AR: But, Tushar, we are asking whether these are exceptions or whether they have become the norm, whether people are willing to take a risk if you have a good script. Are they (financers) only seeking an assurance on investment recovery?
TH: Earlier, films used to be made primarily for satellite TV. People used to think ‘we are getting `40 crore from satellite, my costs have been covered and I am happy’. Now, films are being made for the box office.
AR: Tushar, that’s not the point. Do they still measure the viability of a film based on what they project as their recovery or do they feel, ‘it is a very moving film and I think we should put in our money in it and have faith that the audience will like it’.
Himanshu Sharma (HS): I don’t think corporate studios think like that. Individual producers might say, ‘I like this film and I am making it with these particular actors, the rest is up to him, whether he is able to sell the film or he releases it with partners or whatever else.’ I believe corporate studios definitely need an Akshay Kumar or an Ajay Devgn in the film. Woh walaa producer jo hua karta tha in white shoes, white shirt and paan masala ka dibba haath mein par usmein kuch baat thi, bhale woh paanch DVD se film bana leta tha. But that was a time when nobody knew what we should make and what we shouldn’t. We made the most pathetic films during the ‘80s and ‘90s but producers had the courage to attempt them, they believed in their instincts. I don’t think corporate studios are brave enough. They won’t invest in something they believe in, they are not, like, ‘Chalo banaate hain, aage dekh lenge.’
AR: But that is the irony, Himanshu, that these very studios which started (in the US) as Columbia Pictures, Twentieth Century and Fox, were launched by producers who had the courage to do so. Harry Cohn, who launched Columbia, and Jack Warner were people with passion. There used to be a poster behind producer Darryl F Zanuck’s chair that said, ‘Story is the King.’ But, today, it’s only about economics.
SC: I feel we shouldn’t even use the term ‘Hindi film industry’ as R&D (Research and Development) is the biggest part of this industry. Let’s say, Parveez comes up with a very good idea and I pay him good money to write a project. He writes the project for six months but is not satisfied even though he is being paid a whole lot. So we are not working on R&D basically we are a Hindi film general store, where agar kuchh chal jata hai, everyone asks the writer to make something on the same lines.
HS: Innovation hamesha accha lagta hai because exceptions rule ko aur majboot karte hain.
HS: After the release of NH10, Sudip (Sharma, writer) said, ‘Right now, people are enjoying my film but abhi ek badi film aayegi aur sab meri film bhool jayenge. So yeh jo exception wali film hai humko sirf thode waqt ke liye achhi lagti hai.
AR: We were all very proud of Dum Laga Ke Haisha and it did not feature big stars. It featured Bhumi (Pednekar), an overweight heroine, and a flop hero. It was the perfect recipe for disaster. It took him (director Sharat Kataria) six years in this mahaul, to get a confirmation. He was about to be hired by Yash Raj Films as a dialogue writer and they said, ‘Iska sample batao kya likhta hai woh.’ He said, ‘I have one script which has been in your files. Why don’t you take a look at it? That’s why Aditya (Chopra) read the script and said, forget about dialogue, call this fellow (to direct). But it had taken him six years during which time he showed it to so many people.
TH: It is sad even though we say ‘the story is king’. It is high time that changed.
AR: Let me take off from where Tushar said that we should be involved in making that change. One way to bringing about a change is by continuing to stick to one’s vision. Are we doing enough speculative writing? All of you are very successful scriptwriters and I am sure you are getting several offers, no matter what your choices are. But are you able to honestly make enough time for your own speculative writing or is all your time going into the assignments you have been given? Are you working on that vision because that vision is your own; the non-DVD, non-studio, non-economically driven, independent vision? I am asking each one of you, starting with Parveez.
PS: I have made a start. Honestly, I got busy with Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Phantom but I am starting now.
AR: Parveez, do you feel you have to give it priority?
PS: Yes. We should have a mix of both.
AR: But khud ka parallel bhi kuch hona chahiye. Tushar, are you getting enough time to do that, now that you have taken up a huge responsibility at Balaji, I believe?
TH: No sir, I am dyslexic and therefore I can’t read or write. I sit with the director and luckily the directors I work with keep working with me. The director and I are always in sync, so I write every scene with the director. I have never written on my own, so I don’t think I can answer your question.
AR: Yeah, but you do formulate your own thoughts and ideas. Can’t you record them?
TH: Yes, I do that. When I come up with an idea I love, I sit with the director as I believe he is the captain of the ship. As a writer, my main job is to support the director because he takes the vision forward.
