Posts Tagged ‘Indian Screenwriting’

The difference between a screenplay and a short story/novel is that in a novel most of the action takes place in the protagonist’s head whereas in a screenplay most of the action is physical. Only what the character does gives us a glimpse into his character.


Also it is a very tight document that leaves absolutely no scope for any flab. If a scene has no bearing on the story but is there for the express purpose of illuminating a character trait, it has no place in the screenplay.


Also, another ploy that is used to trim the fat and keep the tension going is the scene structure. Just like a story/screenplay, a scene has a legitimate beginning, middle and end. But we DON’T always have to begin at the beginning and take it all the way through to the end. When writing a scene a good theory to employ is, ‘enter as late as possible and exit as early as you can.’


For example,






Seven potted plants lined up against a wall.



                                     Number seven suits me.


Reveal BAASI, sitting on two chairs. He wears two watches, two necklaces, two shirts etc. OMI sits respectfully in front of him. Seeing Omi’s quizzical gaze, Baasi explains,



                                    I do everything in twos. As you can see I wear two

shirts, two watches, I even eat from two plates.



And sleep with two wives?




How dare you? And so loudly? What if my first wife

heard it?



                                           (EMBARASSED LAUGH)

You’d have to die twice?




Let’s get on with it, shall we? What’s your name?





Baasi looks pleased.



                                     It’s a good name. It will lead to good things like

                                     celibacy and nirvana.



                                     Good God!



                                     Yes, he definitely is.



                                    No what I meant is I don’t want all that. In fact, the

very reason I came to you was so that..that…


Omi leans closer and whispers into Baasi’s ear. Baasi smiles widely.



Why didn’t you say so?


Baasi throws a pair of dice, shuffles some cards, makes some calculations.



I’ve got it. What you need is the letter K.






RADHIKA, MANOJ and PIDDI looking bewildered.



       (CRACKS UP)

KOMI?! You are going to call yourself Komi?




What other choice did I have? The other options

were Omik, which sounds like a milk brand, and

Okmi, which sounds like a Japanese geisha.


We go into scene 1 late, dispense with the introductions and enter scene 2 late, thereby avaoiding duplication of infomation. 


In fact, these days, with more and more emphasis on keeping manuscripts tight, even novelists are taking screenwriting classes to learn tips on how to hook their readers from the word go.


Excuse the formatting errors. I’m still not getting it!


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Every show on air begins with a premise, or what we call, a concept. What is the show about? It is a different matter that sooner or later every drama goes the same way. After about 50-100 episodes you cannot make out the difference between a Kyunki and a Kahani.  But by then the stickiness factor come into play.

But to grab eyeballs initially you have to have a differentiator. So we had Saat Phere: Saloni ka Safar which was about an otherwise accomplished girl but who has a dark skin. Banoo Main Teri Dulhan was about an illiterate girl who is conned into marrying a mentally challenged guy. The main protagonist of the show, and therefore, the concept is always, always about a woman.

The concept is accompanied by a broad storyline for six months and detailed story, screenplay and dialogues for a month.

So there is this girl who is dark skinned. She is otherwise accomplished and affectionate, an ideal Indian woman, but all efforts to marry her off are in vain. No one wants to marry a dark skinned girl and infuse the bloodline with her swarthy genes. And then comes along. End of month 1.

Nahar wants to marry her but he faces opposition from his family. Nahar eventually overcomes the opposition and the two are married but Saloni is made to feel unwelcome in the extended family. There are numerous efforts and attempts to belittle and humiliate her. Saloni faces everything with stoicism. And then she saves the family from dishonour on one occasion. This leads to her acceptance in the family. End of month 2.

(Disclaimer: I’m not very familiar with the show so I’m mostly making up the story. But yeah that’s how the broad, broad storyline goes.)

Based on this document, the channel takes a call. Though they usually hear out the concept and story, it is usually the concept that hooks them because the story can always be modified. Sometimes as soon as they hear what the story is about, they tune off. It happened to me once. We were pitching to a major channel for a show about a woman who becomes widowed on the day of her wedding and how she survives, thrives and eventually even finds love again. But as soon as the channel heard ‘widow’ they said, “Next.”

Yeah you do have to go with more than one. But never more than three. It’s never a good idea to present too many choices. I hate it when that happens to me. I can never make up mind about which jeans to buy.

Later, the story is fleshed out and we add incidents. How is Saloni humiliated? Does someone add excess salt to her daal when she is not looking? How does she save the family’s honour? Doe she save the unmarried sister from getting raped by reaching in the nick of time?

After the story is fleshed out – in minute detail for a month, we get into the screenplay stage. This usually takes a lot of time and involves a lot of back and forth with the channel. That’s because at the beginning of the show everyone is struggling to find a look and feel of the show. Ditto for the dialoguing stage.

And then there is casting to be done, sets to be built, costumes to be designed and a bank of 20 episodes to be shot (which usually never happens). It could be anywhere between 6-9 months (more if it’s a comedy) from initial approval before a show is ready to go on air.

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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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