Archive for July, 2008

All aspiring screenwriters out there, interested in writing a comedy on television, I’m looking for an assistant.

Essential Qualifications:

  • You must be a resident of Bombay, preferably, living within a one hour periphery of say, Seven Bungalows, Andheri west. As you all know, given the traffic, you could be in Lokhandwala and it can still be challenge to travel two kilometres in that time. So go figure.
  • You must be willing to set your personal life aside. Birthdays, anniversaries, deaths. No exceptions. If you commit to writing an episode and then leave me hanging at the last minute, remember, I’ll do the same with your moneies.

And now, the not so essential qualifications:

  • You must love writing.
  • You must have a knack for storytelling.
  • You must have a basic understanding of screenwriting. And by that I don’t mean you need to have experience.

If you think you meet the requirements, please drop me a line at my email address given on the sidebar. Give your name, background and phone number.

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Right now I’m looking for a killer opening line for my next book along the lines of, “The scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of unrequited love” and “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” the opening lines of Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez) and Anna Karenina (Tolstoy).

But since it is not exactly the great literary novel it should be cheesy as well. And funny. Basically smartassy. Maybe something like, “There are three shots on my body – two lead and one bourbon.”

Except it is also a female PI, so maybe something chicklitty. And Not something like, “I didn’t know whether flutter in the pit of my stomach was him or just me ovulating.”

For those of you who keep procrastinating, I got a nice one for you guys. But before I get into it, a little bit of background. Sinclair Lewis was supposed to lecture a bunch of would-be writers. For those of who don’t know, Sinclair Lewis was a famous American writer and I think, the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Anyway, when it came Sinclair Lewis’s turn to speak, he staggered to the podium, gazed drunkenly at the crowd of eager faces, and said, “You dumb sonsabitches wanna write? Well, g’wan the hell home and write”!

There is only so much guidance anyone can give you. At the end of the day you have to write, trash, rewrite stuff. You have to develop your own style. And go easy on yourself.

Let’s face it, If you haven’t written before, it’s hardly likely that you will write scintillating prose. Notice I don’t say won’t write scintillating prose. You never know when someone might just do so on his/her debut attempt, just to make you eat your words.

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We had a writer’s workshop over the weekend. Everybody was gloomy because of the weather so we thought that we’d do something fun to cheer them up. So we asked people to write about their first love affair. And if they hadn’t had one (we are talking about writers, not jocks), to write about crushes and unrequited loves.

That, and the fact that I’m getting a lot of feedback about the sex in Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions got me thinking about my first love affair.

I was a terribly model student in school. First in class. Good at sports. And get this, I got straight 100/100s in math in all term exams.

Since model students don’t exactly set guys’ aflame with desire, no one liked me romantically. Actually, correct that. No one liked me. In any which way. Period. Of course that didn’t stop me from having huge crushes (largely unreciprocated) on them.

It hurt. I mean there’s only so much rejection a person can take. But I consoled myself by saying it takes a brave guy to like a girl who is smarter and can run or swim faster than him. And that it didn’t have anything to do with the fact that I wore glasses and had zits on my face the size of grapes.

No one told me about toothpaste which is supposedly the best cure for zits. So I went through quite a few angst ridden years trying everything from homeopathy to antibiotics. Once I even scrubbed my face to within an inch of my skull.

Anyway, it happened during the course of my daily tennis game. There was this guy who (gasp!) liked me. My friends always went nudge-nudge-wink-wink whenever he appeared. I hadn’t seen this guy and though, outwardly I pretended I didn’t care, secretly I was thrilled to bits. I preened a little bit unobtrusively.

My friends teased me on and on about him. They called him Bakasur. I didn’t see why they called him Bakasur. I mean Bakasur was this demon, right?

Then I put on my glasses. Yikes! He was U-G-L-Y.

But he also liked me. The only guy to do so, so far. What was I going to do? Snub him and jeopardise all chances of future happiness? Or embrace him and, therefore, a chance at happily ever after?

