Posts Tagged ‘Anjum Rajabali’

We had put out the first post here – Notes From Anjum Rajabali’s Screenwriting Workshop – Part I. If you haven’t read it yet, do check out that first. This is the second one in the series.

Our friend Dipti Kharude attended the workshop. The second post is bit longer than the first one. But it’s quite great. So have patience and keep reading.

screenwriter

Day  3 (continue)

Jitna accha jiyoge utna accha maal milega.” By ‘maal’ Anjum was referring to fodder for imagination. Beginning the day with Anjum’s witticism set the tone for days full of master classes. Their readiness to admit their struggles led to an illuminating discourse.

Session 7:  Master class with Sudip Sharma and Navdeep Singh

A discussion on character motivation with reference to NH10

Arjun is slapped in front of his wife. His honour was also ruptured. With a gun and high-profile contacts on his phone, he is armed with a sense of personal entitlement. They realized that the character should have displayed these traits of a hot-blooded Delhi male. When Sudip tried to incorporate these traits, he received feedback that the character would be unlikeable with these attributes.  Sudeep admitted, “This was a mistake. It’s not my job to make him likeable.”

 If you change characters, the structure is bound to change. In NH10, revenge was a part of ACT III. If NH10 involved two characters from Pulp Fiction, revenge would have had to be juicier and a part of ACT II, itself.

In terms of structure, they had planned to start the film at the Dhaba itself but NH10 worked because the characters were relatable. It was not Korean violence. The purpose of the scene where Meera makes a presentation in a corporate set-up was to make the characters seem like ‘one of us’. This was also the case with the party scene.

There were suggestions from producers to include happy flashbacks. NH10 had all the makings of a B-movie but Sudip and Navdeep were steadfast about the themes being honour and gender. This uplifted the story. “People thought that our themes were too overt but it was a conscious choice.”

Moving on to some nifty tips, Sudeep is vehemently against putting a camera movement in the script. Directors hate that.

Instead of writing ‘long shot’, you could write – A bridge across the river.

Instead of writing ‘Mid-shot’, you could write – A man on it.

Instead of writing, ‘Close-up’, you could write – A tear rolls down his cheek.

A good script leaves room for interpretation by the director. You should only provide a visual landscape.

Sudip’s favourite NH10 moment was not scripted. The child laughed when Meera is slapped by Ammaji (Deepti Naval). Navdeep kept the moment. It is a harsh and disturbing moment where you can see patriarchy at work and the child is already on the path of violence.

The famed scene where Meera says ‘Fuck you’ was not a part of the initial drafts. She’s an established swimmer. In the earlier drafts, she swims across a canal and throws her wet shoes at them. This scene was to mark her first success.  They didn’t find a canal and had to settle for a rock quarry and that is the genesis of the aforesaid scene.

Setting/Milieu is important in a film – Just like Varanasi is a character in Masaan, Gurgaon is a character in NH10.

On the process of writer-director collaboration, they advised not jump into writing the story immediately.  Stay with it. Spend a few months talking about it. Watch other films in that zone.

You can’t sit with one script and say you’re a writer. Sudip wrote about 25 scripts before NH10 materialised.

They also highly recommend the process of index cards, where you write one-liners of scenes sequentially on cards and keep them with you. Put them up on a wall and colour code them, if you’d like. It helps you understand what kind of scenes each of the acts is made up of.

Takeaway – Your characters determine the structure/genre of your story.

Session 8: Mythology: Discovering the heights of drama from the depths of human nature (Notes of this session are sketchy. Nevertheless, this topic deserves a separate workshop of its own. Thanks to the participants fawning over the writers conducting master classes, Anjum was forced to not cover it as comprehensively as he would have liked to)

The content and dramatic forms of Mahabharata and Ramayana have had an overarching influence on Indian screenwriting. Anjum spoke about how mythology lends itself to reinterpretation and how mythological stories have evolved over time. We discussed how Valmiki’s Ramayana doesn’t entail Agnipariksha or the iconic Lakshaman Rekha.

Anjum spoke about the integration of Mahabharata in the film Rajneeti and how one of the most important scenes in the film modeled on Kunti revealing to Karan that she’s his mother, didn’t deliver the impact.

He also explained how Arjun (Ranbir in Rajneeti) evolves. The better he gets at dealing with war, the more he declines morally.

In Ramayana, Ram has to adhere to the ideal of Maryada Purshottam and hence he doesn’t reveal his emotions.  The character of Lakshman serves this purpose, instead.

Anjum also explained how the phrase ‘Narova Kunjarova’ has over the centuries and millenia symbolized ambiguity in a message in our culture.  It has been channelized into dialogues and storylines.

Anjum wrapped up this session by saying, “Believe in magic. We are getting too obsessed with Hollywood’s realism.”

Takeaway: Tap into mythology for some interesting conflicts and insights into human behaviour. Stories need not be real. They should be lifelike.

Mythology: Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey

The three phases the hero has to go through for the hero’s spirit to be unleashed.

Departure

–        The Call

–        Refusal of the Call

–        Supernatural Aid

–        Crossing of the first threshold

–        Belly of the whale

Initiation

–        Road of trials

–        Meeting with the goddess

–        Women as temptress

–        Atonement with the Father

–        Apotheosis (Harmony)

–        The Ultimate Boon

Return

–        Refusal to return

–        Magic Light

–        Rescue from without

–        Crossing of the Return Threshold

–        Master of the two worlds

–        Freedom to live

This is a part of Joseph Campbell’s book, A Hero with a Thousand Faces.

George Lucas’ Star Wars: A New Hope is based largely on this journey.

Takeaway: Overcome the hurdles at each stage. Our lives are a series of heroic journeys. The hero’s struggle is rewarding. S/he is defined by her/his steadfast commitment. Our creative blocks come out of residues of parental repression. In life, like in films, we need to resolve our psychological blocks to emerge as heroes.

Session 9: Master class with Himanshu Sharma

Screenplays are not supposed to be read. They’re supposed to be seen.  You might disagree with something but you should write it with conviction.

While discussing his method, Himanshu told us that he imagines scenes and snippets and starts building them up. For Tanu Weds Manu, the scene where Tanu has passed out and Manu kisses her came to him first. He discussed it with Anand Rai and they took it ahead. He writes a scene and finds a way to get there. Himanshu calls it the experience of discovery – if he’s taking trouble to figure it out, even the audience won’t find it predictable.

He believes that his films work because of nostalgia. Stay rooted. Write what you know. Even in that milieu, scandal is always better than banal.

Encash your current emotional situation – be it a heartbreak or a divorce.

While discussing the flaws of his films, he gave an instance of Raanjhanaa. The second half was problematic. The entire political chunk was not written well. Kundan’s character was not supposed to be as sweet as he appears in the film. Kundan’s character has stayed with him and demands a new film.

The scene where Manu proposes to Datto and calls her Tanu in TWMR was a genuine mistake. It was a typo and it played out as a good moment.

Pappi is essentially an extension of Mannu. They are the same.

Dattoo was portrayed as a strong character, so that she could handle the abandonment by Manu.

On the toughest part of writing, Himanshu says, “Main climax hi nahi kar pata”, which drew quite a few laughs.

Day  4

Session 10: Master class Saiwyn Quadros and Sanyuktha Chawla (Writer and dialogue writer of Neerja)

Saiwyn wanted to make a woman centric film since female actors are more willing to work with first time writer/directors than male heroes. He admitted that if it was in his hands, he would have cast a girl from Manipur in the role of the athlete in Mary Kom.

While speaking of her journey, Sanyukhta said, “Have you ever seen a rich writer?”

During the narration of Neerja, it was the climatic point where Neerja’s parents receive her body on her 23rd birthday that made the biggest impact. Ram Madhvani wanted it to be a mother-daughter story. Not a story about hijack. The end would have been sappy but Shabana’s speech made it inspirational.

Writers have to mislead the viewers. During ‘Neerja’, when she opens the emergency exit, you feel like she is going to be safe. How can she die now?

