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From Film Desk:
AJIT DALVI – PRASHANT DALVI


 

 

 

Talking to the Dalvis was like a double bonanza for the FWA website. For the first time ever we had in our office a writer-duo. We listened to two endowed minds speaking in tandem showing great consonance of views. Secondly, it was also the first time we had Marathi writer stalwarts onboard. A pleasurable experience indeed!

Their share of recent fame comes from the success of their biopic Tukaram (2012, Dir: Chandrakant Kulkarni) which won Marathi Screen Awards for Best Film and Best Direction. They had started their career with Bindhast (1999, also the debut film of Chandrakant Kulkarni) which in their own words “was more of an entertainer”. Together they have made a prominent mark in the Marathi Cinema circuit with their meticulous approach towards writing and attempting genuine social discourse through their scripts. 

However, their story starts from their early days - The days of avid social activists and passionate theatre practitioners, the days of Vijay Tendulkar, Mahesh Elkunchwar, JP Narayan, Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihlani; the days when the Dalvi brothers fervently participated in the Maharashtra youth movement. Their social leanings were formed because of one special reason – Their father M.Y. Dalvi was a famous journalist and socialist and thus their house would have writers, journalists, social-workers and thinkers gathered all the time discussing blazing current issues. Quite understandably that’s how both Prashant and Ajit, as they also admit, started to open up to intellectual contemplation from a very tender age. 

Prashant, the younger brother lives in Mumbai while Ajit who is 11 years older resides in Aurangabad. But neither their age difference nor the geographical distance is a hindrance to their creative collaboration. They write plays individually and for films, they come together. Ajit Dalvi is known for plays like Doctor Tumhi Suddha and Gandhi Viruddh Gandhi while Prashant Dalvi is credited for Char Chaugi and Celebration. They say - “Our plays have been all serious kinds but we aim to write films which entertain while having something serious to talk about.” 

(Excerpts from the interview) 

Please, introduce yourselves for our readers. 

Prashant Dalvi: I have been a film writer for 10-12 years now. Earlier I have written many plays for theatre. 

Ajit Dalvi: I am a retired professor from a college in Aurangabad. The two of us have been writing plays since the 80’s. In 1978 I wrote my first full length play and in 1990 I wrote Doctor Tumhi Suddha. It was followed by Gandhi Viruddh Gandhi which also got translated into many languages. We started our film career with Bindhast, in 1998, which was directed by Chandrakant Kulkarni. We have mainly worked; say up to 80-90 percent, with Kulkarni. We have also done one film with Amol Palekar and besides that there is another upcoming film which we have written for a different director. 

Tell us how you started. 

Prashant Dalvi: I was born in Mumbai and brought up in Aurangabad where I got interested in theatre and finished graduation from the department of dramatics. I spent five years doing theatre with a theatre group named Jigisha. Then, in 1987 I shifted to Mumbai and joined the mainstream theatre. The first play I wrote was Char Chaugi which has now finished 1000 shows. I followed it with Dhyanimani, Chahul and Celebration. My latest play is titled Get Well Soon which has recently hit the stage. 

Ajit Dalvi: I was born in Murud Janjira which is in Raigad district. It’s quite a tourist spot. I did my schooling in Mumbai and then, my family got shifted to Aurangabad where I did my college. I did MA in Political Science, first class first, and then started teaching the same subjects in the same college which went on for 39-40 years. We have been continuously writing since 1980. 

Tell us about your growing years. 

Prashant Dalvi: I have been writing stories from my school days. A collection of those stories, named Khidkiyaan, was published when I was in my first year of college. Marathi theatre has had a great tradition of organizing competitions for one-act plays and once I got bitten by that bug I got completely immersed in it and then my literary writing got sidelined. 

Our father M.Y. Dalvi was reputed journalist who was associated with papers like Indian Express, Loksatta and Navshakti in Mumbai. He had a socialistic approach and it was when he joined the paper Dainik Marathwada that we shifted from Mumbai to Aurangabad. Gradually, we started to associate ourselves with that city which is a vibrant centre for cultural activities. The socio-political-cultural movements which this place has witnessed formulated our way of thinking which reflects in our writing, be it for theatre or films. I was in a government college and the group which we formed there 30 years ago, which included Chandrakant Kulkarni, hasn’t been split till today. Then we used to do plays and now we have shifted to films. 

