AR: As Himanshu and Garima said, it should touch you deeply. So I want to ask you a tricky question, with regard to GKRRL as this Romeo and Juliet drama was an existing tableau from which you drew inspiration, and you started writing from there. Now this was a commissioned piece of work, which was also an adaptation. That means there was material available and yet, with each scene, you are trying to infuse your personal feelings and bleed onto the page… as Himanshu said, cannibalising it. Can you give me an example where you first found this personal investment or you felt something like this, which you poured into a scene?
GW: I will give you a really funny example of the character of Dhankor Baa played by Supriya Pathak Kapur. That entire sequence, where she says, ‘Haddi mat dabaa’ is taken from real life. (Laughs) It was something that happened in front of our very own eyes.
SS: One day, we were at Sanjay (Leela Bhansali) sir’s office, and he was getting a massage. There were four or five people sitting around, and this guy was giving him a shoulder massage. We were in the midst of a discussion when he said, ‘Haddi mat dabaa’. His pitch and volume kept rising each time he said it. So we took that and just increased its intensity in our scene. Then Sanjay said, ‘Bade kameene ho yaar tum log, mera hi line le liya.’
AR: Parveez, your experience is also nuanced here. I am talking about Queen. You had your director Vikas Bahl writing it and I think Chaitally (Parmar) was also involved. There must have been a big contribution from you too. What resonated with you and, like Himanshu said, personally, what emotions, pain, disappointment, helplessness etc did you bring to the script?
PS: I love to travel. So travelling through Europe resonated with me. I travelled alone for the first time many years ago, and I had similar experiences. Like that scene where Japanese tourists are taking pictures of the protagonist (Rani) puking. So you draw from your experiences and put them into the script. Sometimes it is the contrast that works. In this case, the protagonist comes from Delhi, which is very different than someone from Bandra going on a journey alone. You feel more for her as she has never travelled alone.
AR: Fair enough. The reason I am
asking is because there is a reason for her
SS: (Cuts in) Your question was about the things one puts into a scene and where that comes from. And, as he said, travel teaches you a lot. Whatever Garima and I attempt is based on our travels. GKRRL, for instance, had a Gujarati flavour. Neither Garima nor I talk like that. You create something like that after observing people, which is something you can extract from travel alone. He said he loves to travel to Europe, we like to travel within India. India, at this point, is exploding with ideas. For instance, there is this village in Uttar Pradesh that has had no electricity for 60 years. But they have mobile phones and they use Whatsapp and they also have a laptop repair shop, where they plug their phones as they receive electricity for just two hours a day. They exchange films via their phones and watch them on their phones. This is another story we are developing. Travel gives you a huge perspective on what people would want to see.
AR: I will sharpen the question before I turn to Sanjay. We all have done commissioned work, where we are assigned a plot, where they give you a basic outline on what kind of film they want. It is our job to find a personal connection with that. You guys take your stories and your concepts and mould them with your mind and your soul.
SC: The question is whether I believe in their concept enough to write it or not.
AR: Call it belief or resonance or a personal investment but the fact is that the connection has to be there so that you are able to sustain it. So Sanjay, Paan Singh Tomar was an established biopic. You could not change the facts of his life. But, still, when you were writing it, it had to become your story of his life. Please elaborate, keeping this in mind.
SC: When I began researching the subject, no one knew who Paan Singh Tomar was. There was nothing on Google about him. And the army, they refused to talk about him as they didn’t know how we would portray him. There was no record about him either. So I researched on him for almost for two years before I developed the story. Next, we had to figure out how to narrate his story. We wondered whether we should start the story from his childhood, from 1931 to 1981, and cover 50 years of his life. Actually, he ran away from home when he was 16 or 17 years old. He ran to Jhansi and joined the army and he returned a year later. So we thought of starting there but the narrative was not linear.
The other structure we built was on an interview Paan Singh Tomar gave, which caused a huge ruckus in the Vidhan Sabha. That became a big issue and then the hunt for him actually began. We thought it would be an interesting point, for him to narrate his story from here to a journalist. It saved us many tangents as far as the narrative went. It would be a linear format.
AR: Sanjay, what was it about Paan Singh Tomar’s life that you liked most?
SC: That I saw my father in him. All the people we spoke to regarding him unanimously agreed that he was a very good man. And Pratap Singh Chauhan, the man who killed him in an encounter, said to me, ‘Beta agar main police mein nahin hota aur aur main duty pe nahin hota, toh main unhe jaane deta.’ So when I was writing about him or even while talking about him, I could see my father’s face. That’s why I gave the character of Paan Singh Tomar some traits of my father. When I was a child, my father never gave me a straight answer. Even when I asked him how to open a bottle of water, he would say, ‘Tum gadhe ho, kaho haan.’ I would agree and only then would he show me how to open a bottle. So ‘Kaho haan’ that takiyakalaam, I used for the character.
AR: Tushar, tell us about you as your case is very interesting. You write these comedy films with gags and you work with so many directors like Indra Kumar, Sajid (Khan) and Mohit (Suri). The point is, they know exactly what they want. How do you resonate with that? What is it about you that we can find in those films?
TH: I did F.A.L.T.U with Remo (D’souza), a non-dance film. When Remo called me for his next, I asked him to tell me his story and what he had in mind. I got into his character as he was once a background dancer. We took incidents from his life and put them into the film. Remo has worked so hard to get where he is today. He told me things like because he is dark-skinned, they would make him stand as the background dancer for the camera. So I always get into the director’s mind.
I have also worked with a great man called David Dhawan. It is very tough to make Davidji happy. So I used to watch his films, take his old gags, turn them around and present them to him. He used to say, ‘I cannot even say it’s bad, because it is mine.’ I said that’s the game!
As writers, we have all had to sell our soul at some point. Luckily, we are now in a position where we don’t have to do that any more. We don’t have to lie to ourselves. So even if I do DVD work, I am not ashamed as it is a challenge for me. Since I work along with directors, every week brings a new challenge for me.
AR: While fulfilling the director’s requirements, are you also having fun writing all those gags?
TH: Of course. If I am not enjoying myself, what is the point?
AR: Right, if the story does not entertain you, how will you entertain your audience? In 2004, Prakash Jha told me he wanted to make a film about electoral politics in the Hindi heartland. Frankly, I was not interested. As a citizen, I am interested in politics, but I don’t really relate to electoral politics as a writer. He wanted me to co-write it with him and I suggested we meet regularly for a week between 7.30pm and 10pm and see if I could relate to his germ of an idea during that time. We eventually wrote Raajneeti.
Okay, now all of you have to be honest, and I too will be honest about it. I want each of you tell me about one creative mistake you made. That includes you, Himanshu, who has written wonderful films on spec, because that will be a rich insight to have ki nahin baba poori freedom thi but uss time pe naa samjhi mein yeh galti mere se ho gayi.