HS: I have never done commissioned writing. That’s why, when I finished writing Tanu Weds Manu, I decided to write Raanjhanaa as I wanted to attempt a story like that. In fact, every director asked me if I could write something similar to Tanu Weds Manu but, at the time, I couldn’t pen another rom-com; I wanted to write Raanjhanaa. After that film, I wanted to write something like Tanu Weds Manu Returns. I have always written what I wanted to and have gone with the flow. But during that time, Aanand (L Rai) was there. I am very fortunate as I feel I can only work on what my heart desires.
SS: We are working with Yash Raj Films and we worked with Dharma Productions. Unlike what Tushar was saying, that he doesn’t write on his own, we always used to write for ourselves and then adapt it to someone else’s vision. Like we are writing for Neeraj Pandey. We took our own idea to him because we knew he would like it. We didn’t have a story, we hadn’t yet written a single line; we had read an article in the papers and thought of an idea.
GW: (Cuts in) It’s called Toilet – Ek Prem Katha and we are looking for a star cast. We are also enjoying the process of meeting people. I think I speak for the both of us when I say that we are the least experienced but after GKRRL, we got several offers. After a year, we noticed that there is a certain freedom that comes with writing for oneself, so we took time out. To come up with creative ideas and research them, we go out and travel on our own time and money. We always research our ideas. Even when we were writing for Sanjay (Leela Bhansali) sir, we went to Kutch. We made sure that once both of us were financially stable, we would devote time to our own ideas and complete them quickly.
SC: I believe it is very important to keep writing. I consider the commissioned work that I get as a scholarship.
AR: But you have a bank of your own scripts?
AR: I am an accidental writer. Unlike all of you, who have the genes to become writers, I came to Bombay to become a psychoanalyst. But that didn’t work out, so I worked with an NGO and then shifted to Business India. I was competent on the job, but my heart wasn’t in it. I met Baba Azmi and we became friends and he kept pressurising me to write a film for him but I told him I don’t know how to. Back in those days, everyone thought, likhne ko kya hai koi bhi likh sakta hai. At that time, you had to learn to write on your own. Tushar, I had to order three books from Barnes & Noble. I got a brochure too. And I did all this via post as there was no email back then, so everything took months.
TH: Sir, just like you said, even I didn’t want to be a writer. I am a failed director. I started as a clapper boy for Indra Kumar and I was his writer on his next film. In those days, clapper boys didn’t even get water. Water was available only for the actors, DoP, chief assistants and the director. Everyone else used to get water in a bucket and when I went on the sets for the next film, I got juice.
AR: From bucket to juice!! Excellent! Let’s get back to you people.
BOI: Sir, please continue your journey.
AR: I learnt a great technique from Vinay Shukla. He said after watching a film you like, start transcribing the entire screenplay. Just sit down and do the screenplay, not the dialogue. At the time, screenplay meant a step-by-step story break-up with scene headings. That was the golden method of learning. Just imagine writing a scene for Deewar! Even though you are merely transcribing it, you are still writing. It teaches you a sense of rhythm, especially in a Hindi film where there are songs. Where to place a song, what the song is doing, where the main plot is moving, going to sub-plot… suddenly I realised that there was a method.
Then I started getting into mythology, folk culture, as I had an academic orientation. When Mahesh Bhatt first met me for Ghulam, he said to me, ‘I believe you write.’ I said, ‘Yes I am a writer.’ He said, ‘No, I mean you actually write.’ I asked him how else could one be a writer and he told me that most people don’t really know how to write. He showed me a script and it was only 11 pages long. And do you know what was written at the end? I won’t name the film and the writer but it merely said, ‘From now onwards, the film races towards its climax.’ He said, ‘This is how they write.’ So the point is that I was andhon mein kanaa raja.
Now let’s come back to you all. Regardless of whether it is commissioned work or spec work, you are drawing creative material in the form of inspiration, which triggers your ideas. Where is this coming from? What is it that you dig into when you are looking at the material, right from the beginning, Himanshu, that thought ke ab kis subject pe likhun. What is it that helps you make that decision? What makes you believe that you have an enormous amount of material? How is that decision made? Let’s start with you, Himanshu.
HS: For me, it always begins with the state I am in. So when Raanjhanaa happened, I really wanted to write a tragic love story. There was no other reason. And in the process of writing that, a lot changed in my personal life and then I realised that stories are cannibals as they eat your thoughts. I feel it is very important to be personally invested in your stories as that lends them some honesty.
AR: If by invested, you mean your feelings and your pain, you are cannibalising yourself and your experience. Siddharth and Garima, have you experienced this?
GW: I agree with Himanshu as your stories are a lot about you. It’s your life and your experiences. So when you write, you had better have something that inspires you and drives you every day because you have to live with that story for a really long time. The initial connection can come from anywhere, a newspaper headline, or something that has happened in your past that you feel has the ability to be translated into a story that can also connect with people. Then you think it will be entertaining and people would like to watch it in cinemas.