 On the terrorists not displaying more of their characteristics, Saiwayn said, delving into the Libya/Palestine issue would alienate the audience. Their character exploration would take away from Neerja’s journey. The language they spoke was an issue. Earlier they thought of going with Urdu and later, Arabic. “We thought when the passengers don’t understand what the terrorists are speaking, it leads to more dread. The terrorists couldn’t fit into the bracket of menace. They were uncertain.”

On Ram Madhvani being a tough taskmaster:  The scenes in the plane were shot in 12 days with a four camera setup. Ram Madhvani wanted it to be more like theatre. It involved one hour takes without cuts.

The script involved an emotional objectives draft and the business objectives draft (who’s doing what in scenes, like Neerja winding the tape of a cassette on her way to the airport).

While converting conversation into dialogue, find a real person as a reference for that character.

Add something new to a true story. The audience will then be convinced that you are capable of surprising them. The real Neerja was a Dire Straits fan, not a Rajesh Khanna fan. Saiwyn’s father was a Rajesh Khanna fan. Since Rajesh Khanna’s character, Anand celebrates death, it was fitting.

Session 11: Scene Design and Dialogue

Anjum continued his discussion about the first scene introducing the character of Antonio Salieri in the film, Amadeus.

In that context, Anjum explained how to use dialogue as action rather than dialogue as information. Resist the need to answer a dialogue with a dialogue. What does the character want? What are his expectations? When the expectations of two characters don’t match, you have drama! In the Amadeus scene, the concern of the writer was eliciting Salieri’s grief? No one remembers him. He is in an asylum. He is envious of Mozart, who is more acclaimed. He works much harder than Mozart but still Mozart is better. This envy is a universal condition.

Two and a half minutes is ideal time for a scene to unfold.

Vijay’s character is overcompensating in Deewar. The knowledge of psychological defence mechanisms can be very helpful in writing dialogues.

While constructing a scene and writing dialogues, take two steps forward and one step backward. The uncertain helps maintain the intrigue.

Deconstructing a scene from Satya where Bhiku Mhatre returns home from prison, Anjum said, “Be faithful to the characters and where they come from.” Despite being a love scene, Bhiku slaps his wife. This is their world. She slaps him back. That is catharsis. It shows how intimately they know each other. Look for such possibilities.

Push your characters. Push your pen. Don’t tell the audience what they already know.

We went to study the scene from Sixth Sense where the kid reveals to the mother that he sees ghosts. He explained how the choice of place and time is perfect. They are both in a car and stuck in a traffic jam. The mother is forced to give him undivided attention. The dialogue uses natural anxieties of the characters.  The wordplay is worth observing in this scene.

Takeaway: When a dialogue has a dramatic surprise, it is good writing.

Session 12: Master Class with Sriram Raghavan

Anjum asked us to watch Sriram’s short, The Eight Column Affair, and his film on Raman Raghav before introducing him.

Sriram spoke about what didn’t work with Agent Vinod. “You love it too much. You hug it too hard. You kill it.” He wishes to re-edit Agent Vinod and put it on Youtube.

In Badlapur, grief turns into uncontrollable anger. Anjum asked Sriram, if the protagonist waited for 20 years, he should have come up with a better revenge plan. Sriram clarified, “He was not brewing revenge. He just shut himself up for 20 years. He was confining himself. It is not his agenda. The agenda finds him when a lady knocks on his door. The misogyny in the character is intentional”. Sriram accepted that the film should have shed some light on the emotional state of the protagonist during his confinement.

On his method: “I take a book. Read half of it and then brainstorm with my friends about the possible turns the story can take. I also like to play a certain kind of music to be in the zone. Jaideep is my Dial-a-dialogue.” He confessed that he hated it when a writer once gave camera directions in the script – “Zack Snyder style slo mo.”

Session 13: Master Class with Jaideep Sahni

Since he was an engineer, Jaideep looked at a screenplay as an algorithm to make a film. It is a scientific process.

The writer confesses to having never watched Hindi films before writing Jungle; his only exposure to Bollywood being Hindi songs. He realized careers work only for people who want to do one thing forever. So he decided to let go of those careers once and for all to live simply but do everything he wanted. This freedom helped him be a writer. When he came across the screenplay of Gandhi at a bookshop one day, it changed his life. “I fell in love with screenwriting by then and kept trying to learn and make my own screenplays and songs and showing them to anybody who had the time.”

He says, Bunty aur Babli taught him to insert lip-sync songs in a script. He could do away with 15 pages of his script after Gulzar wrote the song, Chote Chote shehron se, Khali bor dopahron se.

His scripts get their dramatic energy from life. Though he didn’t know much about the sub-culture of organized crime, he used his knowledge of the group dynamics of student politics while writing Company. He grew up seeing the helplessness and self-righteousness of the middle-class and wrote Khosla ka Ghosla. Based on a real incident in his life, he had suggested the second half of the film as a solution when he was a kid.

He had heard of Kiraaye ke baraati (Shuddha Desi Romance) but it took him two months to find them and write about them.

Jaideep wanted to focus on small towns like Jaipur in Rajasthan and not depict deserts. Details like the way women wear a dupatta around their faces for privacy more than protection against the sun in Tier II cities intrigue him and trigger story ideas.

Session 14: Master class with Varun Grover and Neeraj Ghaywan

Objectivity is the biggest treasure of collaboration. The run-up to the first draft is the most beautiful process. Find your film before you go to the final draft.

Varun mentioned that he was an emotional wreck after his college stint drew to a close. Going back and feeling like a Banarasi was important to him. “A lot of stuff in the films exists just because of our love for the city.” He mentioned that the working title of the film was Raand-Saand-Seedhi-Sanyasi.

The montage sequences in the film are a tribute to Inarritu’s Babel and Amores Perros. They advised against inserting stylistic elements in the screenplay.

Neeraj spoke about how 7-8 mentors at Sundance helped them hone the screenplay.

They also admitted how they willingly went ahead with some contrivances in the film.

Day  5

Session 15: Master class with Sridhar Raghavan

He began with an introduction of Trinity Writers’ Room and the process they followed. Only 2 out of 8 writers selected had formal experience. Passion was the only qualifying criterion apart. They were asked to write a film review and a scene that could be added/removed from a particular film. So, they picked ardent, funny and well-read writers who would love the process of collaboration while writing.

Their first focus is ideas. Come up with as many ideas as possible. We latch on to our pet ideas. At a buffet, why stuff your plate with salads? Make a circuit of the whole place first. Take an idea; try all the routes – comedy, thriller etc. The Writers’ Room is training the writers to covert ideas into stories and to explore genre. The ideas could come through various sources – a poem, a painting or an article.

Sridhar’s process – I am a voracious reader and traveller.  I keep collecting data and putting it in different shoeboxes. I read somewhere that even after you burn a piece of paper, there is way to retrieve the text. This forensic device became a source of ideas.

The duality of Goa fascinated me. After hearing of a murder in Arpora, I spoke to a number people and collected information. I indulged in free association and wrote a piece. I showed it to Nishikant Kamath. It was not a screenplay but prose. It was not meant to be a movie but a book till Fox Studios picked it up.

I would advice you to focus more on characters. Take reference points for characters from real life instead of thinking of a character like ‘Daniel Craig’ from so and so film.

He went on to explain about digital writing – episodic writing which involves more character exploration. It is too early to discern the structure of digital writing. Narcos as a film didn’t do well but the series gave the characters room to breathe. Watch every pilot that comes out of different countries. He recommended Turkish television shows for the writing.

Session 16: Master Class with Juhi Chaturvedi

Juhi spoke about how she fought with her father to get into fine arts only to find out much later that writing was her true calling.

On the premise of Vicky donor, Juhu spoke about how the idea came to her after she had her first child. The vague idea that triggered the premise was – What if a guy goes about donating sperm but cannot have his own kids.

Anjum intervened and explained how films like Piku and Vicky Donor are not so much about constipation or sperm donation but more about the emotional consequences of those conditions.

On writing dialogue, Juhi said, “I don’t write character sketches. Forget you’re a writer when you write dialogues. Talk like the characters. Let the characters talk crap. See if you can turn your scenes into moments. Piku doesn’t say ‘Don’t go’, she says, ‘You’re going?’”

Juhi doesn’t like to reference films. She doesn’t watch anything when she’s writing. Day-to-day characters and the mundane fascinate her.

