Archive for March, 2008

It’s easy for you to say, people respond when I make that claim. But I still maintain, anyone can become a writer. Writing is nothing but correct, perhaps even good language, and imagination. To prove this, I conducted a small session, something like tag a story. And everyone was amazed at the outcome. They didn’t know they had it in them.

I started the story and gave everyone a sheet of paper. They could take the storythread anywhere.

The story beagn thus:

“Maira yawned and glanced at her watch. “Goodness! It’s well over three in the morning!” she thought. Everyone else in the household seemed to have gone to sleep. She strained to hear if anyone else was up but all she heard was the sound of waves gently lapping the shore.

Maira debated whether to continue reading or call it a night. She was reading an extremely interesting book about a man’s foray into mysterious other worlds. She continued reading, knowing that it was late but, unable to stop. The story was just too gripping!

However, soon Maira fell asleep and started dreaming. In her dream Maira found herself standing in front of an incandescent stone wall. The wall was of gigantic proportions rising higher and stretching wider than eye could see. It seemed as though there was nothing beyond it and that the world ended there.

She tentatively reached out a hand to touch the wall.”

Garima wrote: “The moment she touched the wall. She reached into a new place. It was a colorful and beautiful world. It was sorrounded with big flowers of various colours like red, yellow and orange. Maira was admiring the happy enviornment and she was wearing a lovely dress. Suddenly, she found a handsome dude carrying a basket of fruits. This boy seems like her childhood friend Harry. She was so happy to find her dream boy in this beautiful world. Maira always wanted to present red roses to Harry. But she hesitated a lot to express her views. She plucked one beautiful red rose from lovely garden. The moment she plucked the flower her entire dress has been changed. Her dress turned into red color gown, and her jewellery was replaced with red ornaments. She also got rosy cheeks and beautiful red lips. She was looking really beautiful. However, Maira was not aware of this miracle. She presented the Precious Red Rose to harry. Harry liked her way of expressing love. Then Harry proposed her for marriage. It was the happiest moment for Maira. After some time, they both were roaming around lake and enjoying the beauty of nature. Suddenly, they both became thirsty. Then they went near to that Lake for drinking water. Maira was shocked to see her resemblence in water. She was not able to belive on herself. Then Harry started playing with water and also trying to throw some water on her face. Once the water drop lets touched her face, her beauty vanished and she became ugly. She dont want to show her face to Harry. She immediately started running in search of that Red Rose. However, Harry was following Maira and asking her to spend some more time with him.

On the other hand, It was 10 in the morning next day and it was a sunny day. Maira phone was ringing and she was still in the dream where she was was sharing some moments with Harry. She came out from dream and then she was not to able to come out from her dream. She was still realizing the beautiful moments spent with Harry.

She looked into the mirror and found the same features and wheatish complexion on her face. She touched her face and found same softness on her face. But she want to become very beautiful with rosy cheeks and beautiful lips. Though Maira has clear skin and sharp features. She was smiling and happy whole day. However, Maira again wants to continue with her reading so she can again reach to her dream world where she can meet with Harry. ”

See what I mean? Garima needs to work on the language but the ideas are all there! Keep it up Garima.

Tomorrow I’ll post what salman wrote. Till then, Ciao!

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“What rule do you follow? Do you outline your entire story/book before beginning? Or do you just structure the novel, e.g., broad areas of conflict? Or do you just begin?”
I carried out this discussion in one of my groups. You see, I’m a very insctinctive sort of a writer. I’ve always found it fun to just start and wait to see what unfolds. I write whatever I feel like. I don’t really plan or outline my stories. But I was very interested to know how others did it and what their viewpoints were. I must say I got very interesting responses. I thought I would put them up here:
1. “Some mystery writers I know use different methods for keeping the reader guessing until the end of the ‘who dunnit.’

One writes the ending first, then decides what scene needs to come just before it, then the scene before that and so on. I don’t if this will work for everyone, but it works for her.

