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With Student Of The Year 2, Vishwaroopam 2, Namaste England and 4 more franchise films releasing, Bollywood writers reveal the challenges in writing a sequel

What does it take to write a sequel to a hit franchise, especially in times when merit is only one factor that determines a film’s success?

Last week, we told you how amazing the second half of 2018 looks, with a wide variety of exciting films in store. This time, we went in a little deeper and picked out an interesting theme that is bound to make the line-up of the second half much better. After an array of sequels and franchises failed to impress the audience a couple of years of ago, the graph started going up last year, with films like Jolly LLB 2, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, Judwaa 2, Golmaal Again and Tiger Zinda Hai. This theme, of making successful second, third and fourth instalments to already hit originals, seems to have picked up in full swing in 2018. We started the year with Baaghi 2, which was a massive, action-packed success at the ticket counter and just saw another box-office biggie with Race 3.

And now, as we bask in the glory of films based on realism, we will once again be taken into the sequel/franchise zone with seven such exciting films in the next six months. While the Sanjay Dutt-starrer Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster 3 will give us some intense action, Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam 2 is bound to thrill viewers. Then there is the laugh-riot of Yamla Pagla Deewana Phir Se with the Deol parivaar, and Mudassar Aziz’s Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi, a subtle light-hearted film. Not only this, other movies like Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra’s Namaste England, the ensemble fun of Total Dhamaal and the glamourous world of Student Of The Year 2, will also join the sequel/franchise list this year.

In the upcoming years too, we will see films like Sajid Khan’s Housefull 4 (2019) and Hrithik Roshan’s Krrish 4 (2020) hitting theatres, thanks to popular demand after the previous instalments. And while it is fun for the audience to watch their beloved films come back for another round of entertainment, we wondered how difficult it is for the makers to take already established, successful storylines as well as the audience’s expectations forward. This week, we spoke to some prominent writers and writer-directors from Bollywood and asked them for their views on the challenges they face while taking the next step in writing sequels/franchises.  

Anees Bazmee, Writer-Director

First, I want to draw attention to a practice among filmmakers to market a film as a hit even when it is not, so that they can push for another instalment and turn these movies into a franchise. By doing this, producers and directors are deceiving the trade, the audience and even themselves. On the other hand, there are some legitimate sequels, like the one I am making, the sequel to No Entry. This film has been airing on television for 10-12 years. It has received so much love over the years that the second part will automatically be bigger because the relevance is still there. Like our film Welcome, which was watched so much that people knew that when a sequel was ready, kuch maza aayega. Then, if the film is good, it will sustain and if it is not, it will not sustain.

The benefit of a franchise is that it saves time. In the first film, you have to establish characters and situations. Then you need to make viewers understand the story. But in second part, people know the characters and they already love them. They also know the parameters of the film and what they are going to accomplish within those parameters. If I want to make part two of Singh Is Kinng, the next part will also be loved because the first film was so well received. People know the character of Akshay Kumar, they know that this film will have a few songs, action, comedy, emotions and love. It would not take long to establish these things in the sequel. As a writer, this helps me make a better sequel than the first film.

As a director, the story is completely different. Then I will have to see that, in the last movie there were these songs which were hits, so I need to match up to that in my second film, and many such things. You also have to keep in mind that people have high expectations from sequels and franchises. I can say this because I am writing the second part of No Entry and it has taken me a lot of time to pen it because expectations are so high. Even if I make a film which is good enough, people will not be satisfied. I will need to make an exceptionally good film. Jitni badi film hoti hai utni hi badi expectation hoti hai. As a writer-director, I feel that is the biggest responsibility.

My Mubarakan producer Murad (Khetani) bhai has been telling me to make a second part and so have Arjun (Kapoor) and Anil (Kapoor). But the reason I have not done that is because in this last year, I haven’t found a legitimate story to it take forward. I am not sure how I will expand the premise of that film and since it is not justified, I am not planning on doing anything with it at the moment. The most important thing is that a sequel should be justified, otherwise it does not make sense to make the film.

