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Posts Tagged ‘Movies’

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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I don’t know why people are bitching so much about the latest Indy film. I saw it yesterday and had a blast. Critiques range from stupid to plain grouchy. They call the film boring. It wasn’t.

They call it an ensemble film instead of a Harrison Ford film. In response to that I’d like to say that had Spielberg gone the other way, the solo Ford way, the same people would have bitched about a geriatric Indy doing implausible stunts himself. And two, they are building another franchise – with Shia Lebeouf (have I spelt it right?) And they can hardly have the future Henry Jones Jr. just sitting around on his ass, can they?

One critic said that they expected a visual marvel from ILM but the effects were off the mark. Especially in El Dorado where they expected to be dazzled (literally) by the gold. Instead what they got was a kitschy set. I guess they must have missed the line when Ford explains that the city was called El Dorado on account of their knowledge, not gold. The Mayans considered knowledge to be their true treasure. As for the other effects (prime accustaion being, most of them have been done on sound stage), I don’t know. All I know is that I was hooked.

My guess is most people have missed the point behind the Indiana Jones series. Vir Sanghvi delves into that at length in his weekly Sunday column in Brunch. Although, he also bitches about the film a bit, it is understandable. Fans of a franchise are rarely satisfied with sequels. Think Matrix. Think Spiderman. (I can’t find the article in the Hindustan Times site else I would have posted a link here.)

Having said that, was the film flawless? Of course not? I personally thought the screenplay could have included some more one-liners. Here’s a balanced review, which illustrates my points best. 

Given a choice would I watch the Lost Ark again? Yes (although personally my favourite it the Last Crusade). But that does not mean the film wasn’t entertaining. And I’m going again next weekend.

Here’s another view by Neohorizons that resonates with mine.

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Okay I’m feeling great this morning. Positively ebullient. Effervescent. Exultant. Elated. Ecstatic. Now that I’ve impressed everyone with my enviable command of the English language, synonyms for happy anyway (did you notice how all of them begin with E?), let me get into the why.

Remember about the project I was griping about yesterday? Yes, the same one authored by me but credited to someone else? Well, I just read that the actor has walked out of the project citing, what else, ‘date reasons.’ (Methinks it’s a monetary fallout as the same actor has recently delivered the only hit in an otherwise lacklustre summer.)

And so begins the cycle of narrations begins all over again. It could take, like forever, before the project goes on the floor.

Juts to give you a little bit of history about the sordid affair, I was approached by this production house, flush from the success of their modest debut film, to pen the script for their next film.  Which I did.

And then waited for them to call to ask me to accompany them on narrations. And waited. And waited.

Then, a little while later, I happened to meet a director who happened to mention that he was directing the aforementioned film which was being written by…

I waited for him to drop my name (and am guilty of a little preening at the time), when I had a round trolley moment. You know when the camera swirls around you feverishly on a round trolley and the room closes in on you? The same.

He dropped someone else name, adding with a wink like he was in on a secret the rest of the world was oblivious to, that the producers had gotten someone else to write the script but decided to credit it to a weightier brand name.

I wondered what to do. After I slapped the smirk off his face, and put a hex on the project and everyone involved with it, of course.

 

Now I have the original copy, duly registered in my name, as well as the contract. My first impulse was to cry foul right then, and sue their asses, but then I figured it would be more ruinous for the production house if I let them complete the project and then sued at the time of release. As in the case of the music director Ram Sampat who recently sued Rakesh Roshan (click here if you don’t know the story), chances of a huge and speedy financial settlement improve considerably of you threaten to stay the release.

 

I don’t think there will be any need to sue anymore. I’m happy that the hex worked.

 

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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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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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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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