Another writer puts clues among a list of items found at the scene, so that it might be hidden among other things and not so obvious. Also, use a lot of Red-Herrings. Have enough suspects among your characters so that the real killer does not stand out until the hero figures it out. Each of the suspects might have a reason for wanting to kill the victim, but there is only one who actually did it.”
2. “Well, I think of each scene at night in bed. I pick a scene and play it in my head. Decided if I like it or not. When I start a story I think of the main characters personality, where they live, their background, and who they interact with. I usually start the story because I’m inspired by something and think of an action scene in the middle of the story. Then I begin my story. I write the backbone of the story until I reach that action scene. Then I write the action scene in detail and detail what I had already written. If I like the story I usually have something to continue it, so I continue. So that is how I rite my stories. If you want to be a fast writer and just get those books on the shelfs, then write a plot or whatever. I think the stories are better when there thought of more and the writer put more time into thining about it and creating a new world.” 

3. “I just get a concept, or scene that i like, or that won’t leave me alone. I go over it, wording it diffrent ways, till I find one I like. If it’s a concept, I start puuting detials into it. If it’s a scene, I build up a story around it. I typically have an outline before I start typing, but the garbage bins of my hometown are full of my scrawlings and scribbles, trying to get something right in my head.” 

4. “When I taught my fiction writing classes for the last ten years, this is what I generally recommended that writers consider when plotting a novel.

1. What does your main character want? Or what is their goal at the time the story starts?
2. Why can’t they have what they want?
3. What happens if he/she doesn’t get what they want?
4. How does he/she struggle to get what they want?
5. What additional hardships does your character face?
6. When does it appear hopeless?
7. Does the main character finally get what he/she wants?
8. When is the distress alleviated?
9. Does he/she settle for something less than what they originally wanted?
10. What is unexpected or surprising about the ending?

Go through each question for each main character, your hero and heroine (protagonist). Then go through the same questions for your villain (antagonist) as well.

For each new scene or chapter, you should tell the reader four basic things in the opening paragraphs:
1. Where am I? (the setting, give the reader a clear picture of where your story takes place.)
2. What’s the time frame? This includes the year if it is a historical, or clues for present day, or in the future. Also include the time of year (season), and the time of day or night.
3. Whose head am I in? Make sure it is clear which point of view (POV) we are seeing the action take place. Depending on the genre, you can have more than one point of view, but avoid a cast of thousands, as this will confuse the reader. Keep the points of view to your main characters and maybe a secondary one if needed. Stay in one point of view per scene.
4. What’s happening? Set up your conflict or central dillemma as soon as possible.

Keep in mind that editors are not willing to read through several slow pages to see if things pick up. So start out with a bang, have your character doing something important. Hook the reader in and hold them. Don’t have a flashback in your opening scene. Save that for later when there is a lull in the pacing or action. Fill in background information as you go, or wait until a later chapter to tell background information. If there is a lot of background that the reader should know up front, then maybe you need a Prologue.

I hope this helps, as this is what editors look for in good writing. You need conflict between characters, or a central dillemma to keep the reader intrigued. Have a good hook at the end of each chapter to pull the reader into the next one. Don’t end with your characters going to sleep, as this signals the reader that it is okay to put the book down. If they do sleep, then make sure it is disturbed by something, nightmares or whatever.”

5. “I think it helps to have an overarching outline, to know where I’m headed when I begin. However, my characters have their own ideas, and once I’m truly immersed, nothing happens like I planned it!” 

6. “Did you read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston? She wrote that book in a day & a half while she was hiding out from a voodoo master (who wanted to turn her into a zombie) waiting for her ship to come & take her back home to the USA. I think I read that story in Alice Walker’s book In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens.”

7. “I find that when I just start writing without an outline, I don’t always finish the story. On the other hand, if I have an outline it keeps me on task and gives me some direction. Not that the characters can’t change the outline! Sometimes they have a mind of their own!” 

8. “I find having a general outline helps me not chase too many rabbits. I lay out a general plan for every chapter, just enough to keep me focused and on track. Otherwise, I may end up with so much that the reader may feel like they are talking to a schizophrenic.” 

9. “I usually just begin, then halfway through I go back and change everything.”