Tigmanshu Dhulia, Writer-director

I don’t see any other franchise, pardon my ignorance, which takes the story forward. Every time the story is different. It is just the name and actors that are retained. Sometimes, even the actors change. Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster is one franchise that is taking the story forward. If you are taking the story forward, it is challenging. You have to live up to the expectations of the earlier parts. You don’t make a film every year in a franchise. There is a gap of two to three years between every film. While you are taking the story forward, sometimes the audience’s taste changes. Suddenly a new generation is watching your film. So you have to keep everybody in mind. But if the story is different every time and you are retaining just the name, then it is like writing any other movie. So many franchises are happening all over the world; it does cut down on your marketing budget. It is important that you have to stick to the genre. Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster cannot suddenly become a comedy. Fast And Furious is an action thriller and will always remain an action thriller. Similarly, Housefull and Golmaal will always remain a comedies. Likewise, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster will always remain a drama.

Himanshu Sharma, Writer

Whether it is a sequel, a prequel, a remake, an original or anything for that matter, make a film only when you have something to say. One should make a movie when they really have a story that’s worth telling or else just be happy about the fact that you saved some money on the marketing and publicity of the film by renaming it as something that has worked in the past. I believe when the audience watches a film, they judge it on its individual merit, not as a sequel to something they had once liked.

Ritesh Shah, Writer

The sequels might not always be successful, but the aim should be to make them in a way that they are at par with the previous instalments, if not better. Even if you come close to that, it is good enough. Whenever we decide to make a sequel, we are aware that regardless of the footfalls of the previous films in the franchise, they are consumed further on satellite and digital platforms. Then it becomes important that if not a continuation of the story, the sequels are at least in tandem in spirit with their previous films, so that they become a part of the franchise. In that sense, Namaste England is not really a sequel. It is a spirit franchise, of sorts. To live up to the expectation of footfalls, at least in spirit, we have tried to match the humour and the action element of the first film. We should try and be better, but even if it is at par with the first film, Namaste England should fetch good numbers.

Fukrey Returns is a good example. It has matched the humour of Fukrey, but it has performed better at the box office than the previous instalment. If there is a big twist in the first film, then the biggest challenge is to live up to that mark with the second film. It is a challenge to give a similar feeling to people when they have already been exposed to a good dose of drama or a twist.

Sanjay Chouhan, Writer

Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster 3 is a proper sequel. Other films are all a part of franchises. There, the characters and the actors are same but other things have been changed. Take Golmaal, for instance. The actors, more or less, remain the same but the situations change. The same goes for Race and Race 2. In Race 3, the actors are different but the settings are, however, the same. You have to make sure that you know the basic parameters of the first film when you are working on its sequel. You cannot go beyond that. When we thought of making Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster, we did not know we would be coming up with parts two and three. We had only left a few possibilities for a sequel to the first film. The relationship between saheb and biwi and their family dynamics are set. We cannot change that. We retain them every time. It is only the gangster who changes. It is the story of the gangster that keeps changing and that is the only liberty we can take. For the other things, we have to adhere to strict parameters.

For instance, Race is all about revenge and playing games against each other. We do not know till the very end who is loyal and who is a traitor. We do not know about the surprise at the end. Apart from this theme, everything else is the same. There is a character who is a rebel. He is constant. But the situation he is in keeps changing. In Baaghi 2, the situations and the relationships are different from Baaghi but the character is the same.

As a writer, you cannot play around too much with the character. In Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster 3, the gangster is Sanjay Dutt. Me and Tishu (Tigmanshu Dhulia) went out of Bombay to write the film. For the first two days, we did not know what to do and we just stared at each other’s faces. I cannot say much about part two because I was not a part of it. But in part one, Randeep Hooda was the gangster. The gangster in the film needs to be presented in a different light. Since we have such a huge star playing the gangster, we had to make sure that we did not dilute the roles of saheb and biwi played by Jimmy (Shergill) and Mahi (Gill). That was the biggest challenge for us as writers.