When she rehearses, she rehearses the silent moments as well.

Anjum mentioned how the end of Piku didn’t go down very well with him.  “Sattar saal ki umar mein ek badi potty ki aur mar gaya.” Piku and Bhaskor feed off each other. Many of us agreed that a resolution while he was alive would have uplifted the film. After his death, if her psychological issues remain, she is still not liberated.

Session 17: Writing Protocols/Professional guidance

Process

1)     Write a working premise

2)     1 Page story – (Synopsis – paragraph format – like a short story)

3)     4 Page Story – (Synopsis – paragraph format – like a short story)

4)     Revise the premise

5)     8 and half pages – Treatment Note – Has to have the possibility of showing on the screen

6)     Step Outline – The determining document. (30-35 pages). Include one line scenes with scene numbers. Also known as beat sheet. (Ideal number of scenes – 75 to 100).

7)     Script without dialogue (Casting, budgeting, location can be done on this basis)

8)     Script with dialogue or screenplay – (Maximum – 100 pages)

When you introduce a character, use ALL CAPS. For example, NAVEEN (mid-30s, lanky with a nervous energy)

First scene after the interval is a buffer scene. People take time to settle. Factor a scene that offers a recap even while it’s taking the story ahead.

Beat is a significant change not expressed with a huge reaction. Whenever such a moment occurs, write BEAT. Use it sparingly.

A song is a scene. Mention the description of the song. What it is doing? What will the song encompass visually?

Quick Tips & Tools

PITCH

1)     Concept Note – Half a Page

2)      Why does this script have the possibility of universal resonance?

3)     1 page story + 4 page story

4)     Covering Letter about yourself and mention which stage the script is in

Do not send this mail without having written the script.

Softwares available for screenwriting:

1)     Celtx

2)     Final Draft (Paid)

3)     Movie Magic Screenwriter

Screenwriter Labs

1. Sundance

2. Drishyam

3. Mahindra Mumbai Mantra New Voices Fellowship

– Read one script every day.

– Make a list of a dozen films, you really like. Watch the film completely. Write the step outline.

– Use your own fingers and experience the magic of transcribing scripts and writing them. You will feel like a contributor of the script.

– When your thinking becomes like that of a cinematic storyteller, every sentence will become a shot.

– He also covered copyright advice and the importance of FWA. While mentioning his busyness, he said that he doesn’t care for award ceremonies. One of the awards he has received is in the drawer where he keeps his ‘undies’.

Closing Talk by Subhash Ghai

The beginning of this session was like a time warp, thanks to an old AV about the showman.  He was quite the candid raconteur.

He advised aspiring writers to make a case study file. Note down the box office collections, reviews and your own thoughts against every new movie watched.  You will learn to see trends and make connections.

He also took a dig at a writer-director duo that conducted a master class during the event and couldn’t articulate the premise of their own film. Ghai blurted out the premise of their film and the loglines of many other new age films.

He believes that Ram Lakhan is similar in spirit to Kapoor and Sons. Cinema has to change with time. The new world wants to dissociate itself from the values of the 70s. “Fine by me. I believe in making movies for the audiences.”

Once a writer told Ghai, “Main story sunane se darta hun. Screenplay suniye. Treatment ki kahaani hai.” He told the participants to not make this pitching mistake. “Agar tumhari kahaani treatment ki hai, toh tumhari kahani beemar hai.”

He exhorted the participants to hone their narration skills or get the help of a good narrator while pitching stories.

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The brilliance of the syllabus and the speaker can’t be overstated but I do hope that they come up with a way to handle the Q&A session. It is a colossal waste of time to sit through sessions with existential questions like, “Sir, When will we win an Oscar?” Gushing is not questioning. “Sir, every frame of every film of yours is a painting” – what is the query in this statement? There are no right answers to wrong questions. When Anjum recommended Ganguli’s Mahabharata, there was a question about whether he was referring to Rupa Ganguly. Some of these questions did provide comic relief but it was appalling to see a writer and an actor (participants) break into a brawl over who gets to ask questions to the master class speakers.

– Dipti Kharude

 

When it comes to screenwriting, Anjum Rajabali is probably the best teacher/mentor in B-town. He organises a screenwriting workshop almost every year. We had posted about this workshop on our blog. Our friend Dipti Kharude attended the workshop this year. Here’s her extensive notes from the workshop.

Do read and thank her for putting it all together.

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In the early 2000s, I had a juvenile blog. I remember blogging about how, if there were one extravagant thing I’d want in my own house; it had to be a space for screening films. Another stray line from that same blog comes to mind. It was more like an affirmation – Wish I could make a film that would be an expression of the explosion in my heart. The bang I was referring to was a visceral reaction to incandescent instants on the silver screen. Filmmaking seemed nothing short of wizardry.

Movie clubs were magical places then. They made the idea of cinema palpable and more importantly accessible. The most spellbinding moments on screen could be traced back to a web of words on paper – the script or the screenplay – that sacrosanct document where imagination flourished.

Once I began ‘adulting’, this curiosity got sidetracked and the searing zeal waned into a tepid fascination. It was only after rupturing the shackles of a job that I submitted myself to the lure of cinema again. This time though, I decided to approach it scientifically and registered for the 5-day Screenwriting Workshop by Anjum Rajabali.

Despite the academic approach, it upheld the movie mojo. When you don’t miss your phone for 5 straight days, in a world where you are willingly tethered to your devices, you know the workshop instructor has done a stellar job.

In the interactive master classes, Jaideep Sahni, Sriram Raghavan, Juhi Chaturvedi, Himanshu Sharma, Shridhar Raghavan, Varun Grover, Neeraj Ghaywan, Sudip Sharma, Navdeep Singh, Saiwyn Quadros, Sanyuktha Chawla-Shaikh, shared their creative and professional struggles, explained their style and approach to writing, and offered a wealth of tips for new writers.

Though not without its faults, the workshop was enlightening and enthusing. Replete with Anjum’s personal stories of failure, it encouraged participants to write. ‘Till the age of 34, I didn’t know the meaning of screenplay. I had only written articles. It is possible to reinvent yourself. Get the junk out of the way, which is usually the first draft. Write what you enjoy seeing on screen and no joy equals to that of writing ‘FADE OUT’.

Without further ado, here’s a rundown of what happened at the workshop. It is a gist at best.

Day 1

Session 1: The Importance of Stories and Storytelling

After a quick introduction, we were handed writing pads with Stanley Kubrick’s quote – If it can be written or thought, it can be filmed. Anjum delved into how stories help us make sense of the chaos of life. We are constantly battling the senselessness of life and stories help us find meaning. They unravel the complexity of lived reality.

When it comes to story ideas, we were told that, just the way you don’t marry the first person you date, you don’t commit to the first idea that comes to mind. Spend time in building a trove and the one that stays is worth looking into, the prerequisite being that it should move you profoundly in a sad or joyous way. Once that idea is discerned, live, breathe and fornicate with it.

Meaningful stories are the ones that address human condition. They offer a lifelike experience and make viewers suspend their judgments. Reality takes a backseat. Lions may not speak in real life but Lion King makes the viewer suspend this disbelief.

After a bout of anecdotes, the interactive session snowballed into a volley of irrelevant questions that lasted much beyond the time allocated for the same. Future participants should be careful about asking pertinent questions to avoid this debacle. While a participant pointed out that Sholay didn’t take into account the ‘greys’ of characters and how she had a problem that Gabbar Singh was depicted as pure evil, Anjum quipped, “You can’t screw up a film like Sholay with greyness. It is not about understanding evil. It is about destroying it, as opposed to Satya.” This exchange turned into a debate about whether the workshop would be ‘democratic’. Though it was a delight to see Anjum field questions with his special brand of humour and irreverence, he was forced to downsize some other germane discussions.

Session 2 – Premise : The Dramatic Centre/ Expansion into Plot

If you can’t say it in one sentence, you don’t know what it’s about.

This one kickstarted the workshop in the real sense of the word. Premise is the interplay between the protagonist and the central situation (conflict). The energy of the story comes from these one or two sentences that form the premise. Everything else is a sub-plot.