Ajit Dalvi: Let me add that in 1970s’ I was also closely involved with the youth movement in Aurangabad through the group Yuvak Kranti Dal which was a statewide organization. In 1974, JP Narayan’s movement was at its peak in Bihar and Gujarat and apart from these two states the only place where it also showed its presence was Aurangabad where both were a part of it. This whole movement directly influenced us to a large extent and when it finally withered away, by 1978, I joined theatre. 

Prashant Dalvi: Our father has been our common inspiration. He was quiet involved with social activities and people like Vijay Tendulkar, activists and social-workers would regularly visit our house. What all we heard these guys discussing shaped up our interest towards writing. I started writing one-act plays and then at the age of 21 I wrote a full-length two-act play named Mother’s House. I wrote a couple of more Marathi plays one of which was staged by IPTA and got invited to be staged in Delhi by Sangeet Natak Academy. 

Ajit Dalvi: I was quite disturbed by the censorship which was there at the time of emergency. Many of our friends and leaders were put into jail at that time. At that time I wrote my first full-length play titled Muktidham which was my attack on the hypocrisy of the government. From then on I wrote continuously wrote for our theater group named Parivartan. Prashant and I were both selected for a theatre academic scheme for new writers named Playwright’s Workshop funded by the Ford Foundation. 

Prashant Dalvi: ...in 1985. 

Ajit Dalvi: They showed us classic plays and then asked us to roam anywhere in the country for one year by the end of which we had write a play for them. A play which I wrote was then enacted and directed by Dr. Shriram Lagu. That is how I formally started writing on a regular level. 

Something about your first film Bindhast? 

Prashant Dalvi: Our plays have been all serious kinds having social concerns but the first film which we wrote, Bindhast, was more of an entertainer. So we aim to write films which entertain but also have brainy content and something serious to talk about. 

Ajit Dalvi: Actually while writing Bindhast we were exploring a new medium for ourselves. It was our first film and we wrote it in a playful mode adding everything to it, from suspense and comedy to something nice to say about relationships and friendship. In the process, we learnt a lot about screenwriting which helped us in our later projects. 

As writers, what gives the two of you that creative drive? 

Prashant Dalvi: We wish to write only if we have something meaningful to say about a particular subject. We don’t feel a compulsion to write just anything because we are professional writers. We don’t mind even if there is gap of two years between two of our films. 

Ajit Dalvi: We write not because we have to preach to the audience but because we want to share the feeling of discomfort over issues which bother us. No matter what genre we are writing for, that is the basic motive behind all our writing. We both have different styles when it comes to theater but for films we collaborate and write together. It’s been a good experience. 

What inspires your writing? 

Ajit Dalvi: Whenever we would watch films like Deewar or Zanjeer we would be bowled over by their writing. Though we have also immensely liked Amitabh Bachchan’s acting since Anand, he was never our hero. Salim-Javed, the writers who wrote those lines were. Somebody who writes himself finds writers of every genre important. So we have been fond of all of the writers like Vijay Tendulkar, Mangesh Padgaonkar, Gulzar etc. Though we could never meet popular Hindi film writers, we always kept an eye on who is writing what. We take notice of their take on the changing social scenarios but write only what is our own thought. We have always known who was writing for Rajkumar Santoshi and who was working with Prakash Jha. 

Prashant Dalvi: Also, when we watched films like Govind Nihlani’s Ardh Satya having elements of mainstream films along with a beautiful piece of poetry by Dilip Chitre we got totally inspired… Then there were films like Shayam Benegal’s Ankur... 

Ajit Dalvi: Gulzar Saab’s Achanak… We would discuss all these films in depth. Actually not only us but that entire generation was a involved in that discourse and we were a part of it. 

How did you go about learning the nuances of screenwriting? 

Ajit Dalvi: We learnt screenwriting mostly by our own writing experiences and observations. I also read various books on it. Still I feel whenever we approach a new subject we have to find a completely new format to tell it. 

Prashant Dalvi: After shifting to Mumbai, in 1987, I worked as the sub-editor with Loksatta where I ran a column writing reviews of plays and films. People warned me against being a reviewer because they said it would hamper my own creative writing skills. But I continued that job for eight years and in that process also had to write seriously about bad or badly made films. It’s one thing to reject a film and say “It’s just not good enough” and it’s another to give reasons for why it is so. So writing about bad films was also a kind of informal training – Why a film is bad and why another one is good? Till which part a film is good and from where it deviates from its issue or theme? What should have been done instead? What is good screenplay writing? Finding answers to all these questions makes you learn a lot. 