Saiwyn Quadras, Writer

In India, apart from the Krrish series, there has not been a genuine sequel. According to me, in a sequel, a character from the previous movie goes forward. In India, we are basically trying to bank on the success of the previous films. In Race 3, there is no continuation of the character. Salman (Khan) is playing a different character from the one Saif Ali Khan had played in the previous instalment. In Housefull 3 also the story is not a continuation. The genre is the same but not the characters.

In India, there are franchise films. There are no true sequels. In that case, it becomes like any independent film that you are writing. In true sequels, you have to keep the basic elements the same and introduce continuity in the story or characters. Baaghi 2, for example, is not a sequel. They called it Baaghi 2 because Baaghi worked. If given a chance, I would love to write a sequel to Mr. India. That is a film that has the potential to actually have a superhero in the true sense. It also has the potential to take the character forward, and form a sequel and not a franchise.

Giving the protagonist something extraordinary to do, and the internal conflict that he or she has to tackle as they walk a path that is in tandem with the previous installment is the main challenge when you write a sequel. If you manage to get an external journey that is relatable and an internal conflict that is taking place along with the journey, then there can be nothing better. The bottom line is getting the emotional core right so that it does justice to the prequel.

Mahadev, Writer

In my opinion, there are no challenges when it comes to writing a sequel if you believe in your story and characters. The only real challenge is to better yourself. Of course, extending a story for the sake of it, does not make sense. One amazing thing that happened to me was that while I was writing Baahubali: The Conclusion with my guru KV Vijayendra Prasad, the idea of my TV show for Sony Entertainment Television, Zindagi Ke Crossroads (ZKC), came to my mind. And then I was faced with a different challenge! I was so immersed in Baahubali: The Conclusion, it took me almost a year to write the 39 episodes of ZKC, which was also pretty much like writing 39 sequels! It was Vijayendra Prasad who made me realise that I was able to contribute better to the film because I was diverting my mind to another productive exercise. Whether writing a sequel with the same characters or an entirely new set of characters with no relation to the first part, it is really all about bettering yourself – how can you engage the audience better? Here, I will say that writing the 39 episodes of ZKC was a great learning for me regarding how, within a certain framework, I need to re-tell a story differently, with different characters and settings. I don’t recommend watching other franchise movies for inspiration before writing because that will confuse you. One thing I recommend is, in between writing the sequel, write something else to keep your mind fresh, like I did with ZKC during Baahubali: The Conclusion!

Milap Zaveri, Writer-Director

The most important challenge for any writer is to retain the spirit of the first part or the previous part. It is something that has worked well with the audience and that is what made the film so successful. There is a reason the audience has loved it. When you do a sequel or write a franchise, you have a bigger responsibility. When I wrote the dialogues for Shootout At Wadala, which was like a franchise after Shootout At Lokhandwala, or when I wrote Grand Masti, which was a sequel to Masti, there was a certain responsibility attached to it because you are taking a certain brand forward. And while the audience is excited to see the second or third part of a film that they had originally liked, they come in for these instalments with higher expectations. One of the most important things is to not deviate from the formula that had worked the first time around. If you completely deviate from it or do something different, you will end up disappointing the audience. One shouldn’t try to be over-smart and experiment when it comes to sequels and franchises. You should just enhance the entertainment level of the first part in the next one. And, yes, be honest to the brand and the genre of the film.

Mudassar Aziz, Director-Writer

I feel very nervous while writing a sequel. When you write a fresh story, you have a world to explore that does not have the audience’s sentiment attached to it already. You hope that with this fresh world, you will be able to strike the right chord from the very beginning. What happens quite clearly in the case of sequels as opposed to franchises is that you have to understand what initially got their sentiments attached. That is something you want to keep alive while you can tell the audience new stories with their own nuances. That is a challenge. Also, there is a certain amount of expectation involved. When there is a validation of the fact that they liked the first film, you have something to match up to, which is definitely a challenge.

