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Jaideep Sahni


Khosla ka Ghosla



Company


Chak De India!


Rocket Singh

Questions & Answers:
Jaideep Sahni
-Workshop for FWA Writers


JAIDEEP SAHNI's WORKSHOP @FWA

Famous Screenwriter of Superhit films like Company, Khosla ka Ghosla, Chak De India and many others; Jaideep Sahni talks to Rajashree in an exclusive Workshop for FWA Writers.

Jaideep shares stories of his struggle, success and some secrets of Screenwriting.

A Lesson in lot of "HOW TOS" for budding Screenwriters. Must Watch/Read.  

Here's the video of the entire Workshop. You will also find question-wise clips below individual questions as they follow. Watch as it suits you.

THE COMPLETE WORKSHOP -

Welcome Jaideep, and thank you so much for coming here.
I would like to start from the beginning. Tell me how did you start Screenwriting?

 

I studied Computer Engineering. I wasn’t aware of film education or writing education. I hadn’t even seen too many films. A career in films was out of the question for me, like youth from most middle-class families who want to become Engineers or Doctors. So I finished my Computer Engineering but started writing as a hobby and soon joined an advertising agency and worked in advertising for a long time. In those days many others, who are in the film industry now, were working with me in advertising. Dibakar, Pradeep Sarkar and Shantanu. But then I got tired of going to the office every day and quit the job to become a free Lancer. The others too left around the same time. I started making Ad films and Shantanu joined me for music.

I was always a voracious reader. I came across a book about the screenplay of Attenborough’s Film Gandhi. Till that time, I hadn’t heard of the word ‘Screenplay’ ever in my life and also did not watch many films except those shown on TV like Gandhi, Chasme Baddoor Chupke Chupke. These were all good films. So when I read the screenplay of Gandhi, I discovered screenplay was exactly the film in the text. Due to my Computer Engineering background I thought Screenplay is a program to make a film - a series of instructions followed faithfully to result in a film.

When I read the screenplay of Gandhi, having also watched it on TV, I just got very excited by this discovery. In those days of MS-DOS, the internet was very slow. But I started my search for screenplays and spent whole nights downloading just single episodes. Actually my hobby of writing was driving me and those days I had no idea that one day I will be in Mumbai writing films because I was never a film buff. I was just interested in scripts and started writing scripts, mostly songs for my friends and bands.

Then a client for whom I had done an ad informed that Ram Gopal Verma was looking for a fresh writer without film background. I was recommended as an award-winning creative person from advertising. So I arrived in Mumbai as a tourist carrying only my Laptop. Around same time Channel ‘V’ was making Quick Gun Murugan. Shashank was the creative head of Channel V.  I joined V as a senior producer. I was very fond of Hindi songs since my childhood. One funny thing I noted that they used same 40-50 phrases and produced songs shuffling them. I wondered this was better done using a computer. So I made a computer program with Artificial Intelligence and called it Hindi Films Song Generator, where you just needed to enter the theme and it will start producing a song for you. Well, while I joined Channel V as a senior producer that time, I met Ram Gopal Verma too. I had watched Shiva and Satya and was very much impressed. Ramu asked me “Have you written any scripts?” I said I did just as a hobby. Then he asked, “Do you think you can write for films?” I replied I can give it a shot.
Ramu said, “Yes. That’s what I want” So that’s how began my journey of writing films.

Please tell us how advertising is different from script writing?

The basic difference is the approach. In advertising, the interest is diverted towards focus where you figure out that one idea and one thing you want to tell the audience. It teaches you who are you talking to and what probably is the best way to reach them.

But with films, we are actually opposite to narrow. Here in one frame 7 to 8 people are seen moving here and there at the same time. So it’s a little different from advertising in the sense that you take one idea and expand it. Here it’s many ideas compressed together.

Advertising teaches you to focus, condense and narrow down to reduce confusion. The biggest thing it teaches you is acceptance. If an ad script has bounced back, then you don’t slap your opponent but write it again. I learned this because the agency that I worked for was a great team.

If people say this is not working, it is not about you but the idea. So the idea is the biggest thing for advertising. If somebody criticizes your work that doesn’t mean he criticizes you, but he tries to talk about the idea and all are working in the service of that one idea.

That has worked for me for all these years in films and helped me collaborate with directors, producers, music directors, actors. Your attitude gets set right and helps you collaborate much better because you take criticism in the right spirit. All kinds of other talents like production designer, costume people or sound people are all artists in their own right. So you learn to appreciate what they bring to your idea and how they take it to the next level. You also learn to be grateful and that is beneficial for everyone.

How to write your Screenplay?  

Jaideep explains nitty-gritties of Screenplay writing with the help of his own ‘Questions and Answers’ type Presentation that talks about various elements of Screenwriting. Here's the video and the transcript follows it..

 

PRESENTATION BEGINS

Qu - Why the hell do we become screenwriters?                                                                              

Screenwriting = writing for the screen.

Something imagined and created by you as a Writer and then recreated by yourself and rest of the team, you are a part of, in which there are other department heads. So the fundamental difference as we all know is, in screenwriting unlike other kinds of writing; there are other people involved too besides you and it is not necessary that they all think as you do. But when they think like you or you think like them then that is called resonance that is a very good thing to happen.

My approach to any given script is through these basic questions.

What happens in films, what is it about, where does it happen, what the environment does to it, where it happens in city, village or a big city, small city or even in a factory. We have to take care of all these and only we can do it no one else can.

Why does it happens means it’s story that revolves around us?