10. “I am unique when it comes to writing. I get my inspiration from just about anywhere music, a TV show, I even came up with an idea when I was walking in a boat. The sound of my feet hitting the wooden floor made me come up with an idea!As far as how I write I take that insriation, usually I come up with a scene, and my whole book it sort of built around that scene. But I don’t make an outline in advance, I just kind of let my mind wander as I write. I honestly don’t think I would be able to write if I had a strict outline I had to follow. But I write it and then just revise everything. I am so going to follow a lot of the advice given here!” 
If any one of the group members happens to visit this site and find their replies here, please do contact me and I will set up an acknowledgement. And if you have your own blog(s)/site(s), do let me know the URL(s) and I will put it/them on this article as a link. Thanks a lot everybody. This discussion really helped me as, I know, it will help a lot of other writers.

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The other day I caught Mission Impossible III on the telly. I was surprised since I didn’t know it had even released! And I’m usually very clued in about such things. I mentally kicked myself because when I thought about it, I did remember seeing a picture of Tom Cruise at an MI:III promotional event (I think).

Anyway, I had nothing better to do and MI:III is always compelling watch considering it was the most expensive flick by, and resulted in huge losses for Paramount. This eventually led to the severance of ties between the studio and Tom Cruise. Plus, as a film aficionado you can’t not watch MI:III.

MI:III was mired in controversy from the very beginning. First there were scripting issues. Tom Cruise wasn’t entirely happy with any of first two drafts. Then he settled on JJ Abrams, the celebrated director of the series Lost, as the script doctor. So the final draft was a mish mash of inputs from three writers.

Then there were asinine acts by Tom Cruise – the unwanted parental advice to Brooke Shields and the entire couch-jumping thing on Oprah.

And after being in the news for all the wrong reasons, come release, and the film came and went without a ripple. At least I don’t remember any hype around the release (I welcome any feedback to the contrary). Contrast that with the latest Bond Flick which was perhaps the most popular Bond flick ever.

Anyway, I sat through MI:III and my reaction was indifference. It wasn’t spectacularly good, nor was it abysmally bad. It was so-so. The plot is ho-hum, the script is adequate. The action is consistently of a high quality but then that’s par for course these days. Plus, in the end you don’t even get to know what the fuss was all about.

In MI:III, like in its latest Bond counterpart, Tom cruise deliberately chose to adopt a higher emotional quotient (the lack of which in earlier drafts led to Tom Cruise’s satisfaction) so you get an added romance track. Sadly that track too falls flat. While there was great chemistry between Daniel Craig and Eva Green, there’s no chemistry between Tom Cruise and the female lead.

So what ails the MI franchise? They have the same superhero-ish protagonist, they wow us with the same hi-tech gadgetry, they dazzle us with the same spectacular action.

In my opinion, it is the suspension of disbelief. The answer lies in the vein in which the two franchises are created. Bond films are essentially a little out there. Bond films are full of attitude, the hero so unashamedly an MCP, repartee-ing his way through saving the world (even in the latest, grittier Bond flick the producers have that intact), the villains so caricature-ish that, right from the beginning you suspend your belief willingly. Anything that comes after that; a villain who breeds giant squids or whose eye bleeds, or a gun that fires from the muzzle or a car with an invisibility shield; is swallowed. No questions asked.

On the other hand the MI films take themselves so seriously, Ethan Hunt is so earnestly righteous about saving the world, that subsequent plot twists and counter twists involving face and voice masks seem farcical. Plus Tom Cruise is always so Tom Cruisy. No matter what role he is playing you cannot forget that he’s Tom Cruise. My opinion is if you’re doing stuff that is technologically futuristic, and expect people to buy it, keep the tone light. Otherwise it won’t work, unless of course it’s sci-fi.

