Mr Screeny is back. For those of you, who don’t know him, click here to read his first post. This time he attended the weekend seminar at NFAI Pune and here is all the details from the Day 1. The good, the bad, the ugly and the goss.
The day began with a BIG queue at the NFAI – and with a mammoth crowd of students, film industry people, media professionals, writers directors, and aspirants. Felt a little bored of the over scholarly talk & lectures and didn’t take any notes whenever I felt there was too much to write/too irrelevant/too soporific; but ‘on the whole’ the first day was okay dokay. Had taken down few notes whatever I found interesting, and am paraphrasing it all below
Imtiaz Hussien – FWA committee member (& dialogue writer of Parinda)
The term ‘Melodrama’ originated in the 1780s and means two diametrically opposite things in German & French.
In German it means – a passage of opera with music
In French it means – a passage in which characters say nothing but the music conveys/says everything.
Kedarnath Outy – the chief of NFAI (spoke about preservation of films)
Since the inception of Indian cinema, there have been 43000 Indian films released.
The NFAI has only 5000 odd films!
I passionately request you all to if and when you come across original film material (footage, print, rolls etc) please contact us. The corporate do not bother to give us the prints because they are lying with the film labs. When we request the labs, they say they’ve written umpteen times to the corporate/production houses informing them of their film footage lying around; but the corporate regard it as a recording & archiving formality and do not bother replying back. In such cases, the onus often should be taken by the film buffs and volunteers like us to help preserve film culture.
The purpose of this seminar is educational so that it leads to a better understanding of cinema. Until 2004 there was no screenwriting courses in India. And then FTII introduced screenplay writing course. Since then we’ve tried to hold as many interactions between film writers/aspirants & the professionals.
We were also trying to get Salim-Javed together for this conference (after a gap of 31 yrs., they would be sharing a platform together). Both had readily agreed to the idea. Javed saab had even said “It would be a privilege to hear him speak on screenplay”. However unfortunately, Salim Khan couldn’t come due to ill health.
Session 1. How it all Began: Genesis of and Influences on the Early Indian Script
When I joined FTII in 1962, there was no separate course in screenwriting. The course was Screenplay writing cum Film Direction. Most people who joined hated screenplay writing then. Today when I see this big an audience for a screenwriting seminar, I feel a lot has changed since then. May be part of this change is thanks to the Bombay Film Industry.
In Malayalam films, script wasn’t the starting point of the film. Many a times it was written on the sets ‘fresh’& ‘hot’ (Taaza taaza). One or two films written this way became successful, and it therefore became a trend to write the script on the sets only! The writer would be sometimes standing in a pose under a tree, busy writing the next scene which was to be shot. Whenever we saw someone standing in a pose on any film set, we knew immediately that he was the writer!
In 1985 a screenplay of one of my films got published, but nobody read it. Nowadays, the sale of film scripts has increased, not for learning how to write for films, but to write for TV. My scripts will be a bad choice if one wants to read them and learn how to write for TV.
When my films get screened abroad, foreign film fraternity often comes unto me and asks “In India, do they make films like you do ? Don’t they only make ‘song & dance’ films ?” For them the only exposure to Indian Cinema is ‘Bollywood’. It takes time for me to explain that I’m as much an outsider in ‘Bollywood’ as they are!
We are heir to a great tradition of Art but have we really imbibed from it ? Very little is taken from our culture except song & dance and melodrama.
Bombay makes high budget rich looking commercial masala films and all other regional cinema makes poor imitations of the same. The commercial cinema is either derived from Hollywood and/or the tradition of Parsi theater.
Coming back to the FTII course then, the 1st 2 yrs. was about writing & basic elements of direction and in the 3rd year we were taught advanced direction.
Many directors have no sense in drama, because they have no interest in writing.
A director has to bring his vision to the script and understand the written form – how to convert it dramatically on screen. Otherwise, the writer will write the script, cameraman will shoot it and editor will edit it – and the film can be made. A director is NOT an organizer of talents – there are production managers for that.
My colleagues wanted to be in Bombay Film Industry; not to be against the ‘system’, but to be absorbed by it.
“You have to READ to WRITE”
Screenplay is the very basic material on which the film is built on. It’s your idea of the film. You can hardly explain the film on a screenplay. It eventually finds its completion in the film that is made out of it.
The other panelists/speakers weren’t too interesting. A word of request to the super arrogant Shama Zaidi…..