Why should anybody care? The people who have come to see must empathize with the problem.

Then the most important thing is - Why do you care and why do you want to make the film?

You want to write the script not just because you want to buy a car or a house or a famous director is directing it or big stars are acting. All these things are involved but still there must be something that you want to convey. A story which you want to tell.  You make the film because you love the subject.

To write a script, no doubt is a tough job but to really make it happen is tougher process and after completing the film, to release the film is even tougher process and then coming out of all this and making another one - again a tough job.

The film is a powerful medium. What happens in the film and where it happens, the world of the story which pulls you into it.

For example in Company, it is the story of two friends who for the first time organize the business of crime. It was the story of their rise and fall. If I am staying in a slum and seeing rich people, their cars, their lifestyle, I personally feel that I can never reach there, neither can I become like them. Why does it happen? So if societies are not fair and equal, smart people find their ways around and the system starts falling apart and it is rightly said that opportunities were for those people who use to rule. Their financial system and reporting feedback system were so systematic that big multinationals appeared tots in front of them. It was well-organized; just world class, you can say. In those days, crime was at the peak. The economy in India started opening; everything was scaled up. A car company manufacturing one car increases the production by manufacturing 25 more cars and pushing them in the market to expand their business. When everything was soaring how crime would remain behind? Naturally it also scaled up.

Bunty and Bubli –  I had made Khosla ka Ghosla, which was not getting released. It became my last film that time as I had decided to quit thinking I was not able to understand the industry.

Also, a strange thing for me was that when directors introduced me saying this is “My Writer”. I often felt belittled by such introductions. Once it even happened that a producer asked me to arrange for some samosas during a meeting.

Those were the days when item numbers, action sequences were in full swing. I thought what I was doing here? I had actually come to write screenplay by reading Gandhi’s book but what was happening here was beyond me.

My idea was to make a film wholeheartedly with people who have passion and believe in the story over other things like money or stars or item numbers. So I decided to go to Delhi and make films from there and this way I would fulfill my dream too. That’s how we made Khosla ka Ghosla. The film was made but nobody was ready to release it.  I was running short of money after completing that film; even my cell connection was disconnected for dues.

But then suddenly a friend wanted me to meet Adi (Aditya Chopra).  I was down, had decided to retire, hadn’t seen many films, so was apprehensive about that meeting. But my friend insisted and I gave in. That night I watched Mohabbatein on DVD and then I met Adi and told him my take on this film. He told me about scenes from Company, which I thought nobody had noticed. I was impressed by his knowledge of films and honestly told him that I might not be able to do as I had not seen many films like him. But he assured me and took me on board.

Bunty and Babli began with an idea bouncing between me and Adi. Our focus came to the generational gap. While the older generation is too much used to the routine and love their smooth lifestyle; the younger generation wants to break the routine and look for challenges. They are in a hurry, to achieve things faster, bigger. When we were discussing the settings for the subject, Adi had Urban Slums in his mind something like Dharavi while I remembered my olden days of advertising when I had to visit small towns. That was that time when Cable TV was becoming a window to the different world for the small towns. We heard about Sushmita Sen, Aishwarya Rai, all those Miss India Pageants. It was one type of India, India A that was growing in big cities. But there was another India in small towns India B, which was witnessing this change but was disjointed from it. There were aspirations but no opportunities. On the TV, you watched big people like Ambanis but outside that there was the same vacuum. So we locked that setting for Bunty and Babli. Telling a story of big ambitions of small towns.

Bunty’s father is a TC in Indian Railways and also wants his son to work for Railways. Bunty, however, isn’t impressed with the sluggish life of his father and is in a hurry to make it big, so he gets into the business of chit fund. Bubli, on the other hand, aspires to be Miss India. Her parents have plans of getting her married which she doesn’t take. So it’s a story of two small-time youngsters who watched (on TV) success stories of the business and the glam set in India A, but found themselves stuck in an India B.  

Small towns have a lot of talent but no exposure. They can’t speak proper English. They don’t have a sense of fashion. That makes them victims of urban snobbery. Snobbery disturbs me. But just with two months training, they were as good as their counterparts from metros.

Khosla ka Ghosla-
The main reason actually with Khosla Ka Ghosla, was that I wanted to make one last film in Delhi and then not make films anymore.

Coming to the same template. What happens everybody knows.                                                                                                     Where does it happen? It’s in Delhi’s Punjabi middle class which contrary to popular belief is not very different from the Kannadiga or the Telegu middle class because all middle classes had same values and same ambitions. It doesn’t make any difference whether you are a South Indian or a North Indian. They talk the same way like go to IIT, do good and good will come back. Another thing I wondered then was our films never showed characters doing their routines. We never saw them going to office, never saw them eat, speak in their own language Hindu or Urdu.

In fact when I was new to this place and wrote dialogues, I used to write the way people conversed. But industry people told me that was not the way dialogues for films were written.
I wondered when they spoke the way we converse, why they wanted the dialogue to be different. So in the beginning I was getting nervous to write dialogues. I even thought of making Dialogue Generator program same as Song Generator where same 40-50 phrases are shuffled to produce dialogues. But I had feelings from inside to do it the way people do in real life and create the same environment on the screen the way it is out there.

