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Archive for March 17th, 2008

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.

rakesh

(hisses)

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.

Sakshi

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

Rakesh

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. 

Sakshi

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

rakesh

Aaj maa toh kya tumhaari pukaar koi nahin sunega.

Sakshi

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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