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what I did. But there was another problem. How was I going see him without making it obvious that I was desperate?

So we took to meeting at the only place deserted enough in the evenings – the ping pong room at the officers’ club. Of course, I wouldn’t let him touch me. So he expressed his affection for me the only way he could – by smashing ping pong balls into my body.

Sometimes we met in the library in the science section. Once in while he also treated me to a bottle of cola, signed under someone else’s name.

This went on for about six months. But then my dad was posted out and our little romance was nipped in the bud. This was my first love affair and I won’t tell you how old I was. Mostly because I am embarrassed about how old I actually was.

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Financial Express – Sunday, July 27, 2008

To read the more legible online verison, click here.

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Saturday July 26, 2008

Smita Jain describes her racy, irreverent, impossibly-named book, “Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions”, as “chick lit meets whodunit. If you look at mysteries featuring a woman investigator, they have elements of chick lit. There would be romance and work problems. I am huge fan of murder mysteries. So I thought it would be good to marry the genres together.”

Smitha writes for television. “I work better on thrillers or youth-oriented stuff. Chick lit is an extension of my telly work. Self-deprecating humour comes naturally to me. I wrote for the new ‘Karamchand’ and ‘Darna Mana Hai’. Whenever I tried my hand at drama, the feedback would always be to ‘up the drama quotient’. So I created Kkrishnaa who is writing this prime time soap, “Kkangan Souten Ke”. I wrote four to five chapters and then took a break. I needed to figure out if I wanted to go the traditional chick lit route or take on a totally different track.”

Read More at:


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I was watching the Ellen DeGeneres Show yesterday. And yes, if you haven’t got it by now, I do watch a lot of television.

You know how these talk shows are. The host usually does a stand up act for about 10-15 minutes and the rest of it is usually actors, singers, performers promoting something.

Yesterday, there was this promotion for the ‘Survivor’ kids called Kidnation or something, and a couple of kids came on the show along with their moms. And they were their usual smart ass selves. The kids, not the moms :).

Okay so I’m not a big fan of kids either.

But the interesting bit came later when one of the viewers asked the kidnation moms questions. The questions were the usual ones – was it tough letting your child go alone for forty days, were you concerned about their safety and welfare without adult supervision etc. And then one viewer asked, “Whose decision was it?”

Ellen clarified, “You mean which parent’s?”

The viewer said, “No I meant the kids or the parents.”

Ellen was taken aback. “Oh, I think the parents. Cos I don’t think the parents would have insisted if the kids didn’t want to go.” Her tone had an implicit duh! in it.

She wouldn’t have been so derisive if she knew my father. In fact, we had our own ‘survivor’ incident when I was in my teens. Except we called it ‘survival’ incident.

The Army was organising a ten day survival camp for officers’ kids. Now my dad, who was all about competing and excelling and being perfect at everything, was keen that I go.

I wasn’t. By the way, I wasn’t quite doing high jumps at the prospect then but I would highly recommend it to all women.

I was eventually led out of my house with a lot of kicking and screaming. Him, not me. “For God’s sake, it’s just a camp!”

On my part there was just imploring. “But papa, it’s a survival camp! They put you up in the jungle with spiders and snails and other creepy-crawlies! What if get bitten by a scorpion or something?”

“So what? Other kids are also doing it.”

“Yes, but the other kids are also doing sex and drugs!”

“Don’t be a smartass. And being stung by a scorpion is not going to kill you.”

Notice he didn’t say anything about it not being incredibly painful.

And then he started on, “When I was doing the commando course…”

And I hastily said, “About scorpions, they do have antidotes at the camp, right papa?”

Anyway, I went to camp (as if I had a choice) where they taught us how to kill chickens. With bare hands.

This according to me was a useless exercise considering chickens are domesticated animals and therefore, hardly likely to be found in the jungle. Now wild boars would have been something else.