We deciphered the premises of different films. Most of the participants were surprised when they discovered that though Dil Chahta Hai’s theme is friendship, the premise is about Aamir Khan’s failure to understand adult love.

Anjum went on to explain how the specificity of the premise is directly proportional to the effectiveness of the screenplay. In case of the film Neerja, participants deduced– It is the story of an airhostess grappling with a plane hijack and responding with courage. Anjum explained how Neerja is the story of an ordinary girl finding extraordinary courage. The particularity of the ordinariness of the character is of significance. If the airhostess were a woman trained in martial arts, the story wouldn’t have worked.

The plot is the dramatic progression of the character and the central situation. The premise generally kicks in during ACT II. While setting up the story in Act I, the character should reveal characteristics or peculiarities that lead to the premise. In Sholay, though Thakur has lost both his hands, the emotion the story evokes is only anger and not sympathy since the premise involves revenge. There is not a single scene in the film where Thakur is shown in a pitiful state.

We watched the short film, Le Poulet, inferred its premise, discussed the purpose of every scene and analysed the point where the premise was activated. Anjum helped us examine the way in which the protagonist’s struggle is visually depicted (your film should cover action, not activity). There was also a discussion on how ‘twists’ work in films. A good twist is the one that surprises you but in retrospect it’s inevitable.

Takeaway: Once an idea arrives, you need to hit upon it with a premise. The premise is like a lighthouse. If you’re ever stuck while writing a scene, look to the logline and it will push you in the right direction.

Stories fraught with failure were more revealing. Anjum candidly gave references of his own films Pukar and Arakshan and how they moved away from the premise and suffered. Pukar was to be a love story based on Samson and Delilah but the love story turned into a sub-plot when the screenplay advanced and Arakshan dealt with reservation in the first half and the second half became about commercialization of education.

Constant references to films like Sholay, Deewar and the likes were definitely helpful to those who have grown up on that fare but to a large extent the grammar of films has changed. If there were more references to contemporary films, the juxtaposition would have been more pertinent.

Session 3 – Character, Characterisation, Character Arc, Transformation.

Discovering the Character’s personality, qualities relevant to your plot.

The protagonist is defined by her/his struggle and her/his steadfast commitment.

When it comes to characterisation, imagine the vulnerabilities and unmet desires of the character. Being vulnerable is a sign of being alive. Explore the physiology (paunch, looks, etc.), sociology (caste,class,neighbourhood) and psychology of the main characters (fears, vices, early memories etc.)

Place the character in multiple ‘what if’ situations and reflect on her/his reactions. Anjum warned us about digressing and crafting character sketches that run into pages with immaterial details like the brand of toothpaste the character uses. (Precisely – Bhaad mein gayi uski chaddi/ Bhaad mein gayi uski toothpaste).The premise serves as a beacon at this stage too. The characteristics of the protagonist should propel the premise.

At the heart of any good story is character evolution. A character arc is the transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of a story.

Ask two questions of your character with regard to the character arc:

What does s/he want?

What does s/he really want?

In case of Airlift, Ranjit Katiyal initially wants to ensure the safety of his family and then includes his employees in its ambit.

The most interesting stories are the ones where the characters have lost the battle but won the war.

Film Screening: Little Miss Sunshine

Takeaway: A character sketch is not a biography. Brevity is your best friend.

Despite Anjum repeating countless times about questioning the main characters in relation to the premise, a participant was hell-bent on deconstructing the character of Samba in Sholay.

Day 2

Session 4 – Script Analysis of Little Miss Sunshine (with emphasis on characters and their arcs)

After diving into the vulnerabilities of each character and discussing how each character was introduced on screen, we dissected the 14-minute dinner scene which exhausts all the possibilities of dissonance.

Dissonance lends the plot the essential dramatic vigour.

For a rewarding character arc, put your characters in the worst situations and dire places. Let them dig deep and find their way out.

We traced the journey of all the characters – how each of them started and how their arcs blended with the resolution of the film.

In Little Miss Sunshine, Richard tells his daughter, “If you win, we will go.” In the climax we see him joining her with jubilation as she loses. This flip makes for a good character arc.

While there have been films with a few exceptions, your scripts should have at least one major character who goes through a change in his belief or behavior.

Takeaway: Ironies and paradoxes make for good stories.

Session 5 – Structuring the Screenplay

A screening of the short film, The Lunch Date, shined a light on how prejudice operates through generalization. It is dissolved by treating the person as an individual. Hence a personal experience can help one overcome prejudice. This led to the premise of a rich lady encountering a poor, black, homeless man.

Anjum explained how it is important to exploit every single frame in a short film. The film just like Hitchcock’s Psycho sways your perspective. Irrespective of rationality or morality, viewers feel sympathy towards characters that are vulnerable and struggling.

Before plunging headlong into the three act structure, a disclaimer is in order. This popular structure is not a formula or a model to follow consciously. It is meant to be imbibed and forgotten.

Act I – Setup – Introduce characters. Establish their situations. Begin your sub-plots.

Act II – Confrontation – The plot goes into second gear and the premise blooms here.

Act III – Resolution

Takeaway: Treat the knowledge of the 3 act structure as scaffolding. Knowledge transforms to wisdom when it becomes second nature. Thought can be the enemy of creativity. Too much thinking leads to contrivances in the plot. Write and when you find yourself faltering, evaluate your screenplay with the help of the 3 act structure.

Session 6 – Scene Design

“The structural unity of the parts is such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed, the whole will be disjointed and disturbed. For a thing whose presence or absence makes no visible difference is not an organic part of the whole.” – Aristotle

The questions to explore before writing a scene:

What is the purpose of the scene? Is the scene related to the rest of the story? How does it advance the story? Does it reveal something important about the character? Are you introducing a character? Does the dialogue reflect character? Do your characters have something to do – any activity?

We scrutinized a scene from the film, Amadeus against the parameters mentioned above.

Screening of Incendies

Day 3

Session 6: Scene Design Continued

We studied the opening scene of The Godfather where the aim was to introduce the Godfather and his system. Anjum explained how the scene exploits the discord created by an emotional reaction. A monologue at the start of the film is generally considered as suicide but this one weaves in intrigue since it is structured like a story. This scene is a master class on how an organic quality of the character lends a dramatic touch. This drama is a rich device to bring to the fore, the hidden.

Takeaway: This was the most gratifying session since we analysed every frame of the scene and tracked its progression. While Anjum deconstructed the scene, it dawned upon me that this is the part I like most about the whole process of screenwriting – crafting the nuances of a scene. It also elevated my capacity to savour aspects of films that I had earlier mindlessly consumed.

Thanks to questions that only served to stoke the pseudo intelligence of some participants, the session on analysis of the film Incendies had to be deferred. Another purpose of questioning seemed to be name-dropping.

Dipti Kharude

Master class with Sudip Sharma and Navdeep Singh – To be continued.

screenwriting-215x300Brave writing seems to be moving center-stage in the Indian film industry. Year after year, an increasing number of vibrant scripts, which reflect the writer’s vision and conviction, are finding their way to the big screen. Every well-written script increases the industry’s confidence in screenwriting.

Here’s a chance to learn from those who are blazing a trail – repeatedly!

In lively interactive master classes, they will share their creative and professional struggles, explain their style and approach to writing, and offer a wealth of tips for new writers. The Workshop Instructor, through extensive sessions, will cover all the essential principles of screenwriting, Indian mythology, copyright law, writers’ contracts, and professional guidance.

WORKSHOP INSTRUCTOR:  Anjum Rajabali (Drohkaal, Ghulam, The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Raajneeti): Head of screenwriting at Whistling Woods Mumbai, and an activist of FWA. Conducts workshops, script labs and fellowships for screenwriters in India and abroad.