Why does it happen? Half of liberalisation was over and a half was on its way. Defining a class was very confusing in the changing world. The generation gap was increasing rapidly. More than two generations of people were staying in a same house. So we used that as a takeoff for Khosla Ka Ghosla. His father thinks of buying a plot where he will stay on the ground floor, son on the first floor, second son on the second. The daughter is to be married off so not considered. He is making his own plans. Son has his own plan. He is not interested in this plot as he wants to go to US. The other thing was middle-class values. You see middle-class people are protected because they are taught what to do and what not to do. They are told not to get involved in anything, not to stand up for anything, think of yourself, etc. They use to think if we live this way, we can spend life happily. But then what if the Real Cruel World knocks on your door in spite of this? When you face the real bad world for the first time, it becomes the turning point in the history of his family. Then we realize that the world is not all good as or same as taught to us by our parents / school. To be polite, always speak the truth, obey and respect. The real world is ruthless.

Why should anybody care?                                                                                                                            Many a times we take wrong decisions in our life and by the time we realize, it becomes too late. That’s the idea. We should have great values for our parents our families because they are also part of our life.     

Why do I care?                                                                                                                                                  The life for middle-class people, as told and taught to them was not the same always and this we come to know when we face the real world. But that doesn’t mean whatever our parents/school taught us is wrong. They always teach us good things, but you see this change because of the dramatic change you see outside. In the sense, things keep changing very fast.  

One more interesting thing was that the first half of the picture was the story of my family. I was at my aunt’s house during my cousin’s wedding. I was studying in 8th or 9th class then. Suddenly somebody came and told my uncle that he has built a beautiful wall around his plot in Greater Kailash. My uncle was shocked because he didn’t build any wall. We realized someone had confiscated his plot. That’s what is shown in the first half where somebody has captured something and you don’t understand what to do. Then advices pour.. some say you go to the politician MLA-MP, some say go to the police. Everybody offers to make a deal with the squatter, but nobody is really interested in getting back the plot!

Height was when the groom side of my cousin said there won’t be any problem with the marriage. Why should there be any problem was beyond me. Well, I was just a teenager then but still suggested them to try something but I was shut up.  So when I made this film I used my own suggestion. So that’s how the story of Khosla Ka Ghosla came.

I always used to think why stories of normal middle-class families cannot come on the silver screen. Fortunately this film, though took some time to release, eventually made money and won confidence with distributors, filmmakers. They realized the potential and that’s how it all started.

One more thing I would say is that all the pain we undertake for setting up all these things is according to the environment that sets your tone, which sets your cutting pattern while writing, which sets your dialogues, which sets everything. So the dialogue structure of Company, or the cutting pattern of Company, or the way you use music, was very different from the tone of Khosla Ka Ghosla which was very different from Bunty Aur Babli which was very different from Chak De India   

As a writer, we are just trying to grapple with the new things, new environment and new dialect and the new kind of rhythm of that world which becomes the rhythm of that film. After this happens, everything eases out.

Chak De has got a lot of things from what was happening in those days. India was shown as “India Shinning”.  The growth was very fast in some places and nothing much was happening in some other places. Sports that were not seen on TV or in the media or not celebrated were as if non-existent in this country.

I saw a news article in a newspaper around the time Khosla Ka Ghosla was to be released. It was about Indian women’s hockey team winning a big international tournament. But sadly the size of the article was very small. I was surprised. I had never heard about Indian Women’s Hockey team. We were only aware of men’s hockey team and their performance. But the way the journalist had written the news it would swell your chest with pride. I wondered if it was pride for all Indians. Really a big achievement but so small news! Even news of Indian Cricket team’s defeat would feature on the front page then why not this?

So I thought of researching more on it and decided to write a book on Indian Women’s Hockey Team. I started collecting information and meeting players by actually going to stadiums, to know them better. I remember one movie where an Indian player was facing an Argentina player. The Indian looked dwarf in front of the opponent. It looks impossible to win given that mismatch of sizes. On top of that hockey is a very tough game. If you fall, you get injured. It needs a lot of stamina, is a fast paced game. So I delved deeper to understand each and every player. It was fascinating and it all happened because the players were like that.

I still remember an incidence when I along with the coach and Manager of the Indian National Women’s Team went to Bangalore to meet a politician who owned a cloth factory. The team’s coach was a three times Olympian and also won Gold at Olympics as the captain. She was such a player, that when she carried the ball towards the goal post, all foreign commentators would stand in the commentary box as respect. And here we were sitting in front of that politician with hands folded. When my turn came, I requested him to donate track pants and jerseys for the team from the reject items of his factory. He laid a condition to write American Fantasy on the jersey in big letters.  The coach found it impossible as we were the Indian Team; he told us to go, he couldn’t help. I felt insulted by this treatment to our National team.

Then the camp shifted to Delhi and I was following them for quite a few months. I wasn’t making films then. Just wanting to write this book on Indian Players. I was in advertising for quite long so I thought I know some big companies and getting track pants and all wasn’t a big deal. I was sure of finding a sponsor though my mobile service was deactivated and I was running short of money myself.

Another embarrassing instance was when then Indian women’s hockey team was traveling by road on their motorcycles and some 10-12 miscreants were teasing them from the bus.

Moreover, there were no clean toilets, nor proper changing rooms for these players. Players use to help themselves by holding jersey as curtains while the others changed their dresses.

When they asked me if I could find a sponsor, I got angry - it was so unfair to them because they were not famous.

I told them I was going to make a movie on them and make them famous. The day will come when all those multinational / big companies will come to the National stadium, then we will have the option to reject them. I made a promise in anger without knowing if it will ever happen, but my feelings were more than enough for them. Then I started writing for the film.