How was Tukaram written? 

Prashant Dalvi: Our film writing process involves Ajit, Chandrakant and me discussing everything together. We spend one to two years for every script and have a great understanding with Kulkarni. It’s not just a goody-goody tuning. Often he disagrees with us. The most essential element of film writing, in my opinion, is the focus. We wrote a biopic Tukaram where the story starts in the year 1608. One had to research a lot and choose what all had to be incorporated. We had to make precise choices because Prabhat Studio had already made a film on Tukram 75 years ago (Sant Tukaram, 1936) and since we were retelling it we had to know our own interpretation. In such a case if you have a different interpretation than only there is fun in doing it. So when we have decided why we are telling or retelling a story then we know what we have to keep in it and what we have to get rid of. We know when we are on track and when we are deviating from our goal. 

What is your usual writing process? 

Prashant Dalvi: We write 5-6 drafts our scripts. We research a lot because that gives you an insight about the subject. If that insight is not there you won’t get its structure or would be able to write the screenplay or crack the climax. Sometimes one writes two long pages only to realize that the same can be said with just line. 

Prashant Dalvi: It’s a challenge for writers who come from theatre to adapt to the cinematic language. We overcame that fear with our very first film. Bindhast had a cinematic language and was shot at many locations. After writing it we were confident that we could write screenplays. Our latest film Ajcha Diwas Majha (2013) can be a good example that we have made that transformation. It’s a compact and focused film which we really enjoyed writing. Be it theatre of films, we neither believe in writing according to the rule of demand and supply nor do we like to take our audience for granted. One has to enjoy the writing process. We started with experimental theatre and then switched to mainstream but even then we never agreed to things like ‘Oh, this has to be done, this is what the public wants’ etc. 

Ajit Dalvi: One should respect the intelligence of audience. Why should they be told to leave their brains behind? One can also enjoy with his brain! 

Prashant Dalvi: A great thing with Marathi theatre and films is that the audience here is not content with merely watching a film or play. They want to have a discourse. There have been seminars with house-full auditoriums about many of our plays and films. People come with lot of questions in their hearts and I like that very much. Such an audience keeps us alive. We don’t fear the critiques but we bear in mind that if we are not able to catch hold of the theme in our film the viewers will question us. The audience has been grooming itself with an increasing exposure to foreign films via a lot of international film festivals. We can’t undermine them. 

How writing for film differs from writing for theatre? 

Ajit Dalvi: The technicalities of writing, like the Three Act structure and all that, should be only there at the back of your mind. More important is what you want to say and everything else follows that. We can’t accept the structure any successful film to tell our story because we always take fresh subjects which need a new treatment every time. This is how it is with films. In theatre, you can still keep on making changes but in films you have to exercise maximum control over every aspect. So everything should be in its place and should not deviate. One has to say what is required with shorter scenes, little dialogues, nicely carved out characters etc. 

Prashant Dalvi: Writing for theatre is an introvert process. I can take my own sweet time of two years and write a play. I do discus with my directors at times but ultimately I contemplate and write in solitude. The beginning point of a play is the playwright but when it comes to films I can’t just go to a director and give him my script asking him to direct it. His direct involvement has to be there because a film comes to life because of a director’s vision. However, that doesn’t mean we would give a director whatever he wants! 

A film is made with the contributions of many people like the musician the art director the actors etc. We write and shoot in chunks finding links of the 4th scene to the 40th and so on. But you can’t present it like a brochure of your artistic skills but the overall film should cast an effect and your thought should surface itself automatically. 

Ajit Dalvi: Theatre is more of a personalized experience, like poetry. Ten poets will write ten different pieces on the same subject for example Gulazar Saab’s writing is entirely different from Javed Saab’s. So in the same way I also use my own personal experiences while writing for theatre. There is a part of me in it and thus it bears a clear stamp of my identity. Ajit Dalvi can appreciate Prashant Dalvi’s plays but can’t write like him. He however, I believe, can write like me... 

Prashant Dalvi: No, no... Even I can’t! 

Ajit Dalvi: …On the other hand, while writing a film you have to think in a broader sense. 

