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Tell Me A Story

Every filmmaker has a so-called ‘vision’ but how many treat the story as the hero of their films?

Having been in this industry for a while now, I have sat on countless formal and informal discussions where ‘projects’ are attempted to be assembled. Typically, these discussions go like this, ‘Star X ki dates available hai, uske saath film banaate hai.  Saath mein Y ko supporting cast mein lete hain jaise picture South mein bhi chale. Ladki koi bhi chalegi, lekin item number kissi badi star se karayenge. Music Z se kara te hai, usska last album superhit tha.’ Often, these discussions get quite animated and heated, with someone saying that X and Y nahin, A ur B hone chaiye… it will make for a better poster!

Rarely, if ever, do I hear the same intensity of discussion and debate on the story and script of the film that these people are trying to put together. Which is strange, because filmmaking is ultimately the telling of a story, using the immense power of the audio-visual medium.

Some stories are inherently sweeping in the sheer range of the conflict, the emotions and the incidents they cover. Like the real life story of Paan Singh Tomar, a jawan who was a world-class athlete but transformed into a dacoit due to the weight of circumstances. What a powerful story! It’s a story that has stayed with me for years ever since I heard about it and I am glad and honoured that it now stands documented as a film.

Not every story has the same intrinsically powerful raw material that the story of Paan Singh Tomar has. And not every story needs to have layers and layers of narrative angles. It can be the simple story of a shy man who finally finds the courage to propose to a girl, or a child’s fantasy of having a talking doll, or a situational comedy of two men having the same name… every story has the potential to translate into a great film.

But, and it is a big but, you first need to treat the story with respect and realise that it is your number-one priority and not just another thing on your to-do list along with hiring a caterer for the shooting.

And I think once you, as a director or a producer, are crystal clear about what your story is all about and how you want to tell it, then everything else falls into place and becomes far easier, as far as pre-production and execution is concerned. I feel that after budgetary constraints, and sometimes even when money is not an issue, a lot of the confusion and compromises that we see in our filmmaking process stems from not fully knowing what you have set out to make in the first place… Besides lots of money, of course!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that nothing else matters. Far from it. A story can only become a film once all the various departments and people involved come together and deliver.  And, often, an actor’s performance can make a good story seem even better; great music can elevate your film to an altogether different level; special effects can make a world of difference to your film, and so on.

But, ultimately, everything  and everybody – direction, acting, cinematography, editing, music, special effects, costumes and the millions of other things that go into making a film – are essentially there as a means to an end, and not an end itself. And that end is to best tell the story you have set out to tell.

Which is elementary but it’s strange how often we tend to forget this most basic of basics.

Quite simply, the moral of the story is that the story itself is the moral!



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