SPEAKERS

Jaideep Sahni (Chak De India), Sriram Raghavan (Badlapur) Juhi Chaturvedi (Piku, Vicky Donor), Himanshu Sharma (Tanu Weds Manu 1&2), Shridhar Raghavan (Dum Maro Dum), Varun Grover (Masaan), Sudip Sharma (NH-10),                   Navdeep Singh (Director: NH-10), Saiwyn Quadros (Neerja, Mary Kom), and Sanyuktha Chawla-Shaikh (Neerja)

DATE : 30th March to 3rd April, 2016 (5 days)

VENUE : Whistling Woods International, Mumbai

FEE:

For FWA members: Rs. 7500/- (Inclusive of taxes, tea/coffee and lunch on all days)
For non-FWA members: Rs. 10000/- (Inclusive of taxes, tea/coffee and lunch on all days)
*If you wish to become an FWA member, please visit www.fwa.co.in

DETAILS/REGISTER – For more information and to register for the workshop, please call 30916003 or email: kanchi.parikh@whistlingwoods.net

WWI-FWA Workshop 2015

WHAT : 5-Day Screenwriting Workshop

by Anjum Rajabali

and

Vishal Bhardwaj (Haider) , Sriram Raghavan (Badlapur), Jaideep Sahni (Chak De India), Juhi Chaturvedi (Vicky Donor), Ritesh Batra (Lunch Box), Vikramaditya Motwane (Udaan, Producer: Queen), Shridhar Raghavan (Dum Maro Dum), Akshat Verma (Delhi Belly), Sharat Kataria (Dum Laga Ke Haisha), Anand Gandhi (Ship of Theseus), Navdeep Singh (Director: NH-10), Sudip Sharma (NH-10)

WHEN : April 29 – May 3, 2015

WHERE  : At Whistling Woods, Film city, Goregaon (East), Mumbai – 65

Presented by Whistling Woods
(in association with FWA & Living Bridge Pune)

WORKSHOP : The last few years have marked the beginning of an exciting era for Indian screenwriters! More films are breaking the conventional mold, based on bold scripts. Badlapur, Udaan, Haider, Dum Lagaa Ke Haisha, Queen, The Lunch Box, Vicky Donor, Ship of Theseus, Delhi Belly, Chak de India, NH-10.. the list goes on. What’s more, the audience is welcoming these with pleasure.

Gradually but steadily, the scriptwriter seems to be moving centre-stage!

This workshop will not only cover all the basics of the screenwriting craft, encouraging you to develop competence as a screenwriter, but also expose you to how these stalwarts let their imagination fly with conviction. So, here’s your best chance to learn, via rich interactive sessions with writers who are redefining Indian screenwriting today!

WORKSHOP INSTRUCTOR: Anjum Rajabali (Drohkaal, Ghulam, The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Raajneeti): Heads the screenwriting departments at Whistling Woods Mumbai and FTII Pune, and is an activist with FWA. Conducts screenwriting workshops, and script labs and fellowships for screenwriters.

FEE: For FWA members: Rs. 7500/- (Inclusive of taxes, tea/coffee, lunch)
For non-FWA members: Rs. 10000/- (Inclusive of taxes, tea/coffee, lunch)
*If you wish to become an FWA member, please visit www.fwa.co.in

REGISTER : To register for the workshop, please call 30916003 or email: kanchi.parikh@whistlingwoods.net

 Adaptation

If you missed it earlier, click here for the recap of Day 1. And over to mister Screeny for Day2.

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.

Q&A
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?’
‘Yes’
‘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.

Q&A
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!

If you are attending the ongoing FWA Indian Screenwriters Conference, then great. If not, our good ol’ mister Screeny (if you are regular follower of the blog, you know) is back with all the details and dope.

screenwriting-215x300Inspired from Dear Kamal Swaroop, I’ve decided to smoke a joint/have a nip/acid before attending anything related to cinema academics. It turned out to be quite an enjoyable experience as I learnt to appreciate some of the usual sarkari fuckups (lunch came in ‘installments’ due to improper communication and people were waiting in queues for nearly 2 hours) that plague any event of such sort which involves ‘artists’, especially screenwriters! Also some sentences may appear incoherent/incompletely bridged together. This is just meant to be snippets of the lectures.
And a humble request to all those who attend screenwriting seminars – Please have some sharm-o-haya before asking chutiyape ke sawaal to the panelists  Not only do you insult their intelligence but also of your screenwriter brethren! Listening to some of the audience questions in the Q&A sessions makes you realise why we make such fuckall films. Agar ek 20 minute ke lecture ke baad ek audience member screenwriter khud irrelevant, inarticulate, tangent pe jaane wale, haggu sawaal poochega, toh 120 pannon mein kitna Diarrhoea failayega ?

WELCOME ADDRESS

Day 1 began 30 min late.

Anjum Rajabali spoke about the recently passed Copyright Amendment Act briefly. How for first time FWA is interacting with WGA. The career of a writer doesn’t begin when he gets the contract, but when he begins to write.
The annual turnover of Indian Cinema is 2.1 Billion USD whereas the mere pension fund of the WGA is 2.2 Billion USD !!! They can buy out the entire Indian Film Industry if they wish with just their pension plan.

Rajesh Dubey (writer of Balika Vadhu & many TV serials) – Achchi baat yeh hai ki aaj ke seminar mein koi saas nahi hai. Toh bina rok tok discussion chal sakti hai. Jitney TV ke writers hain unmey se shayad 30% logon ne hi kabhi kitchen mein kadam rakhkha ho, par phir bhi kitchen politics ke baare mein likhte hain, kaunsi bahu ne kheer mein cheeni ki jagah namak milaya – uss baare mein likhtey hain. Maine aaj tak ek murder nahi kiya lekin mere likhe huey serials ke murder techniques koi criminal dekhega toh yakeenan khud chaunk jaayega.
Television hindustan ke 2/3 gharon mein chalta hai. Bahut prabhaavshaali maadhyam hai par uski zimmedaariyon ke baare mein behes kabhi nahi hoti. Hoti hai toh sirf Talk shows aur debates mein. Kya samaaj ki unnati se TV Writers ka koi sarokaar hai ya nahi ?

Vinay Shukla – like always made a dead boring speech about history of responsibility of cinema. He also added ‘Hang out in there and fight everything you believe in’ in his soporific voice with which he had directed Koi Mere Dil Se Poochey & Mirch (No! Godmother & the cameo in Maqbool was a different Vinay Shukla).

Javed Akhtar (As always the old man has lot of wit and fire underneath his kurta)
Market demands Vs what we see around us. How commercial compulsions are to be made compatible with our basic instincts as a writer. Is the Indian mainstream media completely far removed from reality? (He spoke about the same old pattern of villains over the decades – moneylender-underworld don-capitalistic or a mill owner – politician – to eventually becoming a hero as a vigilante). Now we’ve even gotten bored of Pakistan as the villain. Whatever is villain-ish has become part of our society’s morality. So how do we make villains anymore ?Reg. Social Responsibility – We were unaware of it when we were writing our scripts. We had no idea our scripts had any social responsibility or political reference. We were simply writing.

Alam Ara the first sound film had nearly 50 songs. Now people are trying to change the structure. Sadly, now the only thing that is keeping the music culture alive in films is the ringtone business. Earlier we used to fall in the trap of melodrama. Now we even shy away from drama, which is a big trap. Our trump card now is comedy and not emotions. Why are we embarrassed by it ? Which was the last good romantic song you saw on screen? Do we not fall in love anymore ? We are gaining tempo/speed at the cost of depth. We can’t go back to the tempo of the 60s but we can’t lose depth either.

Reg. Delhi Rape and how we don’t have rape scenes in films nowadays- Because the victim is no longer part of a family. All films show Nuclear families (as they are prevalent in our society). No joint family, hence no hero’s sister (hero’s gf/wife can’t be raped else she will become apavitra), and hence no rape. We are not seeing families or characters’ families. We’re becoming cold gradually.

Now immediate gratification is the vogue. Nobody wants ‘hits’. Everyone wants on the table profits. And because they get it, producers/distributors are not bothered about script/content. Script is always lowest in the list of priorities. The only way we can do it by telling and convincing the producer that there is great money in our scripts. The buyer should be impressed. We are not dealing with saints but businessmen.

So pitch the complete script and not just a concept/story/idea. Model contract is the bottom line. Writers should fight for their names on the posters. They will not offer it to us in a platter. We have to fight for it. It’s a multi throng fight. We’ve to fight with ourselves to improve ourselves and fight them. There are two kinds of things. Things which are for the market and things which create the market. I suggest you go for the latter.