Where does it happen? The world here is the world of government-run sports where people live on the single grant, where they get heartbreak after heartbreak, but their dreams to do, remain the same. This is also the story of the Indian public sector. People here have a lot of talent, but nobody believes in them. But the truth is that the public sector has changed due to the politicians. Had it been allowed to run smoothly it might outperform our expectations but they are not allowed to perform. This country was built by the public sector though now it has become unfashionable.

Why does it happen? When everybody loses faith in people, they also lose faith in themselves. The team manager, who was also an ex-Olympian, told me there was a tournament in Korea which they had lost. I wondered how when our team’s record was better than the opponent. She told me players of the Foreign teams had different uniforms for breakfast, lunch and evening. Their playing kit was also different whereas our players had a limited number of dresses. They were wearing the same old dress they wore for the previous tournament. Our federation was not providing enough dresses. Our players tried to lie by pretending they had no time to change. But the opponent team would know the reality. So on the field, the next day the opposite team had a psychological advantage over our players and we mentally lost the match. So that’s why I said when everybody loses faith in people they lose faith in themselves and when somebody starts showing faith in them, then they start showing faith in themselves.

Why should anybody care? Because that was women’s hockey team, a kind of minority in public conscious which nobody noticed. The truth is that everybody is in the minority somewhere. You might think you are a big majority but once you go to foreign countries like America, you become a minority within minutes. It doesn’t take time for a man to become minority from the majority. It doesn’t mean that those who are neglected are of less importance; they do not contribute to the nation, or they do not participate in anything. These people have their own importance in their life.  So that is why I care.

Many a times it happens that a particular subject gives you a chance to see a lot of other things you feel about. In Chak De, Eg.  Delhiets’ popular opinion on the northeast girls. I could address this issue along with the main issue. I also got the opportunity to bring out different dialects.

After Chak De, prices of hockey sticks went up. Media started showing interest in this field forever and that’s a big thing.

Rocket Singh Salesman of the Year.                                                                                                                                           The story of a young man whose decency blocks his success!

This was the time when economic growth was far more than that at the time of Bunty Aur Bubli. It was new India’s economic growth. The corporate world was all about achieving targets, competitiveness, rising to the top. There you would insult/hurt somebody from your team in the office but still say there’s nothing personal about it. Ridiculous! This was the time when the corporate phase was at its peak. Be professional and don’t be personal being the mantra. I wondered could we be honest and successful at the same time in today’s India. And if you cannot achieve both together in your life then what will you do?

Why should anybody care? Again our parents send us into the world teaching us values that don’t stand in the outside world which is moving very fast. Companies recruit top 80% and reject the remaining 20% saying that you are rejected just because you fall under this category, so please don’t take it personally.

How do I care? Corporate culture was making us believe in the new growth. It was making us ruthless and cynical. It said do not believe in anything and that was an underlining lesson. Being cut-throat was considered intelligent, ruthlessness and rewarded as top management aptitude. This was the time when growth period was around 10% and that was making everyone feel better and happy. Investment of crores in big companies leads to the growth that lead to happiness generally.

But the language of internal communication of the corporate establishments was becoming more and more violent. To achieve targets, they would cross every limit even hire a shooter to kill his opponent. Moreover, everybody in this world is busy celebrating something. It becomes unfashionable to question them.

A person who is not good looking but is good in studies, always scores good marks, is honest, belongs to a good family, from a minority community, a good citizen, what can he do to be successful in his life ? He will do the same that is shown in the film and that is what we are trying to say. Again this film added tone and feel that came from that particular environment of sales like Chak De added tone and feel came from the sports environment. Chak De was little louder and this little subtle.

A film requires a lot of training. Training of actors plus lot of research. You as a writer then pass on that research to other talents esp actors. For Chak De, everyone was trained for 5-6 months till the time they learned hockey. I started filming on them only after they looked like players to me. Coaches even suggested I take state level team and it won’t make much difference because hockey is a long shot game shot focused on the field unlike cricket where you could show individual player bowler or batsman hitting the ball. Hockey is a fast game. But I preferred training the actors.

In Rocket Singh, training was about Technical people. We had sales training sessions for all even the actors. People, those who were in the fourth row in the office whom you could not see were also trained for their body language to reflect that they know more than their protagonist, so they were trained more. Of course the protagonist was played by a good actor and so though he didn’t know anything about that world, it doesn’t show in the film.

Shudh Desi Romance -  

Shudh Desi Romance began with a baggage. Rocket Singh didn’t do very well.  It was our miscalculation about marketing. I am fortunate to work with the people where we do everything together in most films. Though I know Writers seldom have such say but I was lucky to have it.  Some strange thing came in my mind under marketing ground. We didn’t realize that the marketing in the world is changing very fast.

For Shudh Desi Romance, I banked on my experiences of young people about whom the film was. They are in their last year of college and worried about their job. Youths have worries but no confidence that they will get the answer from Cinema. We have lost our prestige in last few decades in their eyes because we have done certain wrong things and we ourselves are to be blamed. We knew that most films we did were not up to mark for people to like them at all.
No doubts there are some good films also but flop films made the audience skeptical. We had positioned ourselves in a way that the audience lost hopes in us and because audience lose hopes in us, we lose confidence, thinking it’s useless to make good movies because the audience are not enjoying them. So we made a run of the mill films and the audience lost confidence in us further and this vicious cycle continued for a very long time. But now things are changing. Because of some good movies in the last few years, we were able to break this vicious cycle and slowly people also have started showing confidence in us now.