….We respect you for your costume work in Shatranj ke Khiladi (Satyajit Ray, Premchand – two greats), your writing in Bharat ek Khoj, Garam Hawa, Mandi and many many such superb films (and your work as an Art director too in many such films). We also know that as a panelist you do get asked some slightly peripheral questions at times. But you could do your HUGE IMDB LIST a great service by replying in a non dismissive, polite, humorous manner. I mean cummon – your paper talks about the roots of Hindi-Urdu cinema and starts from 1853 – Wajid Ali Shah’s court (an interesting though self-important self reference to Shatranj ke Khiladi – one might argue) and if a naïve screenwriter asks you about a question related to the 1920s films, you turn around and needlessly retort “I don’t know about 1920s. I wasn’t born then!”; “I think this question is completely irrelevant” in a tone which would outrival Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s famous two words “Shut up!!!”
And Kaushik Bhaumick – the other panelist. I don’t have any remarks for him, because I slept through his whole lecture.
Atul Tiwari – the audience woke up when he started talking, thanks to his witty one liners, intelligent puns and wonderful Javed Akhtar-ish sense of humor.
During the break, I met Adoor since I have myself been trying to lay my hands on his films for quite some time but to no avail. I asked him where can I see his films subtitled ? No DVD shops in Mumbai/Chennai/Delhi have it. And I doubt if any subtitled copies are available in Kerala. He said the only way to get to see 2-3 (of the whole lot) was through Amazon !!!
I told him it was ridiculous to pay the extra shipping cost when the films ideally could/should be available in Kerala/Trivandrum/Cochin/Munnar any-friggin city down south.
“No. there is no other way” – he said with a rather I-know-it-sucks-I-can’t-help-it expression
Session 2 Dramatic Highs: Melodrama and our Cinematic Form
Clips were shown from various Indian films – Meghe dhaka Tara, Subarnarekha, Kannathil Muthamital, Mughal-e-azam, Shejari, Pyaasa and others and ‘melodrama’ was discussed using terms like “hyperbolic cinematization”, “orchestration & amplification of emotion”, “dizzying camerawork”, “stylized & exaggerated movements” etc.
The other two panelists (not mentioned below) used scholarly english words in their papers which were grandiloquently pontificating with hyperbolic propensity towards 14-alphabets-long-words which might be good to read (if it were a TOI editorial) but listening to them was a unwieldy task thanks to the soporific hallucinogenic monotonous style of speech.
When I started screenwriting, I had predicted that the 1st star of the film will be the screenwriter, and ‘they’ used to laugh at me. Today I look at the interest in screenwriting, and I feel very happy.
What is Melodrama ?
My Marathi theater friends would joke that Melodrama is ‘Melo’ Drama (‘Melo’ in Marathi means Dead). i.e. dead drama
I remember an ‘intellectual’ journalist once asked a question to RD Burman –
Q) When the hero and heroine are sitting in a boat in a lake singing a song , it is a considerable co-incidence that they might be ‘good singers’, but where the hell does the orchestra come from ? Orchestra kahaan se aata hai ?
A) Arrey Idiot – jahaan se camera aata hai!!!
Films are for life, and not about framing life. If I want to see life why would I spend 200 bucks to go to theater to see it when I can easily go down to the streets and see ‘life’ for free!
All film language is derivative of everything including real life. The heart of melodrama is big enough to accommodate anti melodrama & realism. Ardhasatya & Zanjeer have the same appeal for me.
Tezaab is Awara set in the 90s. The introduction sequence of Anil Kapoor in Tezaab is the same as the introduction sequence of KN Singh in Awara. It shows how much cinema has travelled in a span of 30-40 yrs., the hero has become the villain.
Dil – I asked the director Inder kumar “If Saeed Jaffrey (rich father of madhuri) is so rich then will he not hire a detective to investigate if Anupam Kher (the poor father of Aamir) is indeed a big industrialist or a raddi-wala ?”
He replied “You are the only one who is asking this question. Trust me, no one else in the theaters will ask the same”
People don’t go to theaters to ask questions. Entertain them, but don’t let them down.
We don’t have a 3rd ACT (the resolution) in life but we need one in films. Life doesn’t make sense. Films however, give us the vicarious pleasure and the hope to live. They help us make sense in life. When we see heartbreak in films, it prepares us to deal with our heartbreaks in real life. Life is what we are. Movies are what we want to be.