Tom Schulman VC of WGA (writer of firangi mohabattein – Dead Poets Society)

In silent movie era in Hollywood, the movies were ‘written’ by title card writers. A big movie Moghul later is known to have said these two things regarding writers

1. Writers were shmucks with underwood (typewriter)
2. He is the most important person in the creation of motion pictures and he should never know of this!

Early movies, writers had no/little money and no credit. A writer would be shocked to see that the ‘written by’ credit has many a times been given to the production exec’s cousin/sister.

The Oscar Academy was started out in protest of (and to prevent & monopolize) the Writers Union!
We’ve gone on a strike and been successful in our demands being approved for 7 times (for 4 yr duration) in the last 80 yrs. And then we fought for Royalties.

Dharmesh Tiwari (President of Western Indian Cine Employees & a side trivia – played Kripacharya in Mahabharat) These days TV ki haalat itni kharaab hai ki I remember a case of a TV writer approaching an exec with the idea of adaptation of Premchand’s stories. And she was met with a response – “Woh toh theek hai par iss Premchand ne aur kya likha hai?’

Bumped into Thiagarajan Kumararaja (Aaranya Kaandam – National award 2011 best Editing & Debut) who said he follows moifc and was thankful that there is a good quality DVD print of his film with English subtitles floating around. Sadly there has been no official DVD release of his film yet. (We got the DVD via some usual suspects. Thank you ji)

The film was shot in 58 days with 2 days re shooting as the guy who was playing Gajendran (younger bro) originally had passed away in a heart attack. He later discovered the actor who plays Gajendran and realised he is an ex gangster. The elder brother was a retired boxer.
Ilayaraja influence was always there. Though using Poonmene Urungudey from Moondram Pirai (Oh babua Yeh mahua in Sadma) was added later.
Tarantino influence is conscious. Kitano influence isn’t. Have only seen one Kitano film.
It took 4 yrs from writing to making the film. I’m writing my next one.
I’m fascinated with Myth & Mythology

SESSION 1 – KEY NOTE SPEECH – SCREENWRITING AND TRUTH OF OUR TIMES

The much acclaimed Sociologist Key note speaker Shiv Vishwanathan was every inch a GRE word mouthing, every adjective/adverb/composite word spewing intellectual who talked too much but shifted goalposts every now and then and made little sense after a point. Read at your own risk –

Sociologists make very poor storytellers. They are always envious of scriptwriters. Sociology is about capturing the ambiguity of life.
‘Can film be socially responsible?’ – This statement comprises of firstly the word Culture which is usually taken for granted. He narrated an anecdote of a Nazi Minister who said “When I think of Culture, I reach for my gun” And Alexander Grushev who responded with “When I hear the gun, I reach for my Culture”. We however, when hear ‘culture’, reach out for the dictionary.

Cinema vs TV – In the dingy slums of New York couple of decades ago; a young woman was being stalked by a stranger for a long time. As she yelled in fear, suddenly the lights around the tenements were switched on. The stalker took cover but after seeing that no one came to help the girl, came back and stabbed her 41 times and then ran away. When Sociologists asked the people why they didn’t run to help the girl, they responded “We felt we were watching TV!”.
TV provides time table – to wake up in morning to Aastha Channel and go to sleep at night after watching Daily Soap Operas. TV is Civics. Cinema is myth.

Manto is the predecessor of Javed Akhtar. His story on Bombay Talkies is the answer to Pakistan. Bombay Talkies was left alive. Manto created the myth of Bombay Talkies, about unity between Hindus & Muslims.
Bollywood captures part of the imagination, part of the culture of solidarity. But myth of Bollywood is Silence. It amplifies myth of Hindu Muslim Unity but is silent about caste. Heroes are Brahminical angry young men. But no Angry young Dalits.
Social Responsibility is what you cook up when it doesn’t exist. It belongs to Planning Commission not to Bollywood. Because if Bollywood addresses Social Responsibility it loses it’s myth. Bollywood brings oral imagination to Society. It is the secret preamble to the Constitution. The answer to a myth is another myth. Myth is the beauty of Bollywood.

I remember singing Mera Joota Hai Japaani so much in my childhood that my mother often chided me ‘You sing it so much that you think it is the National Anthem’.

Stereotype is comfortable. It is a large house with lots of windows where we go to rest peacefully. AB on Cinema is different from AB on TV (KBC). While AB on Cinema has wisdom and gives solutions, AB on TV gives information.

I liked Rang De Basanti so much when I first saw it but then later it became part of the Aamir Khan Narmada Bachao Aandolan & Anna Hazare movement it became something else. When politics and cinema merge, it becomes embarrassing. People with myopic view of Indian History (fed on NCERT History books) suddenly felt an irresistible urge to be a part of a national movement (like the leaders of Indian National Movement) and took part in it. If problem solving was so easy then what was the problem in the first place? It shouldn’t have become an ideological tome. Social Responsibility thrust on something/someone becomes Fascism. RDB was consumed twice. First time it was eloquence. Second time it became banality.

There have been more people displaced due to the ‘development’ of cities than due to wars we were part of.

Javed Akhtar’s Response – Responsibility is a duty and not a desire. If the writer’s heart is in the right place then social responsibility will be inherent in his work. But if you ‘want’ Social Responsibility then it will be an outsider imposed phenomena. Just like we cannot blame a son for his parents’ wrongdoings, similarly one cannot blame the artist if his art is ‘consumed’ in a particular fashion by the audience. Shakespeare and Ghalib were not exactly gentlemen in their personal lives. Should we criticize their work because of that?

Kamlesh Pandey’s response – When I was writing RDB I had no social responsibility sword hanging on my head. I had a personal grievance though. In my growing up days, we had heard speeches of Nehru that the criminals and corrupt would be hung at the lamp post on the streets. Next day when we went to see the lamp post in our nearby streets, we saw none of the ‘criminals’ hanging there. I channelized my grievances into RDB.

(Shiv Vishwanathan responded to Kamlesh Pandey with an assortment of words strewn tenuously in meandering sentences which were punctuated with words like Digitality, Duality, Causality, Plurality, Technicality, Textuality, Contextuality, Subtextuality, Hypertextuality, Mythicality, Bestiality and other -ities)

Govind Nihlani – Also take into consideration the lack of NFDC funding now. When we had funding, we made ‘socially responsible’ films. But now we have producers who are more into business. The analysis of Bollywood should be done taking into account who is funding those films. Writer/Director cannot function in an autonomous environment.

Anjum Rajabali’s response – I disagree. Iran with so many issues, with so much censorship yet churns out lovely low budget personal films which are political in content too. That cannot be a filmmaker’s excuse.

Shiv Vishwanathan’s response – I’m sure Mr Nihlani you are doing injustice to your work and undermining your own self by using funding as a constraint. Funding & Censorship are constraints for everyone!

Javed Akhtar retorted – I’m sure No source of funding can force Govind Nihalani to make a Dabang! People who provide funding are from no caste/creed/community but are simple money minded business people.

A senior writer Tanvir Saaheb narrated an anecdote – K Asif Saab aur Mehboob Khan saab aksar apne writers ke saath baith ke likhte thay. Kabhi kabhi yeh sawaal uthta tha – ‘Yeh scene censor pass karega kya?’ They used to retort ‘Censor toh film banne ke baad hota hai! Pehle film bana lene do phir censorship ka sochenge‘. V shantram ji ne hamesha mainstream filmein banayi jo socially relevant bhi thi. Aur jahaan tak film industry ka sawaal hai, maine Sunil Dutt saab ko subah 7 ki chai pe script narrate kar rakhi hain. Par aaj naubat aisi hai agar main apni kahaani kisi bade star ko (jis se meri khaasi jaan pehchaan hai) narrate karna chahoon toh mujhe koi uske paas fatakne tak nahi deta. Responsibility toh door, hum mein toh humari jamaat ke liye hi unity nahi hai!

Session 2 – DO SCREENWRITERS HAVE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

K Hariharan (Dean Prasad Academy Chennai)
In India, Cinema came before other industries came and industrialization happened. As a result there was a phase when any tom dick and harry would make a film.  
Social Responsibility is not a mandate. We can however use creative solutions to embed social responsibilities in our writing. One of the first film made in Hollywood was the Great Train Robbery (1903) which is somewhat realistic compared to our first film was Raja Harishchandra which is mythological and non-realistic. We seek solutions in mythology as well. Post Independence we handled several issues like Sexuality, Legality, Crime etc. with creative solutions. Today several mainstream regional films are very intelligent and popular (eg: Tamil Cinema). They are handling formal issues and social messages in a very deft manner.