Shudh Desi Romance got a very less opening response from the audience because of the title probably. But once the story was out people started showing a favourable response. It was very difficult to find out what was going on in their mind. As a writer, I am always curious to find out what’s going on in their mind. People of this generation have a different way of thinking. They know that the real life and the reel life are not the same. In the olden days, people use to stay with their family members but now the young generation are living away from their parents and staying with their friends. So it's in a way, a kind of section of our society, our youth, I won’t call it a minority. We might think differently, as we are living in a culture and following our tradition. We sometimes neglect them as if they do not exist, or we misjudge them but in reality all those who are staying away from their parents are living the same way.

So why can't we show these things in the films? Why can't we show relationships as confusing as they are, as stupid as they may be, as unfair as they may be. If you have decided to make films on relationships, then make on relationships only and don’t make films on God. Another thing was that it was also a romantic comedy film where romance meant comedy. So we also wanted to make a comedy film on romance with the people of that age group. How do they react? How do they behave? What sort of things they do? So we wanted to make a romantic comedy movie but at the same time we also wanted to make a comedy film on romance. There is a certain way I show women characters. I know a few women, whom I have seen in the movies like in the movie Bunty Aur Bubli. The character of Bubli was somewhat similar to this and even in other films also. We see in the movie where a young woman has had few relationships and even went through abortion. It's obvious, if you have had multiple relationships, accidents can occur because it's quite normal. If it doesn’t, then you may be having some sickness. Why can’t you treat such people with respect?

We have films where a woman is shown as Sati Savitri and films where a woman who stays away from her parents has four relationships, does two types of jobs, one in the morning and one in the evening. She does everything for herself, pays her rent, cooks her own food, stitches clothes and stays alone. Who do you think has an ego? One who pretends to be Sati Savitri or one who is self-oriented? We felt that the concept of the heroine was different. It was like 5000 years old civilization that was forcing the youth to tell a lie and this can be seen in every city. As cast and crew, we wanted these women to be respected even though they might be doing every single thing which theoretically is not traditional.

Obviously most of the people liked the movie but some didn’t as they felt hero’s character wasn’t very bold. Here the hero is shown playing a duffer character where two girls are shown running behind him. It looks true and all credit to Shushant for such a role. It is not that Sushant did not know when he was playing that character. He knew that this was going to happen. That shows the commitment of an actor, but the truth is that the girls also knew about this because nowadays this is common and happens to the people of a certain age. Maybe it looks embarrassing, but they do it. One more truth is that it may be an issue of Demand and Supply. People want to see such things in the film or something else more than a boy gets attracted to a girl just because she looks beautiful.

So there were things like to capture snapshots of relationship in youth as they exactly are today. Some may like it some may not but this is the truth we were just trying to make a snapshot of. We don’t try to teach them do this, don’t do that or do it this way, we didn’t tell anything else. We just felt that some strange things comes in people’s mind at a certain age when you are trying to learn the meaning of love and relationship and sex and commitment that you can manage, or you don’t know what you stand for, what you believe in. You fall down, you get hurt, you face difficulties and that is how you are matured and may be you become ready for the relationship of your life later. Because of these experiences we just wanted to capture the truth of that world like the truth of the sports world which was appreciated by many people after seeing Chak De.

I remember the script of Mira Nair “Because, if we don’t tell our stories, who will.” I didn’t have any other career or any other life. I left my house and my family members and came here to tell our people our stories. The stories of criminals, the stories of people hired to attend a wedding ceremony, maybe hockey players; may be people from a middle-class family or anything. I think that is why I became screenwriter - To tell our stories to our people. Every time I have seen that I have tried to tell the story for any other reason except for this, say money or relationship or respect I failed.  I had to return the signing amount.

If I am writing films for any other reasons besides passion, eventually, I fail to complete, lose my interest. I think it applies to most of us as writers - When you don’t care for the subject and you are doing it because you want to crack a certain topic or due to a certain production house or working with a director or for any other reasons, then our work doesn’t turn out as good and you have to leave it in the middle. I have learned this with my own experience.

Can you please talk about your experience as a film writer, filmmaker making socially engaging films? How do you bring out socio-political messages in your films?

I think writers are like sponges. We see what is happening around us and being part of the community, country, you absorb the happenings. And when you feel something from inside, you want to share it at once with others - This is what I feel about something. But that doesn’t necessarily means what you feel is the final word or what you say is right. Just because you have access to a 70mm screen, it doesn’t mean that you are intelligent or more knowledgeable. It’s your humility to understand that you may not have the last word on anything, or you may not know everything about everything. But whatever you feel very strongly about you try to show that in your stories. Most writers get attracted to what is called progressive thinking.

So it’s just that. In a way you feel every time you can do work that has a sense of social engagement, you being of some use to the community that you are a part of. We can do that even by raising some issues that people don’t have time for or putting the spotlight on certain people who have room in this community. So you just start feeling that you have contributed little. It’s a small feeling, but it can make you move on for few years.

How do you make films on socio-political issues that are also entertaining?

I think the little bit I have learned from experience also. When we go back to what we were discussing earlier that the majority of people who visit the theatres are mostly coming to have a good time. That’s their only agenda. And the kind of environment theatres has, especially multiplexes, they aid this mood. A group of 5-6 people arrive by lift already laughing, well before the movie starts. School, college students, come there with their friends to enjoy. They buy expensive snacks wafers, popcorn, samosas to enjoy while watching the movie. Tickets are costly too and time is even costlier. If you are working, you get time only on weekends. You may actually want to spend it on washing your clothes, doing housework, helping children with their homework, ironing your clothes, looking for a plumber, etc. You hardly get time to enjoy and those few hours are very valuable for people. They enjoy this time by going to a theatre to watch a movie so you cannot divert yourself from their agenda. You have invited them by releasing promos, by taking their money and time, and they have come to enjoy.