But I did learn how to snap a chicken’s neck. A story I would never tell my grandmother who would suffer a coronary thinking just about a Jain girl, her granddaughter killing living beings.

But it is a story I love to tell men, especially the ones I want to get rid of. Sometimes I dare them to a competition as well. It works every time. I guess survival camp teaches you how to survive in all kinds of jungles.

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So this journalist calls me yesterday to ask me what I thought about the rise of the ladki lit. Quoting verbatim from some article: “Ten years after the publication of Bridget Jones’s Diary, the genre of fiction most recognisable for its pink cover art of stilettos, martini glasses and lipsticks, is now being colourfully infused with bindis, saris, and bangles,” she asked me what I thought about the rise of ladki lit.

Back up a moment here. Ladki lit?

“You know, Indian chick lit,” she clarified.

Ye gads!

But when I think about it, I kinda like it in a reverse snobbery kinda way. You know, like we all liked Govinda-David Dhawan comedies. Someone. Anyone!! NO ONE????!!!

Okay, so that was just me.

So far, chick lit had been sub categorised into Mom lit, Mystery lit, Wedding lit, Latina lit, Teen lit and so on to give every woman what some snobbish anonymous editor claimed in Boston Weekly Digest, ‘a chance for women of every colour and age to be portrayed as annoying, shallow twits.’ Methinks, this is editor is also one of two things:

  • a) An unpublished author who masterpiece was rejected in favour of a chicklit novel, or
  • b) A published author whose literary masterpiece failed to garner a quarter of the sales of say a Marian Keyes or Helen Fielding.

(There is a reason this editor chooses to remain anonymous)

But I digress.

Coming back to the point, it’s only natural that the term would find an Indian avatar. And it does. I’m just thankful it’s not laundiya lit.

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Omigod! I might have been changed. Forever. By the Dark Knight.

I caught the flick last night, having been denied tickets earlier on during the weekend. I could hardly wait for the film to begin, for the images and sounds to assault my senses. And Omigod!

Okay, even if I hadn’t heard about it I would have gone, being a huge fan of Christian bale and Christopher Nolan both. Are you kidding? Would the guy who gave us the Memento and The Prestige, give us anything less? Of course not! And he doesn’t.

Instead what he gives us is a deep, thought-provoking film masquerading as a superhero film. Usually in a superhero film the plot is secondary to the FX. This is not the case here. The plot is as central to the movie as the high octane action.

Bu now most of you know what the story is. But just in case, here it is again: Batman’s beloved Gotham city has gone to seed. Mafia bosses rule and though Gotham has two champions fighting for it – Police Commissioner Gordon, and the new DA, Harvey Dent, they can only do some much since most of their people have sold out to the Mafia. Into this cesspool, a weary Batman brings his vigilante style of justice, hitting the Mafia where it hurts them most – their wallets.

To tackle the menace of Batman, the Mafia bosses unleash upon Gotham, upon Batman and indeed upon themselves an enigmatic, anarchic figure – the Joker.

The rest of the movie is all about – you got it, Batman versus the Joker.

But what is different about this movie is that it is not all about the good guy saving the day and winning in the end. When the Joker says he will kill Rachel (Batman’s long time love and Dent’s current squeeze) he does so. When he says he will blow up a hospital he does so. There’s no Batman arriving, cape flying and all, to save the day. All he can do is watch helplessly.

Indeed what can you do against a man who has no love for life (including his own) or money? Whom no amount of money can seduce? Whose only objective is chaos, done, preferably, in a spectacular fashion? (A thinly veiled allusion to terrorists perhaps?)

In that sense, Nolan takes a comic book story and turns it into a movie of our times. Gone are the days of squeaky clean superheros (Hancock and now Dark Knight). In these stories the superheroes have their own demons and failings, it is no longer possible to tell right from wrong. All they can do is follow their heart and hope it leads them in the right direction. The only thing they do know is that giving up is not an option. Even if it earns them the condemnation of the very people they are fighting to protect. I’m told it’s more like Bob Kane’s original visualisation of Batman and Frank miller’s take on it.

