Let’s set the record straight. I am not a film maker (at least not yet). I lay no claims to being one. I am no film critic. So subjective is the art form in question, that nobody can earn claim to that phrase. I am probably just a fledgling writer with stage fright. It’s this stage fright that pushed me to choose writing as a form of self-expression. Having thus engaged in what friends call “scrap-book” writing for a while now, I am fairly certain that while I may miss out on the latest bit of trickery carried out by investment bankers in the West (for which invariably, we have to pay the price), a poorly written piece of work seldom escapes my eye. So the other day, while I was reading an interview given out by Paul Thomas Anderson, the genius behind such gems as Magnolia and Boogie Nights, one particular point stood out.
“It’s all about inculcating the discipline of writing. The rest follows,” said he.
While it may sound as two very innocuous lines, easy to overlook, any film maker worth his reels will tell you that a simpler yet truer maxim has not been spoken. The importance given to the scriptwriter in the West is legendary. However, in our film obsessed nation, a writer is like an appendix – you get a bit out of him as a typist, just to give a general flow to the foreign content that the film will be “loosely based” upon and then cast him away for a pittance. The result? The writer finally starts using common sense, spares himself of typing related trouble, compromises even further on quality, (lack of it actually!) looks for another vocation that does not insult his intelligence and hands over a script (we have made some strides, so it is “bound” sometimes) that eventually gets titled Gunday or Humshakals or what-have-you.
While this may touch the reader’s humorous bone, it is painful for anybody who is genuinely concerned about the industry. Rare are films that come with some truly remarkable and textured writing and rarer still, is the commercial success of such films. Take the case of Zoya Akhtar, Javedsaab’s immensely gifted writer-director daughter who was probably known as just that – Javed Akhtar’s daughter, or at best, Farhan Akhtar’s sister, in spite of writing a film as textured and layered, yet subtle, as Luck By Chance. In my opinion, it was way higher in pecking order than the zippy enjoyable commercial block buster Zindagi Na Milegi Dobaara, which eventually ended up making her a household name. Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan, for instance, will easily rank in my top five list for the decade. Yet, I can bet the last piece of paper and pencil available to me on the planet, that there will be some readers who may have missed the film completely. Others still, would have found it a slow watch. Take the reverse to understand my point. Commercial fiction (I believe that is what he likes to call it) writer Chetan Bhagat’s poorly written One Night at a Call Centre was the base material for the even more poorly scripted joke called Hello (I won’t even talk of the direction and the performances). The same author’s (again, a title he likes to give himself) The Three Mistakes of My Life, an expectedly juvenile standalone book, was converted to a seamless script in the talented hands of Abhishek Kapoor (apparently Chetan Bhagat collaborated on the script, so let’s give him some credit), thus forming source material for a dexterously handled poignant film. This then, is the power of writing.
Carrying forward the writing theme a bit further, Farhan’s own smashing directorial debut was a classic example of a freshness of writing hitherto unseen in Indian cinema. The fact that Dil Chahta Hai was also a very niftily handled directorial set-piece, was a secondary aspect. Sadly however, it also spawned the beginning of a zillion illegitimate off springs, in the form of “me-too-bromances” that are best forgotten.
As I see it, we stand at a curious threshold. While on the one hand it beckons with a promising landscape that has select producers willing to loosen their purse strings for getting the basic element of the enterprise in order, which is the script, it also intimidates with the pressures of opening weekend numbers, that invariably define returns. Whether the audience is smartening up or not is open to conjecture. One thing we have to accept, purely owing to the socio-economic disparity that our beloved country will always be exposed to – some smart producer like Sajid Nadiadwala will eventually realize extra efficiency to be gained by cutting the flab in the process and write, direct and produce a venture himself and make a bomb by having Bhai-Khan sleep-walk through it. But, here is hoping that the Dibakar Banerjee’s, the Akhtar’s, the Motwane’s, the Basu’s, the Kashyap’s, the Bharadwaj’s and the Mehra’s (I’m sure I’ve missed a few) keep instilling some hope in budding writers by assuring them that there still exists a title in the opening credits which reads ‘Written by’… Amen.
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