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Archive for July, 2008

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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Continuing from yesterday, there was this script I came across some time ago. It was a fantasy story involving punarjanam (how novel!). The story opened with a fight between a husband and wife. Midway through the scene, the screenwriter wrote: In spite of being repeatedly goaded by Rahul, Shivani remained silent. It wasn’t as though she was being stubborn. How could she explain to Rahul that there were just so many things she wanted to say that she didn’t know where to begin.

Exactly. If she can’t explain this to her on screen husband, how on earth is she going to explain this to the audience? All this is fine in a novel but in a screenplay? Is the screenwriter planning to add cue cards at the bottom of the screen?

One must remember to only write what can be conveyed. And the instance given above is NOT one of them.  How on earth is the actor going to convey all this with facial expressions?

There is a famous anecdote about F. Scott Fitzgerald working as a screenwriter at a major studio. The problem was that he wrote screenplays like a novel, i.e., he said wryly or she said wryly, which of course meant that a lot of it was unfilmable.

But who was going to tell him that? A celebrated novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald enjoyed a formidable reputation and no one was willing to bell the cat. In the end the studio head was elected for the task. He poked his head into the room where Fitzgerald was working and told the latter that his screenplay would need a rewrite.

“What’s the problem?” Fitzgerald asked.

“I can’t film wrylies,” said the studio head and hastily shut the door.

I don’t remember the exact episode but the gist is the same.

Instead of impressing the director and the rest of the unit with your awesome command over the English language, you could write: Shivani opens her mouth as though to speak, then closes it as though changing her mind. She does this a couple of times.

Now technically, as though changing her mind cannot be filmed. But it can be conveyed. The director can visualize it and so can the actors.

By all means use rich imagery in a screenplay but restrict it to what can be conveyed. And don’t overdo it. Don’t go into raptures about a feeling that can be summed up as she smiled brightly. Remember you only have 110-120 pages to tell your story. Use them wisely.

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Too Much Information

Yesterday I caught Sex and the City, the movie, once again. And there was this one instance of bad writing which irked me. I didn’t expect this to happen in SATC, especially in SATC. And especially when there were so many easy ways around it.

It happens when Carrie is babysitting Charlotte’s adopted daughter Lily. Charlotte comes back and while walking Carrie out, says, “Thanks for watching Lily while I visited the doctor.” Arrghhh! People don’t talk that way!

That it is an important piece of information is not in doubt. It is important to establish that Charlotte went to see the doctor because one, in SATC the series Harry and she are desperately trying to have a baby and now when they are no longer trying, they are pregnant. Two, it sets the stage for Charlotte’s fear that she’ll lose the baby.

But why did they have to do that way? Charlotte could’ve said, “Thanks for watching Lily.” To which Carrie could have replied, “No problem. What did the doctor say?” Simple.

It is a small instance and I’m probably nitpicking but it got me thinking. Don’t you just hate it when film makers cram information down our throats that way?

Film makers usually fall prey to this malaise when they are introducing characters for the first time and are desperate to clue in the audience about the character'(s) b.g. For instance,

Sameer

Why, if it isn’t Ravi who was my friend and room-mate in college and who tricked my girlfriend Nisha into marrying him.

Ravi

You weren’t completely innocent either, Sameer. You went around and seduced and impregnated my sister Malti. I wonder what your wife Anu will have to say when she learns you have an illegitimate son Yash.

Ew!

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My sister and I do a lot of things together. We go shopping, we fight, we bicker over clothes (yes, still!). And yes, we end up watching the worst, most inane movies together.

It began with Bunty aur Bably which was followed by Jhoom Barabar Jhoom which was followed by Tashan (you think there’s a pattern in there somewhere?). Then yesterday we saw Hancock.

The choice was between Thodi Masti Thoda Magic and Hancock. It never occurred to us (rather me) to not go at all. One week out of Bombay without movies and TV? It felt like rehab and I was desperate for my moving image fix.

Had we decided on TMTM, we would have perpetuated the pattern and I have a healthy respect for patterns, believing them to be cosmic signs. Instead, in an act of diffident defiance, I decided upon Hancock. What could possibly happen, I figured, if we watched Hancock instead?

A lot, it turns out. Hancock is the worst superhero film I’ve ever seen. No credible back story, no credible baddies, not much humour. I just can’t understand the hype around the film. As Obelix would say, “These Americans are crazy.”

I couldn’t help ruing the fact that with the money I had spent on the movie (and popcorn) I could have bought four copies of Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions at full price (as the author I am entitled to a discount :-)) and distributed them among all those friends and relatives. I could have pleased all those clamouring for a free copy, plus a part of that money would have come back to me in the form of royalties.

Or I could have bought ten movies from my DVD bootlegger.

As it turned out it was money down the drain.

I’ll call myself an ass**** one more time.

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I have a friend who is currently going through some hard times. He is a director and is having some difficulty in getting his project going. This has been going on for about two years. Obviously, this delay causes concomitant financial difficulties.

“Why don’t you try writing a book?” I suggested to him. I said this to him for four reasons. One, I know for a fact that he reads a lot and has many ideas for stories.

Two, Indian writers have never had it so good in the publishing market and chances are he would taste some success there.

Three, long as you can construct a grammatically correct sentence it doesn’t matter if you can’t write flowery prose. Let’s face it, most Indian writing in the market today sucks language-wise.

Four, even if doesn’t get accepted for publication, he would at least have a ready story for a script. And who knows maybe that will intrigue producers and actors and maybe that project will get under way.

The moment I said I could have bitten my tongue. He looked at me wistfully and said, “I can’t write a book. I’m too undisciplined.”

Tell me about it. This is a guy who’s been after me for two months to help him rewrite/polish dialogues for his film script. I just haven’t been able to find the time. Now, if it had been me, I would never have waited that long. I would’ve attacked it myself.

“You don’t suppose you could….,” he started to say hopefully.

“Perish the thought.” What did he expect? That I would write it for him?

“No, just help me with the outline.”

“Perish the thought,” I said for the second time. This is what I get for suggesting ideas. Sometimes I’m too smart for my own good.

“You know I’m not good with outlining stories,” he said insistently.

Not my problem. If you can’t write stories maybe you ought to be in some other line of work. I like to help my friends and am happy to give comments and even help with restructuring a story, but you’ve got to give me something to work with first. You can’t expect me to write the first draft for you. I’m not that helpful. I used to be. But not anymore. Not unless I’m being paid for it.

Actually I’m being uncharitable towards him. This problem – indolence, indiscipline – call it what you will, is more prevalent than people think. I have numerous friends in the industry who all ask the same thing of me at one time or another. The fact of the matter is that people just don’t try. They are afraid of work. They just don’t want to do it.

I’m sorry, but I can’t help you there.

P.S. check out this review of Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions.

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