Prashant Dalvi: We have an interesting process while writing films. Once we have finalized the structure of a screenplay, Chandrakant decides which scenes would be written by Ajit Dalvi and which would be written by me. It’s because he knows us very well. He knows our individual styles. Like for a scene with socio-political inclination he would go to him and for an emotional scene he would ask me. It becomes an interesting combination. Then we also discuss what each of us has written which sharpens it even more. Sometimes we both write the same scene separately and then the better one is picked for the film. Sometimes Chandu ji gives it to us in writing what he thinks lacks in a scene. We take all this very seriously. We all come together not because we two are brothers and Chandu ji is a friend but for the sake of art. Sometimes we wait for Ajit to visit us and sometimes we go to Aurangabad. 

Do you feel any breeze of change in Marathi Cinema? 

Ajit Dalvi: Now things have started to change. Fifteen-twenty years back directors did not have what one can call a truly great vision otherwise we would have happily written according to them. Now fresh subjects are coming in and Marathi films have started to make their presence felt even at the National Awards. The new lot of writers and directors is aware of world cinema which has resulted in little more recognition for writers. The money may be nothing as compared to Hindi films but it’s adequate in comparison with earlier times. Mainly the writer and his vision are now respected. 

Prashant Dalvi: Now people know that if they need to make a good film they will require good writers. 

Ajit Dalvi: Yes, they no longer feel that they can ask just anybody to write their film. 

Prashant Dalvi: And it’s no longer only actor oriented films all around. Subject oriented films have also started being made. I agree with Ajit that things are changing for Marathi Cinema. Today there are not only stars but actors who wish to associate themselves with good projects… 

Ajit Dalvi: They would go to directors with a novel and ask them to read it because it’s good and can be made into a film. 

Prashant Dalvi: Yeah, we no longer have DVDs of foreign films doing the rounds! So literature is making inroads into Marathi Cinema. 

Ajit Dalvi: I feel at a given point in time one thing or the other becomes of primary importance. Twenty years back it was theatre when it was important for every educated Marathi to know what Vijay Tendulkar or Elkunchwar were writing. Then they would have discourse on the same. Today that sort of a phenomenon can be seen happening with Marathi Cinema. Young kids have an exposure to good cinema and they are bringing in fresh concepts. I feel it’s a great thing and paves the road for great work to come out. 

Any plans to write for Hindi films? 

Prashant Dalvi: Yes we would like to but not because we have an agenda to be in Bollywood but because we wish to take our subjects to a larger audience. On the basis of our experience of all these years we feel confident enough to make efforts to reach more people. We have already written a Hindi film which has not yet come out... 

Ajit Dalvi: It was a film for Percept. I also wrote dialogues for a film named Meerabai Not Out (2008) which starred Mandira Bedi. There are many subjects which we want to write as Hindi films because they would be better off being told for a national audience. 

Prashant Dalvi: But we don’t want to make any Xerox copies. Only if we feel we have something different to say then we will do it. We don’t want to do it just for the sake of it. 

A word for FWA? 

Ajit Dalvi: I am very happy that after a long time FWA has given a platform to Marathi writers. We value a lot what it (FWA) does for writers and their rights. We know when we narrate a story to someone that FWA is behind us. I also visited Mumbai from Aurangabad for the 3rd Indian Screenwriters Conference. I felt happy to attend it though I felt if there were a lesser number of people, people who are genuine writers, then there could have been more rigorous discussions. But still the issues dealt with in the conference were very important. We should all think about what is going on around us and how we can or should react to it as writers. I think all the young writers were invited onto the stage and were heard. I like the way FWA is running things at a continuous pace. After seeing so many people at the conference we would be extra cautious while writing because we know that they look out for our films. 

Prashant Dalvi: We love coming to FWA whenever we finish writing a new script. As Ajit said, it’s great that the organization is doing so much for writers. More interaction should take place, unaffected by the barrier of Hindi and Marathi. Both the industries operate from Mumbai and they should have a healthy give and take relationship. We are very positive about our films and are enjoying every bit of this phase. 

Any advice to young writers? 

Ajit Dalvi: It sounds nice for the writers and directors of the older generation to pass on something to the youngsters but what I feel is that every new director or writer has his or her own vision and thought process. They know what they have to make. I don’t know if I can advise them, may be Prashant knows better… 

Prashant Dalvi: They have to honest. That is a must. Even if you are making a comedy it has to have a serious thought behind it, then only it will stay in people’s heart.

 

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