Cinema/Theater is a gym for emotional fitness. In spite of having 60 TV channels we still go to theaters.
K Hariharan (Tamil film director)
During the time when there was a tremendous anti North India and anti Hindi sentiment in tamil Nadu, the Dravidian movement found its voice in the ‘new wave’ of tamil cinema. Directors like Bharathiraja, Mahendran, Balu mahendru, K Balachander etc went and made non commercial films and ‘village films’ which were similar in spirit to the ‘parallel’ cinema of Shyam benegal, Govind nihlani, MS Sathyu etc. They existed along with the commercial tamil films until the ‘phenomena’ of manirathnam invaded the tamil cinema screen, and everything ended up looking more aesthetic & ÁD film’ like rather than the raw & visceral. (wrt the kanathil muthamital title track with simran & the kid) Don’t you think this is an AD film ? I mean you could safely release this song segment titled as ‘Vimal Saris’!!!
We have explored the ‘Sringar Ras’ a lot in our films – art for pleasure’s sake – the entire bandwidth of guy meets girl, love, different shades of it – eventually to a pleasant culmination etc etc. However the current ‘new wave’ in Tamil Cinema (directors like Bala, Ameer, Sasikumar, Cheran, Mysskin) are making films on the less travelled path of ‘Bibathsa Ras’ or the emotion of disgust. The raw violence, the energy, the ambition to not shy away from uncomfortable zone all are the characteristics of this new school of filmmaking and the best part is – these films are successful!
We make films with ‘heightened drama’. I remember when our first film (directed by Amol Palekar) was screened at a film festival, a foreign film critic argued with us about why we had songs & dance ‘melodrama’ in our film. I replied that in our traditions, we have songs for all occasions, every festival and even every time of the day. It is our culture. “Apun toh aise hi hain!!!”
Session 3 : A Song and Dance About Everything: Music, Song, and Lyrics in the Script
Vinay Shukla (talked about music in 50s-60s-70s)
Songs were a part of the narrative and not an ‘item’. A very good example would be ‘Jab Pyaar Kiya toh darna kya’ from Mughal-e-azam in which an otherwise introverted & shy Anarkali proclaimed her love for Salim in front of the whole world. And we believe it and how! That is the strength of a song
Songs & Melodrama are two distinct features of the Indian script. We are a country of songs. The first film Alam Ara had 7 songs.
The ‘sufi fakir’ singing a song “De de khuda ke naam pe” was another common feature in many film songs even till the 70s-80s eg: Pran singing ‘Kasme Vaade Pyaar Wafa sab’ from Upkaar; where a normal personal drama/situation spreads to a universal appeal thanks to the song & lyrics. Songs universalize a specific dramatic situation.
We also had a ‘theme song’ eg: Kaagaz ke Phool ‘Dekhi Zamaane Ki Yaari’ which was used throughout the film to punctuate the protagonist Suresh Sinha’s journey.
A song can condense or expand time and hence is a very important tool to be used for cinematic advantage. It can act as the ‘bridge’ between the credible & the incredible for the audience to walk through it, willingly suspending disbelief.
Javed Akhtar was to be the chairperson of this session but he couldn’t come due to some reasons. As a result Swanand was asked to be the chairperson for the same. Atul Tiwari remarked “Ek din maine aapse kahaa tha ki aap Javed Saab ki jagah lenge”
Btw – Saaed Mirza & Kundan shah were walking through the aisles when it was announced on stage that Javed Akhtar wouldn’t be coming, and the audience heaved a big sigh of disappointment – “Oh Noo”.
The two filmmakers half muttered under their breath “That is so sad” – “It breaks my heart” – “Oh dear dear dear…”
It was interesting to observe such a private sarcastic disapproval of Javed Akhtar by the two. Clearly they do not think too high of the the man for whatever reasons, some which they spoke about on Day-2 when they came on the panel.
These days a dangerous trend has started thanks to Ibn-e-batoota. The producers want some similar sounding nonsensical lyrics from everyone.
“Sir ek word de do ibn-e-batoota jaisa. Gaana HIT ho jayega”
When I’m writing my own screenplay, I myself find it strange to put in songs.
The day ended with a rendition of ‘Bawra Mann’ by Swanand (it was almost mandatory wasn’t it ?), much to our delight.
Post on Day 2 coming soon. And it was much better than Day 1.