Given this we still want to say something socio-political through our stories. Then say it with a charm, with love or try some new method to say but try and say what you want to say without any shortchanges but don’t expect any favour from the audience to see just because you are a big filmmaker. They won’t favour you at all. Then there is also another school of thought, which my other filmmaker friends follow. That is, do not dilute, say what you want to say, don’t compromise on your form, what if fewer people are watching - you have said it in a right way with right craft and that is also a valid view because that’s an artist expressing himself. It becomes a socially relevant issue and when you do this for a long time you do succeed. You may not be able to reach a whole lot of people and convert their way of thinking, but you would reach the people who already think like you, and then people start rejoicing together. That is very good for the craft and I respect it and believe in it very strongly.

But most of the time I feel that if I want to show something on ethics or if I want to say something about a particular thing, to those who are not interested in this or haven’t thought about this, then I find this way out. But of course making the film entertaining is a tough job so in some films you write the title very well but in some films the title ends up writing you and this goes on like this and it’s the nature.

I think that is perhaps most practical way of doing because the way I see it is like there is a community or a country and there are all kinds of people; there are doctors who cure people, there are restaurants that serve food, there are carpenters who make furniture. You are a storyteller, this is your job in the community, so I create a less as a top-down broadcast on people. I see it rather as we sit down with the crowd and start telling a story and whatever is there in my mind, I tell them everything. Then they realize they didn’t think about this, and good that I reminded them about that and of course they enjoyed it. Sometimes they also say that they didn’t like it, and then I would tell them, it doesn’t matter, will better it next time.

Chak De India was most probably one of the most successful films in a way?

Because it was part of advertising - there is a way of looking at it as it’s also high in popularity. So its pressure is higher. Sport is like partly an action film for which only I know how I share the stress. In Chak De India, you see what was in our mind, our mind and not my mind because I am not able to see myself separate from the unit. I am lucky that I worked with people who made me feel like that and I know that this doesn’t happen with everybody. But our intention was not to give people, a piece of mind, it was a piece of our heart, that was the difference.

Do you think all stories are social or political in nature even when you show them as they are not social or political?

The theme of socio-politics reflects in any film in one way or the other. If you are angered it would be seen, if you are loved it would be seen. It would be seen in some way or other. But we must also accept the facts that we are by nature film people. We can very often tend to forget politics or anything like that for a great line, for a great power of music, for a great costume, for a great dance. So that is always there because we are also an artist. When we see something beautiful or impactful, we are first to forget politics because we really like those things. That is why we have to be more careful to tackle these things because today we are discussing and focusing on one particular thing the next time we might focus on some other topic.

Due to our likings sometimes it becomes politically incorrect also and that time we try to convince ourselves saying that this is very beautiful, this cut point is very good, this costume is good, please bring this little down or bring this little up and we do it. So like I said we have to be socially engaging and have to be in touch with our community. Then we will be able to do our job of writing as an artist. But if we start broadcasting only because we have a powerful medium then what is the guarantee that our views on that particular thing or a particular subject are the last word? Maybe the organizations working from last 40 years on that particular subject might have different view or opinion and even better than us like for example whether to legalise sex workers or not? One point of view is that if you legalise them they will get certain facilities like license or minimum wages benefit, etc. On the other hand, certain women might think that if sex workers weren’t around, their family wouldn’t have broken. In that sense, even these women are also not wrong.

So any issues, especially socially irrelevant ones are not that simple or easy. That is why we should not be of narrow-minded. We must spend a lot of time with the people who are working in that field and be a student and learn and be very sure of what we are saying because we may undo something which some workers in the field have done for us 30 years. Between a social reformer and a dictator, there is very little difference. People who are doing moral policing feel they are doing social reform but why should we believe in this, we believe only in what we say is a social reform. But these issues are not that easy and we have many people who tell us how to live; so many groups not just religious but every kind of groups. Too many in our country. But the reality is not to recruit followers but to talk to people on an equal level and say that a particular thing disturbs me what to do, please tell. Maybe that is a better way because we may not really have a last word on everything.

One thing which I like about Chak De India is the character of Kabir Khan. The way he makes a goal and does not make a goal and then he gets blamed for being a Muslim and then shaking hands with a Pakistani captain, all say so much.

Because it happens all the time especially with media. They want some new stories daily and do every effort for that. All due to the free press. While we should be grateful that we have a free press but at the same time it could even become kind of paparazzi. Like everything, it also has two sides and balance is the key.

Do you start on with a socio-political idea that you want to convey or does the politics on your work reveal itself as you are working on it?   

It happens in the doing, see for example Chak De. Originally the idea was just to complete this film and become famous to get sponsors. But more than that, there was a feeling from inside; when my wife (then girlfriend) told me after the release when the film became popular “you get a newspaper article, it gives you so emotion in your heart and you lived with this for two years and you don’t know what has happened“. I could not believe that I could make such a hit film but somehow the feeling was such that whoever I shared that feeling with people who are more talented, who had more resources than me, more talent than me, who were more experienced than me, whoever we told the story, a lot of people in the world of hockey helped us. People told us, “Don’t worry we’ll do something.” What I would have done, I hadn’t even made a video of a wedding. So it was not just me, so many people who came together and made it happen. In the end, there was some feeling that touched everyone that people more talented than you, just made it happen for you.   

