘Is this kill your babies from Syd Field?’
‘Then I’m not telling you my favourite scene!’
Then he tells me his favourite scene. Co-incidentally it was my favourite scene too!
He said ‘Ok great. This scene has to go then!’
‘This is ridiculous. This scene is your fav scene and mine too. The writer’s and Director’s fav scene in the movie. Why should it go ? Purely because Syd Field says you should kill your babies in the script ?’
‘No. Not just that. But also because it is in the 2nd Act and not in the 3rd Act!!!‘
I rebel against such usage of the 3 ACT structure.
Javed Akhtar (to BN) – How can we talk about structure without deciding content? It has to be the other way round. If we decide structure in advance then it is dangerous. Mother India, Deewar, Sholay were not ‘linear’ at all. Are you communicating with your target audience?
Bejoy – I agree. Story should dictate structure. There cannot be permanent likings/preferences. The 3 ACT isn’t obsolete.
Anjum Rajabali – Many stories can be told in different ways.
Abbas – Simple stories are not there anymore. As Javed Saab rightly pointed out Villains are not there any more. Inter caste/religion marriages are being approved of by parents. So who is the villain now?
Memento is a clear example. It is a reasonably mild story told very very impact fully thanks to its structure. If you see it top down it may not be as impactful. It works more because of its reverse chronology. But the content determined that structure.
Javed Akhtar – I wish Abbas I had said your speech. I think it was superb. By the way things are not all that simple. Most super hit films are films which didn’t have happy endings. Like Mother India, Sholay, Deewar, Mughal-e-azam.
1. Sometimes you write flashback scenes which do not have the narrating character in them. Isn’t that logically wrong?
Abbas – Right ya wrong, it doesn’t matter. IF you are watching it and the Drama is strong enough, we ignore logic. Sholay ke scene mein after Amitabh’s death, how does Dharamendra go and find Gabbar’s den? You don’t care because drama is so strong!
ROM – If you’ve played chinese whispher you will know. You need to be a good liar. Don’t get logic into it.
2 Multiple Narrative & ZNMD
Abbas – Zoya did really well in ZNMD. At no point the viewer felt ‘arey! Achanak ek ki story rok ke doosre ki shuru kar di hai!’ It was appreciated by the audience. You don’t feel jolted out as one character’s personal story gets over and another one’s begins. You feel for all the characters and care enough for all the three characters. The two qualities of a good writer are
-Do you have a story?
– Can you listen to your own story before the audience can hear it?
Listen to your story. Don’t kill it.
I didn’t attend the other two sessions since they were centered around TV writing. And forgive me if i got a few marathi film names wrong. Mala sampoorna Marathi mait nahi!