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People often ask me what do I write? Now this is a very tricky question. I’m tempted to tell them to write whatever they are passionate about, what they believe in and if they believe it will make a good story. But, what you might believe in may not sell-able. You are truly in a happy place if what you are passionate about is also sellable.
So the obvious corollary to that is write something that will strike a chord with the public. Study trends in films and books. Find out what sells and write accordingly, but, and here’s the sticky part, write with conviction. If need be, take some time off to generate conviction.
You know, when Ian McEwan (yes the one who’s won the booker and whose ‘Atonement’ is being made into an eponymous film) first approached a publisher, the publisher, impressed with the former’s writing talents asked him to write poignant stories about human suffering. McEwan reportedly told the publisher that he couldn’t do that because he had never experienced any suffering, having had a reasonably happy and robust childhood. The publisher told him, “Invent unhappiness.”
If you’re a true writer you’ll have many ideas in your head (though that is also debatable. There are many writers like Harper Lee who write just the one great book and never follow it up with another, great or otherwise.). The challenge is in choosing between the idea closest to heart vis-a-vis the one that will sell.
I have a publishing contract for my book Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions. Now. But I have also written another book earlier and have instinctively held back all these years. The reason? The book is more esoteric and also targets a more difficult market. Once you are a published author it becomes easier to find a willing audience for highbrow stuff.
I had the idea for Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions a long time ago. It happily co-existed, and occasionally jousted for space, with other ideas (the book being talked about in the paragraph above being one of them). I knew it was a seller. So why did I not write KK first? Because I was then high on another spirit.
But I was lucky. Income from TV was great and I could afford to wait. Even if that hadn’t been the case, I don’t think I would do anything differently. I couldn’t. You see, when an idea grips you, it takes over your imagination, obsesses you. It is quite like being in love. You have no control over it.Being on a fire for an idea is a different feeling altogether. A true writer knows that, appreciates it and will not trade it for anything in the world.

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If you’ve decided to write for the screen, chances are you’ve already scoured the bookstores for reading material on the same. (If you haven’t, you ought to :)) Chances are even greater that your local bookstores will only store books on screenplay writing penned by a certain Mr. Syd Field (when they do so at all).  This happened to me as well when I first started out. I went out and bought all books written by him. It was only a few weeks later a kind sould suggested books by Lajos Egri.Beg, borrow, steal, but try and lay your hands on his books – The art of Dramatic Writing and The Art of Creative Writing. You won’t regret it.

In these two books you will find all you need to know about developing interesting characters as well as structuring your screenplay.

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I know it’s rather late in the day to be commenting on Taare Zameen Par, but as they say, better late than never. I also know it’s not fashionable to unfavorably critique TZP, nevertheless I’m going to do so. At the outset, let it be understood that it is a good film, an extremely effective film. My criticism is based on other factors.

I guess by now everyone has seen the film so I needn’t go into the story. So, I’ll just begin with what’s good and what’s not.The script: The script suffers from three major flaws. One, it is simplistic portrayal with no layering. All characters are caricatures. The good are very good and the bad are very bad. Two, Nikumbh’s character does not have any conflict (external or internal) in the second half. Apart from a token resistance from the school principal, there is no obstacle in his path. Three, it lacks a certain punch in the gut in the end. Ishan’s improvement is miraculous (except for him misspelling enough and struggling with the digit 8, there was no evidence of him being dyslexic), he wins the painting competition, all’s well with the family and so on. For films like TZP to be effective, we need a tragic or semi tragic ending. Just change the ending to Ishan wins the painting competition but is still forced to normal school, doomed to a fate of special schools forever and just see the reaction. I guarantee there won’t be a single dry eye. And it is believable. If we can show limited understanding of dyslexia in India, it is quite believable that Ishan could be expelled.

The script is contrived in several places to up the emotional quotient and the effort shows. For instance, in the scene between Nimkubh and Ishan’s parents where Nimkubh informs them that their son might be dyslexic, the father raves and rants about how such a person will survive in the outside world while Nimkubh listens in hapless silence with his teeth gnashing to convey his frustration. Yet, in the very next scene, he tells the boys in the school that famous personalities from Einstein to Edison to Agatha Christie were dyslexic and that dyslexia is not an inhibiting problem. A case of selective memory recall, Mr. Khan?Then, what was that with the inane confrontation between Mr. Khan and Ishan’s dad when the dad comes to school prove a point and score one over Nimkumbh. I thought that surfing the internet for information at least shows an effort to understand. Agreed, that it is more important to show support in other ways; a hug here, a pat there, but Mr. Khan almost makes it sound like a crime that the mother is surfing the Internet for information on dyslexia!