Nolan imbues a dark, haunting, brooding quality into the film. The film is thick with atmosphere. The performances are first rate. The FX spectacular. If there’s a problem it is that there are too many characters and too many things going on. Repeat viewing, more than an indulgence, might be a necessity to get a handle on all the characters and goings-on. And I can’t think of a more enjoyable chore. A must repeat watch.

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You know what is the death of a writer? Aside from a lack of ideas, of course. Procrastination. I’ve spoken about this before. About how people claim they want to be writers but don’t make any real efforts in that direction. I think I know why. Or, at least some of the reasons why.

Routine: Writing, like any other job needs some kind of a discipline. Just because you are in a ‘creative field’ does not give you the license to slouch. As a professional writer you should be able to write at will. And a good way to do that is to write more. Everyday. Set a schedule and stick to it. Once you do that, you will find that it becomes easier. I took about eight months to write my first novel. I took six for my second one. I’m hoping the third one will be done in four.

Fear: One of reasons people procrastinate is that they don’t know enough about the subject. When asked to write about a subject they unfamiliar with, most writers experience a panic attack. This used to happen to me before. It still does, for instance when asked to write about various mobile telephony platforms or some such terribly geeky stuff, but only momentarily. Now I’m able to draw upon my vast experience – after all I have gotten myself out far worse writing scrapes – and realise that all it needs is a little bit of research and a line outline of what I want to write in the article. The rest is just organising.

I’m not in the right frame of mind: This is a little bit like point number one. It’s pure self indulgence. The only way to tackle it is to push yourself. You’ll realise that if you persist, the right frame of mind appears. Sometimes it can be chronic. Then I suggest you take a break. Watch a movie. Read a book. But be sure to come back to your writing and finish your mandatory 1,000 good words for the day.

Problem of plenty: When you sit down to write on something, you find your mind running in all different directions and all the other ideas you want to write on. The result is that you end up writing nothing. This happens to me a lot. But now I know how to get the noise out of the way. The way I handle it is to get all those other thoughts, out of my system by jotting them down in the morning pages. Then I’m free to begin my writing day.

Remember, success is only one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

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I’ve blogged about how Indian writers have never had it so good. So if you want to publish, now is the time.

Scared that you spend some 3-4 months writing only to see it rejected? It’s painful, I know. Go ahead and admit it. It’s only natural. I’ve been there before with screenplays. So what do you do? I’ll tell you what you can’t do. And that is stop writing.

One great way to make an impact with commissioning editors is to make your novel intriguing. Different. This applies to screenplays too. What can you come up with that will set your story apart from others? There are scores of campus novels detailing exploits of students in the IITs and IIMs. Male students.

Can you come up with a story of a female student? Can you give her another quirk which could be a source of conflict throughout the story? Maybe she is a lesbian! There conflict for you. As it is there are so few female students in these colleges. So you can imagine that when your protagonist goes looking for love, there are slim pickings.

When I was writing Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions, I went in for more than just a chick lit. I hadn’t done any great research on what was out there in terms of Indian chick lit. But I did know that there were scores of chick lit novels written by foreign authors available in the market place. So I instinctively went in for more and threw in a murder.

To be fair, even without the murder I would have got a contract. That’s because Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions is set in the intriguing world of television about which everyone is curious and knows little.

I have a feeling, Indian chick lit scene, indeed popular fiction, is getting saturated. Women (or men) planning to write chick lit and other popular fiction now would be better off coming up with imaginative and offbeat plots and whacky characters. It’s not enough to deal only with regulation weight/addiction/difficult boss/commitment-phobic boyfriend issues. Not unless you come up with a path breaking narrative, in which case that becomes the differentiator.

If you’re telling a straightforward story in a straightforward way, go for that something extra.

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