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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,

 

INT. BAASI HOUSE — DAY

 

ANGLE ON

 

Seven potted plants lined up against a wall.

 

BAASI (O.S.)

                                     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,

 

BAASI (CONTD.)

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

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

 

OMI

And sleep with two wives?

 

BAASI                  

      (IRRITATED)

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

heard it?

 

OMI

                                           (EMBARASSED LAUGH)

You’d have to die twice?

 

BAASI

     (GLARES AT HIM)

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

 

OMI

Omi.

 

Baasi looks pleased.

 

BAASI

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

                                     celibacy and nirvana.

               

                                                 OMI

                                     Good God!

 

BAASI

                                     Yes, he definitely is.

               

                                                OMI

                                    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.

 

BAASI

Why didn’t you say so?

 

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

 

BAASI

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

                                        CUT

INT. CANTEEN — DAY

 

ANGLE ON

 

RADHIKA, MANOJ and PIDDI looking bewildered.

 

RADHIKA

       (CRACKS UP)

KOMI?! You are going to call yourself Komi?

 

OMI

                                             (GRIMACES)

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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I had a most frustrating day yesterday. I typed about a 1000 words three times, only to delete each draft. I couldn’t figure out if chance had a role to play in a detective novel. It’s relatively earlier on in the novel and it’s not as though the protagonist is solving anything major with the help of chance.

Even so, normally I steer clear of the trap of stumbling onto something by sheer luck. (Where are your dicking skills if that’s the case?) But then, given that it is a funny detective story, like its predecessor, Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions, couldn’t one take some liberties? After all we do have a Jacques Clouseau whom people devour with amusement.

Anyway, couldn’t make up my mind so I typed out both scenarios, where the protagonist stumbles upon a clue by chance and where it’s logically thought out. And a third scenario. Wasn’t happy with any so I did what I do in these situations.

I set is aside and put on my running shoes.  The rain had lightened into a light drizzle and running in such weather is always fun, if you overlook squishy shoes.

In any case, I figured a 10K run would clear the mind somewhat.Alas, it wasn’t to be. All I could think about was Kkrishnaa. My baby, all grown up, refuses to let go. Rather, I refuse to let go of my baby.

On a different note and taking up from where I left off yesterday, film is more glamorous than it is lucrative. As a struggling writer, without a ‘produced’ film to your name, you cannot hope to make more than Rs. 2-2.5 lakhs per film script. Rs. 5 lakhs if you’re wildly lucky. And a film script will take at least 2 months (It should take more but we’ll discuss that later) to write.

Why I call it unprofitable is because you may never get to write more than one film. Or you may never get paid anything beyond the initial signing amount. There’s nothing you can do about it. Having said that, there are celebrity writers – Anurag Kashyap, Neeraj Vora, Jaideep Sahni, Abbas Tyrewala who can pretty much command their price. But it takes years of struggle and genuine talent. 

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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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One of the most important features of a script is the dialogue. Also the most tricky. Often times writers meander around for ages before stumbling upon the right formula.

So how does one go about writing dialogue? The answer to that is to keep it as realistic as possible. But in reallife life we do a lot of ums and ahhs, we leave our sentences half-finsihed, we jump from topic to topic. If we do this in our script, we’ll leave our viewers confused. So we have to carefully craft our dialogue and make it look like it’s natural, like it just rolled of our character’s tongue. Not practiced at all.

And there is no option but to just jump right in. To be sure, your first few pages/chapters will be stilted and awkward. Most likely they will make you cringe. But you will discover your flow if you keep at it. You will get to know your characters better an things will go on reltaively more smoothly. Then go back and rewrite the first few pages/chapters.

That’s what I did for Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions. That’s what I do for my scripts. That’s what everybody does, no matter how accomplished.

Some tips for writing good dialogue:

1. Have as little of it as possible. If you can the same thing in a four word senetence as in a five word one, choose the former.

2. Avoid saying the obvious. You’re script will only become unwieldy. For example, if a woman is shown crying her eyes out, don’t get her to say I’m sad. You can give her a dialogue if the reason for her crying is the opposite. Or, is she wants to hide the fact that she’s crying. So she could say, while wiping her eyes, “I’m not crying,” or “it’s tears of happiness.” Or whatever.

3. Try and prolong the tension in a scene by getting your characters to not give direct response to questions. When asked, “Do you love me?” Get the heroine to talk about anything else (keep it short). Keep the hero as well as the audience guessing.

Also be prepared to do several rewrites. Like everything else, dialogue sparkles the more you polish it.

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People often ask me what do I write? Now this is a very tricky question. I’m tempted to tell them to write whatever they are passionate about, what they believe in and if they believe it will make a good story. But, what you might believe in may not sell-able. You are truly in a happy place if what you are passionate about is also sellable.
So the obvious corollary to that is write something that will strike a chord with the public. Study trends in films and books. Find out what sells and write accordingly, but, and here’s the sticky part, write with conviction. If need be, take some time off to generate conviction.
You know, when Ian McEwan (yes the one who’s won the booker and whose ‘Atonement’ is being made into an eponymous film) first approached a publisher, the publisher, impressed with the former’s writing talents asked him to write poignant stories about human suffering. McEwan reportedly told the publisher that he couldn’t do that because he had never experienced any suffering, having had a reasonably happy and robust childhood. The publisher told him, “Invent unhappiness.”
If you’re a true writer you’ll have many ideas in your head (though that is also debatable. There are many writers like Harper Lee who write just the one great book and never follow it up with another, great or otherwise.). The challenge is in choosing between the idea closest to heart vis-a-vis the one that will sell.
I have a publishing contract for my book Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions. Now. But I have also written another book earlier and have instinctively held back all these years. The reason? The book is more esoteric and also targets a more difficult market. Once you are a published author it becomes easier to find a willing audience for highbrow stuff.
I had the idea for Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions a long time ago. It happily co-existed, and occasionally jousted for space, with other ideas (the book being talked about in the paragraph above being one of them). I knew it was a seller. So why did I not write KK first? Because I was then high on another spirit.
But I was lucky. Income from TV was great and I could afford to wait. Even if that hadn’t been the case, I don’t think I would do anything differently. I couldn’t. You see, when an idea grips you, it takes over your imagination, obsesses you. It is quite like being in love. You have no control over it.Being on a fire for an idea is a different feeling altogether. A true writer knows that, appreciates it and will not trade it for anything in the world.

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If you’ve decided to write for the screen, chances are you’ve already scoured the bookstores for reading material on the same. (If you haven’t, you ought to :)) Chances are even greater that your local bookstores will only store books on screenplay writing penned by a certain Mr. Syd Field (when they do so at all).  This happened to me as well when I first started out. I went out and bought all books written by him. It was only a few weeks later a kind sould suggested books by Lajos Egri.Beg, borrow, steal, but try and lay your hands on his books – The art of Dramatic Writing and The Art of Creative Writing. You won’t regret it.

In these two books you will find all you need to know about developing interesting characters as well as structuring your screenplay.

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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.

                                                                                                                                   CUT TO:       

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.

                                                                                                                                   CUT TO:       

(Please bear with me. I’m still trying to get the hang of formatting)

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