Tom Schulman – I wrote Medicine Man starring Sean Connery about a doctor who discovers a cure for cancer but loses it somehow in the rainforests of South America. And when he goes to the rain forests in search of the medicinal plants, he finds that the rain forests are being destroyed. The movie did well but the audience sensed that may be they were being preached to or talked down upon. There is an old saying by Sam Goldwyn – ‘If you have a message, call Western Union’. My first few scripts were tagged as ‘message oriented’ scripts. But if I don’t have a theme then what am I writing about? Why am I writing at all? I write because I have something passionate about something to say. Dead Poets Society is about non conformity. If it is tagged as encouraging indiscipline, then so be it! The trick is to know the art & craft of obfuscating/burying the theme so deep that the audience watches the characters/stories and not realise the ‘message’; that the audience absorbs it sub consciously. Although now I understand the criticism of Dead Poets Society since I have children of my own! May be the film does encourage indiscipline.

Vivek Bahl (Programming Head at Star Plus, Zee TV, Chief Entertainment Dir at Sony) – TV has been overtly socially responsible in India! Beyond the loud soap operas it speaks of strong women, empowering the women folk by touching issues like Education, Child Remarriage, Dowry, Balancing the family etc. We don’t do it for society. We do it for the eyeballs. The women. The Housewives. The TRPs. They cannot watch movies in halls. They watch TV. They cannot step out in evenings for a movie. They don’t have options like you and I. We’re giving them some excitement in their lives. We’re entertaining them while connecting with them. And this is a proven fact! In houses with access to cable TV, the attitudes to issues is more progressive. As a business it has worked for us. The ‘change’ will happen when people will start watching the ‘new’ shows. There should be checks to ensure we don’t go the wrong way. We’ve set up BCCC which is similar to the Censor Board except that it is a non-government body.

Reg. approving new ideas & concepts for TV shows –
It depends. I’m not making a low budget film. I’m talking to millions of women and families. It is a huge social responsibility on us to consider ‘Can we say this? Can we get away with that? Will it upset the existing morality too much?’ For eg: An astrologer comes and predicts some event which will happen in the next two days provided the characters take some ‘action’. Now if the event does indeed happen, then we will be reinforcing superstition! Instead I tell the writer – get the astrologer to do the prediction in the episode, but make sure it doesn’t come out true!

Jaideep Sahni – I haven’t looked deeply into the idea of Social Responsibility deeply. You are a citizen of this country and tumhari responsibility utni hi hai jitni baaki citizens ki. If something touches me, I try to share it with whatever empathy & skill I have. There is a saying in Mira Nair’s school in Uganda – “If we don’t tell our stories, who will?”. Beyond the film, one starts entering the realm of Gurus and I’m not comfortable with that.

Chak De India was about women hockey players. I wanted to write a book and make a documentary on their plight. But I found no sponsors. That was a stimulus to get a movie made on them so that they become famous. So that they don’t have to beg for track suits. Rest all are our issues which seeped in by themselves. If you deliberately try to stuff social issues consciously then people get bored. I have to use indirect ways like Humor and stay true to the feeling. If you start becoming too analytical, you will screw it up. It comes automatically from your world view. CDI was not a flag by me. It was a flag of the women athletes and I was just the carrier/messenger.
There are 16 different dialects of Hindi. It is fun to enjoy them & work with them and hope people enjoy them too.

Gajra Kottary (writer of Balika Vadhu, Astitva, Beera) – Balika Vadhu is the first example of an entire show based on a social issue (Child Marriage). 4-1/2 yrs later, it still is true to its concept. The theme itself lent us to speak our own voices. The spin off benefits are that we’ve touched upon many more issues as well – Parenting, Gender Equations, Mother in Law Domination, Education etc.
It should come from within. Natural and Organic. Conviction comes through all the levels. “It is not so much about the lines but what you say between the lines”. After Balika Vadhu, the instances of Child Marriage in Rajasthan have reduced. We don’t have to artificially inject messages in our work. It should come from within. Social Messaging sounds like an NGO. It should not hang like an albatross around our necks.

On comparison with TV Series in US and melodrama in Indian Serials-
Theoretically, we would want to change the melodrama in our serials but the dynamics of business do not allow us to do so. Some sections of the audience may be ready but in a country with 40% illiteracy, we cannot draw comparisons with US TV Series quality standards. I’m all for newer formats but standing up to moral and ethical issues in a family is also Social Responsibility.

Javed Akhtar – Social Responsibility is a boring and puritan term. The objective of Art is to entertain. But there is a difference between ART and Circus. Good art is created somewhere in the no man’s land of Conscious Mind and Sub Conscious mind. Otherwise imposing what you think or I think of social responsibility and imposing it will make us into Khap Panchayats. Social Responsibility is often not bad. It shouldn’t lend itself to Moral Policing. When the ‘WE’ becomes the ‘ME’, social responsibility takes a back seat. A famous person said ‘Show me the advertisements of a society and I will tell you all about the society”. Ads, TV, Films, Art, Literature, Language, Music all are the barometers.

I wonder if any long running TV Serial has been made on a rape victim who survives. Or any rom-com TV Series has been made about Live In Relationships. TV accepts the most regressive forms of society. It has taken over Grihasti & Gharana. Empowered women are shown as Vamps. We can’t show them as positive. Else Moral Police will come. Only ‘bad’ women are empowered. Good women wear saris.

When I entered the industry, I was told ‘Write a script which will do well in the small towns of India, because our money lies there’. In 40 yrs the mantra is turned on its head. Now a well-established Producer/Director says “I don’t care if my films don’t release in UP/Bihar. Urban cities and Diaspora is good enough for me”. He’s indirectly saying that 75% Indians don’t matter to him. He doesn’t care about the small cities. Is this a sign of Development? So what Social Responsibility are we talking about? The culprit is also the audience. Like a religious man cannot blame God, we can’t blame the audience. But the truth is our audience is mediocre. A vulgar song is created by 10-15 people – the lyricist, actor-actress, music director, choreographer, director, producer etc. But when it becomes a big hit, it is the millions of people enjoying it are the culprits, not just the 10-15 people associated with it.

Do Beegha Zameen, Shri 420, Ganga Jamuna, Mother India, Pyaasa were all blockbusters! In the 50s-60s the middle class was educated and went in for professions like Doctor, Engineers, Teachers, and Bureaucrats. Industrialization created a new middle class. In 25 years, almost 20 crore people jumped into the middle class bracket. Culture takes 3 generations to come and 3 generations to lose. Intellectual depth will take time. Another 10 years and we will have the kind of scripts which we’ve never seen before onscreen. You cannot impose social responsibility. It has to be part of the fabric.

Rajesh Dubey – Javed Akhtar Saab key opinions 8 saal purane TV serials ke baare mein hai. Aaj Vamp ’empowered’ nahi hai. Aaj Hum log inn inn subjects par Serial Episodes bana chuke hain – Honour Killing, Child Marriage, Marital Rape, Rape, Puberty, Remarriage, Eve Teasing, Surrogacy, Adoption. Aur in sab subjects ko hum kaafi entertaining tareeke se treat kar chuke hain.

Audience Q&A
1. Why is the family structure still omnipresent on TV Serials?
A-It is breaking but gradually. It cannot happen overnight. The Sari clad woman image is changing slowly.

2. I approached a TV executive with an adaptation of Jai Shanker Prasad’s Kamyani. The response was ‘Kamyani kaun hai ? Inki biwi hai kya?’ Why are the execs so ill read when it comes to literature?
A- Some people are always there. It is a business not literature. However, change is happening.3. Why is the TV target audience women? Why not make serials for Men in the house? We have to step out when our wives are watching Saas Bahu serials.
A- Just take the remote from your wife, sir.