Can you talk about how your documentary filmmaking has influenced you?        

There is a lot to say. When we talk about what is called socially relevant topic, a large section of makers do that day in and day out. They have much better expertise in it than we have. And they do it with much lesser money than us and very often in a much better way. The only difference is, they don’t get screens in the theatres but we get it. There is no other difference. Wherever there is no script, they will make their own script according to the material they have, but we have to read the whole story and prepare ourself before going. So I think we, especially fiction people, have a lot to learn from our non-fiction counterparts. Maybe we feel we can correct them a little and tell them how to be more entertaining. But that is not true. The fact is that their politics, their understanding of social issues are way ahead of us. Our ability is not that much. They have spent their whole life this way and we are far behind of them.

Sir, tell me how do you feed your mind like in terms of seeing films, or reading books, or seeing Television? What do you like to watch?

Anything, I don’t have a particular choice because I didn’t grow up watching films that’s why I didn’t have a particular liking. So I watch everything especially what I don’t like. Say a serial on politics which is politically incorrect, any movie in which something wrong is shown, or TV news where the little prince is shown fallen into a bore-well. I like to watch these types of things. Sometimes you disagree with people who also belong to your community. The country is one family and they are like your family members. If you disagree and fight with them, nothing is going to happen. At the most you will feel like putting them in jail when your government will come, but they will do the same with you when their Govt. will come.

So I watch everything but take more effort to watch what I don’t like because I just want to understand what people actually wanted, why are they in so much of trouble? This way at least I can understand their problems after all they all are also people. I can try and express my feelings to them in my next film so they can understand me better. Though it is not easy but I feel this way I can convey my message to them.

When you look back at your body of work, what are you happy with? What would you like to explore more?

I don’t know I didn’t think of it like that. The story which I want to tell takes 2-3 years’ time to complete i.e. a film from writing to release. We don’t get more time to think. So now it's mostly satisfaction though the doubt still remains in the mind that we could have done this scene in a better way, or something went wrong while writing that scene. These things keep happening as there is no end to it because the original scene or the master scene cannot be cut. Like Gulzar Sir says, “करने की चीज़े करने से ही आती हैं“, and this way you feel satisfied because whatever you wanted to say, you were able to say with the help of other people.

I was able to search right collaboration that helped me to do what I was not able to myself. I tasted everything and was able to experience it. There were so many dialects available, but only 15-16 were used. Many a times we feel we are in a jail due to the presence of so many film writers. If I could write, I will write in Tamil, Malayalam, Oriya or Assamese but what to do I don’t know these languages, so I can’t write. But I can do the dialects. So to come out of the jail, at least it can become a certain kind of bridge. If somebody has watched Shudh Desi Romance in another part of the country, a sense of smell of that place is always there. Obviously because it’s a mainstream film it’s not 100% true, but the flavour is enough. In a same way, even in other films if you become a bridge then it gives you satisfaction. Also, there is a feeling of dissatisfaction when we think about Khosla Ka Ghosla. The movie would have been released early if we had made it in a smarter way. But it is also true that if we had made this film in a smarter way the outcome of the film would have been different. So it works both ways.

How do you work on characterization?

Yes, I know I do it cautiously more like empathy. Empathy is your pain in my heart. If you are interested in someone and he has become your friend, then you know when he will speak and what he will speak, how he will speak and when he will show his anger. We all know that about our friends. We as a writer, do not interact with the characters who are not part of the script, we interact only with the characters involved in the script because they are our only friends. There was a dialoque in one of Gulzar’s movie, “Hai meethi uljhan, bairi apna mann, apna hi hoke, sahe dard paraye“. Means somebody else’s pain in your heart. If you are saying that a particular man is part of your community whether he is a criminal or postman or a salesman or whatsoever, he is. If you feel that he belongs to you, he can become yours too - maybe in the first half an hour of the film and then you walk behind him to do what you want him to do.

Do you like to write down character sketches for all characters involves in the script?

For Chak De I wrote. Mostly I don’t but for Chak De I wrote because there were just too many characters. Otherwise I don’t. Sometimes we have to just prepare the actors so when they come for reading, during workshops, that time you need to communicate more; so this comes as a handy tool sometimes. In Chak De, I had written very clear character sketches else it could have been very mathematical that was the nature of the beast.

How much is work-shopping helpful vis-a-vis writing a script?

Very much. The two phases that I love the most are researching and reading for the workshop because both are new beginnings - When you know nothing and when you are meeting other new people. As for research, when you begin, you don’t know about it, everything is new for you and you enjoy it. When I am researching, it’s like a curiosity in the mind for a particular thing, to know more about it. Like in Khosla Ka Ghosla, you know the environment shown is just like your house you feel interested. You try to find out when you go home just to know more about them. But in some films you need to go inside though, you know about it, but you don’t know what you feel about that.

So research is done outside as well as inside. It is very fascinating. Then reading workshops with actors, where they all are new, so they give new inputs and new things start developing and you wonder you didn’t think like that.

Ram Gopal Verma says, as a writer or a filmmaker, your attention is divided over 15-20 characters but as an actor who is playing a certain character, his 100% attention will be solely on that character, so he will tell us a lot more about it which may be we didn’t know. Moreover, you think the character will do some act like this or that, and then you hear the same thing from the actor’s point of view, and it could be different.