For a teacher of special children and a former dyslexic himself, Nimkumbh is easily overcome. Whenever he is sees children who are challenged in some way, he is always lachrymose. How about a little stoicism and good cheer, Mr. Khan?On the other aspects of the film, the dialogue is heavy and stilted. The lyrics are strictly average. Mr. Joshi, like Gulzarsaab in recent times, tries too hard. Yet, apart from the Maa and the title track which still pass muster, his lyrics are neither poetic not evocative. Contrary to popular opinion, I found Shankar Ehsaan Loy’s music good. Cinematography is competent. The script doesn’t require it and the cinematographer doesn’t try to unnecessarily wow us with snazzy angles.  On the positive side, Darsheel is endearing and a natural in front of the camera. He does justice to a demanding role. I hear he’s made dyslexia fashionable. He may do the same for big, buck teeth. Dakota Fanning, watch out, here comes Darsheel. Kudos to Mr. Khan for extracting a superlative performance from him.

As usual, Mr. Khan is excellent in an (again, as usual) understated kind of way. In many scenes, it is only after watching his reaction to a situation does that lump in your throat emerge. Having seen him act over the years, and now direct, I am convinced that he is the best film talent we’ve got. If only he’d let himself go. While TZP is an excellent film, a refreshing film, the likes of which we’ve seen emerge from Bollywood after a long time. But it still lacks that flash of brilliance which could have made it sublime. It’s not that Mr. Khan doesn’t try. His crime is he tries too hard. To play safe. He realizes that he’s dealing primarily with Indian audiences and accordingly ups the melodrama quotient to the overall detriment of the film. But maybe that’s just my perception. I am a firm believer of the minimalist school.TZP is a sincere effort and deserves at least a 4 on 5. But because it is Mr. Khan at the helm, I will give it a 3.  

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What is a screenplay?

Lots of people ask me what a screenplay is. So let’s get back to basics. For those who are familiar with the term, please bear with me.

Screenplay is just what it says: screen+play. Basically it is a description of how the story will play out on screen. It is essentially a story with time of day and location thrown in. Plus it is always written in the present tense.

One thing to remember here is that the term screenplay implies different things in Bollywood and in the rest of the world (ROW). In ROW, screenplay means a shooting script. It is a scene description and dialogues. In Bollywood, a screenplay is only a scene description. It becomes a script only after dialogues are thrown in.

Here’s a snap comparison:

Bollywood                          ROW

Screenplay                          Outline/Structure

Script/Dialogue Drft                   Screenplay/Script                                               

Here’s how a scene in a Bollywood screenplay would look like:

Int. Sakshi’s bedroom — Night

Sakshi is sleeping when her door opens softly and Rakesh enters. He gets into bed with her. Sakshi stirs and encounters another body. She wakes up. When she sees Rakesh her eyes open wide. She is about to scream when Rakesh clams a hand on her mouth.

Sakshi bites his hand and he curses in pain. Sakshi jumps up and runs to the door but he is up in a trice and follows. He lunges for her feet. Sakshi stumbles and falls. He is upon her in a flash. Sakshi struggles and wants to scream but he muffles her. He starts kissing her face, neck etc. Sakshi pleads with Rakesh to let her go. To no avail.

With one supreme effort she throws him off and drags herself to an IDOL OF LORD KRISHNA and throws herself at his feet. But he is upon her there as well. He pulls off her sari.  Sakshi desperately pleads with the divine charioteer for deliverance.

The soundtrack of shlokas from the Gita starts.

While they are struggling, in her blind panic her hand reaches the POOJA KI THALI where the DIYA and KUMKUM KA DIBBA is kept. She grabs it and flings it in Rakesh’s face. He is blinded by the hot OIL and the KUMKUM in his eyes. He screams and blindly gropes his way out. Sakshi is stunned for a moment.