SESSION 3 – HOW DOES OUR POPULAR CINEMA & TV POTRAY WOMEN

Rajni Bakshi (freelance journalist) – Draupadi Cheer haran from Mahabharat is traditionally told in the ‘vilaap’ mode. She asks some profound questions during that event. “If I’m part and parcel of you, then I should never separate from you. Why did you put me at stake separately? And since you did put me on stake separately, that implies I’m an autonomous person and I have my own identity. Then how can you stake me as a property against my will?”

I have interacted with women working in the Silicon Valley who still believe in the practice of Dowry.
The Sex Ratio is worse in Malabar Hills & Colaba than Thane !

Shabana Azmi – I grew up in an environment where IPTA leaders used to regularly attend meetings in my house. I’ve read their writings which had potrayls of real women, in the works of Manto, Chughtai, Kaifi Azmi, Sardar Jafri, Premchand etc.

Regarding Delhi Gang Rape, everybody started blaming everyone else. I think it is the time to look inwards. The first thing to be abolished should be the item number. Nirbhay wanted to live ! And it was heartening to note so many people coming out with placards saying ‘Nirbhay. Tum achchi ho jao’

Between Draupadi and Savitri, the latter is the role model of Indian Middle Class women while it should have been the former since she challenges the patriarchy! 

I may be accused of Nepotism but in ZNMD, Katrina Kaif had such a small yet significant role. She was important to the story. The intention of the director is revealed during her Deep Sea Diving Lessons scene, where the camera doesn’t linger at all on her assets (unlike other Hindi films). Katrina is the one who helps Hrithik overcome his vulnerabilities and re-discover Love, and she goes on a bike and seizes the moment by kissing him; something which normally a hero would have done. Even the romantic song is picturized on the expressions of Hrithik Roshan and not on her body contours.

Ashutosh Gowarikar – Is cinema affecting reality or does reality influence cinema? When I was young I would go to the theatres (in the 70s) and would see maar dhaadh action films in which the importance of heroines was reduced. When I went home and saw films like Sujata, Bandini, Ganga Jamuna on DD, I used to be fascinated by the strong women characters. Cinema of 60s got left behind in the 70s & 80s.

The depiction of rape/seduction sequence is different in a mainstream masala film, from a ‘meaningful’ film. It depends on what the target audience is. I tried to create meaningful women characters. Writers would approach me with scripts and say ‘Ek ladki ki kahaani hai. Bahut achcha women oriented subject hai. Women will be empowered’.

Even in a mainstream film we need to take care and ensure sensitive portrayal. Earlier there were Cabaret girls as the heroines would not be ‘expected’ to do them. Now Cabaret has got restructured as item numbers.

Indian Hero has been ‘macho’ since the time of Raja Harishchandra, in which the female character was played by a male artist. And even in that scene, ‘her’ anatomy was shown. Exhibition of women onscreen has always been a moneymaking proposition. We cannot differentiate between Sensuality & Vulgarity.
A line like ‘Tumhari Charanon ki dhool hoon main, yehin jiyoongi, yehin maroongi’ worked in Sahib Biwi Ghulam back then. But today it will look so regressive.

Thiagarajan Kumararaja – I see no difference between a man and a woman. Violence against women has been an issue since ages. Until recent times it was always in vogue to show women ‘differently’. I doubt if people gain knowledge from TV/Cinema. It is the family that imparts knowledge.The recent rise of the ‘macho’ man is implied that it has come from the south. But the truth is that it came from the north to south as the angry young man to start with! TV is a women’s medium as opposed to Cinema which is a man’s medium. Men (at least in South) go to the theaters and want to watch their own representation on screen. Mostly men go to the theaters while women watch TV.

Anuradha Tiwari (writer of TV serials & Fashion, Jail, Heroine)
As they say, TV is the thing with Hindustan (small town middle class) & Bharat (villagers). Cinema is for India (metros).
There are no women oriented films. Except a rare Kahaani & English Vinglish which could have been stories about persons and not necessarily women.

I wrote a crime serial on 26/11 attacks & terrorism (which is sadly not doing so well). After each episode I submitted, I would get a response ‘Why isn’t there a woman? We need some rona dhona!’ And the same day I would go and meet producers regarding pitching my feature film script about three women friends. ‘Female Dil Chahta Hai types hai kya?’ would be the first response. I would reluctantly agree and proceed to narrate my story when the second response would be ‘Arey yaar falaana ka boyfriend jo hai na, uska role badhao thoda. Nahi toh picture chalegi kaise?’
I couldn’t understand how Anushka Sharma comes out of the talaab in a village in haryana and yet agrees to get forcibly married against her wishes.

Rajesh Tiwari (TV writer) – Three days ago in an upmarket residential society in Malad where I stay, I was shocked to see that while there is a tussle going on for car parking space and area for children to play; the society has gone ahead and planted a Tulsi ka ped in the compund! That is the dichotomy we are going through. ‘I want two SUVs (not a small car) and Tulsi ka ped too!’.

Q. I fail to understand why there are so many female characters on TV and yet there is no potrayl of the progressive woman.
A- Because they do market research in small towns. This is what works and will work!

Question to Anuradha Tiwari – Fashion and Heroine are regressive films
A – I don’t get the criticism of the ‘regressive nature’ of Fashion & Heroine. In fact, Fashion became a template for the new age Indian Woman. She was allowed to fall down (due to the choices she made), and yet climb up and walk again! 3 men she slept with in the film and yet she didn’t come across as a Slut!

Bit bored and tired today, so just copy pasting the release.

Unlike a few years ago, filmmakers today readily and repeatedly admit that without a good script, a good film is impossible. In fact, talent hunts and script contests are announced every other month. Every producer and studio is on the lookout for good scripts and competent writers.

While writing well is hard work, a sound knowledge of basic storytelling principles combined with an understanding of the form & rhythms of the screenplay help free up the writer’s imagination. This gives him the confidence to follow his intuition, helping him uncover interesting aspects of the characters, which in turn make the screenplay more nuanced, fresh and engrossing.

The Workshop will tackle all aspects that go into the construction of a script, starting with the basic central idea that drives the story.

Five intensive days of six hours each will cover the entire journey of the script from theme, premise, character, and plot, to structure, scene construction, and dialogue, and the use of music and song in Indian script. Plus, there will be a substantial session on mythology, with particular reference to the Ramayana and the Mahabharata which have had such a lasting influence on Indian cinema. The final session will deal with writers’ rights, model contract, copyright matters, and other professional issues.

Questions like

  • What makes for a compelling idea?
  • How does one know if a story could make a good script?
  • Can a great story turn into a weak screenplay?
  • How does one figure out the appropriate structure for a script?
  • What makes for an interesting character?
  • How can one write scenes that are crisp, compact and yet dramatically meaty?
  • Is there a technique to writing good dialogue?
  • What is the difference between Hollywood style of screenwriting and what we have here in India?
  • How relevant is the navras theory to modern Indian screenwriting?
  • What is the relevance of songs in modern Indian script?

and other relevant concerns of the Indian screenwriter will be discussed in depth.

About the Workshop Instructor : Anjum Rajabali has been a professional screenwriter for 20 years with films like Drohkaal, Ghulam, The Legend of Bhagat Singh and Raajneeti to his credit. He is the Head of Screenwriting at Whistling Woods, as well as Honorary Head of Screenplay Writing at FTII, a course that he began in 2004. Apart from being a script consultant on several films, he also conducts workshops and seminars on screenwriting in India and abroad.

According to him, “Screenwriting is an exceedingly interesting and rewarding craft. Learning it should be an enjoyable process. It is with that aim that I conduct screenwriting workshops.”

Three Guest Faculty will be invited from among Vishal Bhardwaj, Jaideep Sahni, Sriram Raghavan, Shridhar Raghavan, Saket Chaudhury.

Venue :  Whistling Woods International, Film City, Goregaon (E), Mumbai.

Dates :  April 25-29 (both days inclusive)

Timings : 10 AM – 1 PM and 2-5 PM

(Film viewing : 5.30-8 PM, April 25, 26, 27)

Fee : Rs. 6000/- (inclusive of lunch and tea/coffee on all days)

– The workshop is open to all.

– To Register for the workshop, please call 30916003 or e-mail: kanchi.parikh@whistlingwoods.net