The challenge is different if you are writing a sequel and if you are writing a franchise. But a genuine sequel is far more difficult to write. You have to be very sure that you are not making a sequel purely because the first one is a hit. Sometimes, a sequel is purely made because the first film worked. If that is your only reason to write, it will lack the genuineness that a sequel requires. Then you will write it only for the trade, as opposed to writing for your audience. We need to ask ourselves if the first film is worthy of a sequel and if the sequel will be interesting and entertaining enough. If the answer is no, then it is better not to make a second part.

Sanjay Masoom, Writer

According to me, a franchise is when only the name is continued, for example when I wrote Jannat and after that Jannat 2. The story was different in both movies. But the title Jannat benefited Jannat 2. If we talk about sequels, Krrish, takes the story of Koi Mil Gaya forward. When we wrote Krrish 3, we carried forward the story of Krrish. That is a true sequel. The most necessary thing for a sequel or a franchise is that the story should be good. For a franchise, it is a benefit if it is a well-known title because people are already acquainted with the first part but the film cannot be guaranteed to succeed. Yamla Pagla Deewana was a super hit but the second part did not do very well. The challenge is to make a good film, whether it is a franchise or a sequel or just a standalone film.

Franchises and sequels will get some audience initially with the promotions etc, but that’s it. Finally it will work at box office only if it is good. For a writer, the only challenge is writing a good film. For me, it is not important whether I am writing for a franchise or a sequel. My work does not get easier if I am writing for an already well-known title; in fact, it becomes more difficult. And if it is a sequel, it’s a different kind of challenge. You should know how to imbibe the characters of the film that released 4-5 years ago in its sequel.

Dheeraj Rattan, Writer

I was not a part of the first of instalments of the Yamla Pagla Deewana franchise. The third part was like an individual story that I was writing. I pitched the stories to the producers. They felt that it fell very well within that zone. I have been a part of a few sequels in Punjab. I wrote both the parts of Jatt And Juliet and the two parts of Sardaar Ji. These films were big hits. I am a story writer. I write stories. I do not think much about dos and don’ts. Coming to Yamla Pagla Deewana Phir Se, we wanted to write a funny story. We did not try too hard to incorporate funny moments because they already form the soul of the story. Emotions and human drama are already the core part of the franchise. The chemistry between Dharamji (Dharmendra), Sunny (Deol) and Bobby (Deol) is already there because they are thick as a family. These were the main elements that we wanted to bring to the table, by adding a lot of humour.

There is no pressure to match the previous part while I am writing a sequel. I do not think of it at all. I believe in writing every story independently. If you keep getting bogged down by pressure, you won’t be able to write at all. I have done more than 33 movies in Punjab. Even while writing them, I was never once aware of the pressure. You have to treat every film separately. You have to forget about the baggage of the previous films. Honesty is something that must be there when you write a story. 

Sanyukta Chawla Shaikh, Writer

Writing a sequel is always a challenge because a sequel is only commissioned when the mother film has done well or it has the muscle to be taken into a franchise. The first and foremost thing is to understand and accept that they already have a high standard that you have to either match or ideally surpass. According to me, the foundation of what a sequel should be is the hardest part to achieve. Apart from this, there are many things that come into play – what the theme of storytelling is, what the possible cast might be, what the premise is, is it a small film or a big film? But the most important thing is to honour the fact that a sequel should be really valuable and something that people love because the business is equal to people loving it. It must be backed with a lot of responsibility and conviction.

There is certainly pressure to match up to the first film. And you have to take the pressure head-on. Otherwise, there is no point attempting a sequel. A film like Jolly LLB 2 worked because it had a bigger star playing Jolly LLB and it had a story that is reminiscent of the human triumph that the original film had. So, it is important to know that you cannot do anything less. You either have to hit the same note or you have to surpass the previous instalment. 

A sequel I would really like to see is that of Vicky Donor. Now that would be a real challenge! It is a film of an altogether different level. Apart from that, I am certainly looking forward to comedy franchises like Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi and Total Dhamaal. When it comes to making sequels, Raju (Rajkumar) Hirani is the best example. He has been hitting the ball out of the park with his own films. He keeps getting better with sequels to films that are already so well made.

- Bhakti Mehta, Bhavi Gathani, Titas Chowdhury

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