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Here’s how it looks like in a finished script/dialogue draft:

Int. Sakshi’s bedroom — Night

Sakshi is sleeping when her door opens softly and Rakesh enters. He gets into bed with her. Sakshi stirs and encounters another body. She wakes up. When she sees Rakesh her eyes open wide. She is about to scream when Rakesh clams a hand on her mouth.



Shhh! Shor machaya toh badnaami tumhaari hi hogi.

Sakshi bites his hand and he curses in pain. Sakshi jumps up and runs to the door but he is up in a trice and follows. He lunges for her feet. Sakshi stumbles and falls. He is upon her in a flash. Sakshi struggles and wants to scream but he muffles her. He starts kissing her face, neck etc.


Bhagwan ke liye mujhe jaane dijiye! Main aapki choti behen ki tarah hoon!


Behen toh nahin ho!

With one supreme effort she throws him off and drags herself to an IDOL OF LORD KRISHNA and throws herself at his feet. But he is upon her there as well. He pulls off her sari. 


Hey bhagwan meri raksha maro! Kripa karo bhagwan! Mujhe bacha lo!


Aaj maa toh kya tumhaari pukaar koi nahin sunega.


Hey Krishna meri raksha karo!

The soundtrack of shlokas from the Gita starts.

While they are struggling, in her blind panic her hand reaches the POOJA KI THALI where the DIYA and KUMKUM KA DIBBA is kept. She grabs it and flings it in Rakesh’s face. He is blinded by the hot OIL and the KUMKUM in his eyes. He screams and blindly gropes his way out. Sakshi is stunned for a moment.

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(Please bear with me. I’m still trying to get the hang of formatting)

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As I mentioned in my profile, people often ask me all sorts of questions related to writing. How did I get the courage to give it all up? I just did. It all happened with the frightful realization that half my life was over (figuratively speaking, not literally, I hope) and I hadn’t done any of the things that I had planned on doing.

Has it been worthwhile? The simple answer is yes, yes, oh yes! I have a decent bank balance, so that’s the financial consideration taken care of; and I have a film script under production and a book, Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions that’s getting published so that’s creative satisfaction taken care of.

I would like to say that it has been a piece of cake but the reality is that it was tough going initially. I didn’t get many writing assignments. Just the odd pilot here and there with no guarantee that it would ever be produced or that I would ever get paid. Nonetheless, I persevered. I wrote and wrote and wrote.  I didn’t restrict myself just to screenwriting. I wrote for anything that paid – newspapers, magazines, in-house magazines, corporate brochures. But then I am lucky that I’m equally fluent in both English and Hindi. Many of you may not have that option.

The bottomline is only do it you are very sure that that is that you want to do. No matter how much writers say otherwise, that self – doubt, financial constraints, frustration are the constant companions of every novice writer.

But there are upside as well. You get to work on your own time, you get to take a vacation whenever you want and the money, well, if you are a little bit smart, the light monetary drizzle (or the drought, as the case may be) soon turns into a downpour. And even if you don’t actually put a pen to paper or boot your laptop, you’re always working.  Whether you goof off to the movies, get drunk, go shopping, it’s all work, or if you prefer, research. You never know what you may get out of watching Aap ka Suroor.

Plus writers, especially screenwriters get to say cool things like I’m a film and TV writer. This is invariably followed by oohs and aahs and the inevitable ‘do you write for Kyunki?’  If I’m feeling mischievous, I answer in the affirmative and embellish my hellish working experience with Ekta Kapoor. I tell them how she works only at night and sleeps through the day, how she has an uncontrollable itch in her hand and can’t desist from slapping people.  

Is it true? If I were in America I would plead the Fifth Amendment here! But true or not, you have to agree it is entertaining. As the doctor tells Billy Crudup in Big Fish: “You were born a week early, but there were no complications. It was a perfect delivery. Not very exciting, is it? And I suppose if I had to choose between the true version and an elaborate one involving a fish and a wedding ring, I might choose the fancy version. But, then that’s just me.” (see now, watching Big Fish was research, wasn’t it?)


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