So I enjoy doing readings and workshops because I might have made many mistakes in my script which get corrected during these sessions. I go home daily and make the corrections after reading the script again. So the Final Draft of my script is after the workshop. The workshop is like compiling a computer program for me. Compiling is a process of running a computer program after writing it. When you run it in the compiler the computer spots errors or bugs in the program and prompts you to correct them. So for me the workshop is like compiling.  You come to know of the errors, you correct them and don’t tell the computer to correct itself. So it’s like that and I enjoy it very much.

Question from the audience, can you please talk about 3 Act structure. The audience has some doubts on that and also tell me how the Hindi film structure compares with the American 3 Act structure.

Theoretically I won't be able to answer this question, so I will answer it with examples say Bunty Aur Bubli. There is a stage where everything is set.  They run away from their homes because they did not get an opportunity, etc. Then she gets pregnant.  That is the point where the story takes the turn. The audience enjoyed till this point i.e. the first half of the film. They were hilarious and full of joy till the time she gets pregnant. After this in the second half the story becomes dramatic and makes the characters and audience cry. So I suggested them to begin the second half with some comedy and then enter into their character otherwise if you straightway start the second half with the emotional scenes than it will be a problem. So we discussed that with the producer and he suggested we have a song there. Only we can do this in the whole world, in Hindi films to have an interval point and a song. This is where we are different from Hollywood. We do it our way with our intervals. It depends on subject to subject. Some films need songs, some manage without it; some keep dance item. But our generation is not a very good practitioners of this form, songs and dance like our predecessors.

 

Can you talk about Collaboration with Aditya Chopra, Directors or other Writers?

Probably I have been lucky in this aspect. Because everything in films is so collaborative, that the persons with whom you work can make or break your work along with you. Because I was fresh from advertising or IT, so I didn’t know that a writer writes a script and then the script is taken away from him, he may not able to see the script again. But I was lucky here as this never happened to me. Even when I had worked with Ram Gopal Verma in the beginning, this never happened with us that a script was taken away from us and we don’t know about it. I remained there for beginning to end. I was there for costume also.

Producers and directors are my bouncing boards because otherwise I am alone writing at home. You always feel like telling others what is going in your mind.

So I feel little lucky because I worked with producers, directors, technicians, cinematographer but nobody asked me, why are you entering into this. The reason was I met with all good people, even costume people didn’t stop me. So that is the way I have been working. I think I have some leadership quality that is why I survived but every time this may not happen. If somebody takes away the script and tells me to come to see the film, I may feel little awkward. I keep waiting anxiously for the print to come out until I see the film, I cannot even think of doing anything else least write another script. Till the time the film is released and we know the outcome, I cannot do anything, can’t think of another idea. This is not true for everyone, but then that’s destiny. It's like marriage function taking place in your house and everybody is busy with their work also helping each other. So far I managed to work this way, can’t say if I’ll be able to work some other way.

A lot of people here want to know from you how to pitch their script. I would like to call you for a workshop and also like to know from you right now.

I think it is a same thing for me and may be the system applies to me too. If I am trying to make something for money or glory or whatever reason, then I will not be able to pitch it very well unless I am doing it passionately. I’ll probably be able to give you the right references. I may be able to tell the story in 40 words whatever the way, but it will be the right way. In those 40 words, there may be hardly four lines this, that, yes, no, etc. After that, I have to tell them about the characters, about the tone, whether it is going to be a comedy or a thriller. Usually, that is the way like how it is taught here in FTII or Whistling Woods. That’s the best way to do. But I am not very confident of doing because in my case if I am not doing it from my heart, then I will not be able to write even two pages also.

But I will definitely say this to the new writers please don’t plead to your seniors by saying Sir, Sir, Please Sir. If you say, “I am a small writer, a struggler, if I get a chance to work with you then my luck may click.“ This is what the new writers shouldn’t say, and that is why they struggle.

When we go to meet somebody in their office without polishing our footwear/shoes, or talking to them without standing straight or not confident while talking, not trusting ourself, calling people several times and saying please give me a chance, then even if you have written the world best story, he will not listen to you nor he will respect you. When we respect ourself, we understand we do something that nobody else can do, only then you will get respect.

The same applies to cinematographer or sound person also. If we respect ourselves and if we have confidence in us than the world will respect us, people will come to know how important you are and also there is a chance that producer or director may come asking for you. Whenever you get an opportunity to talk to your superior, you be confident and talk to them, don’t plead Sir, sir, please sir, they will never listen to you instead they will disrespect you by asking you to leave the office.

So to a certain extent, we have to raise the bar for ourselves. We all know that people do not respect us even though we have changed a bit because to a certain extent we have to earn respect. You cannot earn it forcibly which is why we must continuously keep educating ourselves, keep going for workshops or keep in touch with the association people about their ideas, about new stories, about latest news, etc. We must keep improving ourselves if we don’t improve then even if your words are sharp, there will be no life in it. So we must know that we are much better than the film industry thinks we are. But we are still not probably aware where we can be, or we should be or where our counterparts in some other countries are. We have to become better day by day, so please stop saying Sir, sir, please sir. Gain confidence, show the strength that you have. Let the page you write do the talking.                                                                                                                                                                       

Thank you.  

 

Edited, Compiled by - Sanjay Sharma

Transcribed by - Ronald D'Souza


-Rajashree

An alumnus of FTII Pune, Rajashree won National Award for her film The Rebel. ‘Trust Me’ a romcom Novel written by her was accorded best-selling Indian chick-lit by TOI.

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