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“Writing Madras Cafe was like wearing a straitjacket”

Dialogue-writing is an art that can make or break a film. This week, we speak to dialogue writer Juhi Chaturvedi (Madras Cafe – thriller) on the importance of dialogue in different genres of film

On Madras Cafe

Shoojit (Sircar) was already working on Madras Cafe when we were working on Vicky Donor. He had this script with him before Vicky Donor. So, after we finished Vicky Donor, he asked me to write the dialogue for Madras Cafe. I was taken aback but accepted the offer because he trusted me. It was very different from my last project. It’s not just a film about a freedom fight and I had to be very careful about the incidents and language in the film.

Multiple writers

There were multiple writers in the film but I was the only dialogue writer. But it wasn’t a challenge in the sense that Shoojit had given me a picture of what the film was all about. Otherwise, it could have been very harrowing since the dialogue writer and the person who has created the characters in a film have to be on the same wavelength.

Researching The Script

We needed to clearly understand the politics of the ’80s. We need to understand the history we were portraying. We needed to check our facts. So I watched a lot of stuff about the civil war on YouTube. I had a friend whose father-in-law was an ex-RAW officer, which helped a lot. It is only after fully understanding the background of the times we were portraying that we could create the films. I hail from Delhi and have friends and relatives who work in the government. So I got a fair idea of what I needed to know.

Getting The Language Right

High-ranking government officials in Delhi are highly educated and very polished, and they speak in a certain way. The way they speak also reflects their knowledge. They are very intelligent and this also comes through in the way they speak. Dialogue like this is much more evolved than the regular Bollywood script. They don’t say things like, ‘Iss desh ko tumhari zarurat hai.’ Besides, Shoojit was against using clichés. This film has no heroes; everyone is a victim.

Two Different Genres

Writing the dialogue for Madras Cafe was like wearing a straitjacket. The writing required a high degree of precision. Since it is a political film, we had to be especially careful. We were very constrained and couldn’t say too much. We were also very constrained while writing Vicky Donor as we couldn’t let it sound cheap or vulgar. But, of course, the subject was very different.

On Shoojit Sircar

I have been working with Shoojit for nine years and I understand his vision very easily. He is very clear about his script. For instance, with Madras Cafe, he didn’t make any assumptions or draw any conclusions. He is telling a story about a RAW agent.

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