May 31, 2010

A Song That 'Touches'

Not many are aware of this song from 'Black'(2005). The film had none, but the makers had composed this anyway. Not many modern Hindi songs are going to affect you as deeply as this. But again, this is not an easy one to appreciate either. It is almost outrageous, in the first hearing, lacking any conceivable rhythm, and blending styles from Western Classical to Hindi popular music, using Hindustani classical instruments with Western strings in a difficult-to-comprehend fashion. It also appears, like other Bhansali songs, that the poetry was written before setting it into tune. In the terms of medicine, we would call the rhythm of this song as 'irregularly irregular.' But then, it all makes sense. This song represents the soul of a girl who has never experienced sound, who has never had a glimpse of this beautiful world. A song with a regular rhythm and rhyme would have been unimaginative, and more importantly, unjust. The way this song flows, you can almost feel its voice, its poetry, and its tune in sync with its soul. You need a Sanjay Leela Bhansali for a song like this. Even a Rahman, I daresay, won't do.

For now, here is its poetry. I could almost feel Prasoon Joshi's bliss while writing this:

Mausam ki adla-badli mein pawan gulabi ho jati hai,
Haan maine chhoo kar dekha hai...
Raat sarak kar chalte-chalte bilkul aadhi ho jati hai,
Haan maine chhoo kar dekha hai...

Garam gunguni dhoop se baat ki hai maine,
Paani ke behne mein hansi suni hai maine,
Sab kehte hain deep bujha hai, lekin baati so jati hai,
Haan maine chhoo kar dekha hai...

Bin dastak ke aaye jo wo pyar suna hai,
Bin bole mann khole - wo adhikar suna hai,
Lamhon ki ungali tham ke yaadein aangan mein aa jati hain,
Haan maine chhoo kar dekha hai...

Thanda-thanda, boond-boond ka, mulayam rang hai phoolon ka...
Chubhne wale rang pehen kar dulhan saj-dhaj ke jati hai,
Haan maine chhoo kar...
Haan, haan maine dekha hai...

May 30, 2010

How to Begin: Discussing the Opening Scene from ‘Blood Simple’

Read the Opening Scene from 'Blood Simple' by clicking here. And then read it with me, through the fifteen points in this post. This scene is a text-book example of how to open your film, with some really precise dialogue-writing.

1. Cinema is a visual experience. However, reading a screenplay is a reading experience first. Actually, a screenplay is a visual text. Observe how with this opening description, with economy of words, the writers have made you ‘see’ it, and in this case, ‘hear’ it as well.

2. Introducing the characters and the premise requires sharing information. It can be just a dull documentation, or an exciting opening line like this – so much information packed in a single line. The woman talks about her husband with some other man. The husband must be rich (‘pearl handled’). And the mood of the film must be dark – gifting your wife a gun is dark enough. This sets you up for a thriller. (Also, this gun has an extremely important role to play later.)

3. So the marriage has been unfortunate. And, she has left him. Again, economy of words. Two lines and we know so much about the woman and her husband.

4. So, this man is related to the husband as well? Uh, huh! Interesting. And then he explains that he is an employee. This information could have been shared in a dull, just-for-the-sake-of-doing-it way. Or the man could have said something lesser, like: “Yeah, I know. Working with him has been a pain in the ass.” But that would have been inferior to what it is here. The difference between OK, good, and great!

5. Hey! It has the makings of a psycho-thriller. Well, we’re gonna love it!

6. This point is the point of this scene. And the point of opening the film with this. The woman from a troubled marriage has fled with her husbands employee who likes her. This is the premise for you. And this is interesting.

7. So, she is going to Houston. Also, another way of saying – “You shouldn’t stay alone. You don’t have a future.” Also, this sudden formal statement makes the situation more comfortable after the confession of ‘liking’ her. It also shows the two are not too close yet.

8. Another way of saying – “Yeah, you’re right. I don’t have a future alone.”

9. Another way of saying – “Let’s hear more good things about myself.”

10. Another way of saying – “You should have said this before.” Also, it is confirmed –the two are not too close yet. And their romance can just begin. OK. This film is really opening up.

11. But then, there are complications already. A car is following them. This is going to be a tight film. Who is the man following them? Her husband? Also, around here, we get to know their names – Ray and Abby.

12. The car leaves. The woman does not recognize it. It is not what we were expecting. But it did cause a minor thrill. This trick is called Reversing Expectations, aka the 180-Degree Rule. Later, it is revealed that a private detective was actually following them. So, there you go 180-degrees again! Also, this hinting before the actual revelation is also called ‘Foreshadowing.’ – a very important tool to make your writing believable.

13. They resume discussing their ‘liking.’ But they’re not sure. They’re hesitating. Apart from the greater ‘conflict’ of the premise, we have a ‘conflict’ in this scene too. The two wanting to be together, perhaps, but hesitating. Also, this point is the ‘scene pinnacle’ – the point that serves the dramatic purpose of the scene. Also, the woman knows very well that there was a motel they just passed. But she acts innocent. Remember when you are writing for your character, you are the character.

14. Answering a question with another question. Great way to break dialogue’s monotony. Great way to achieve a rhythm, by repetition of the same lines, and thus serving a great transition point for the next scene.

15. No wasting time. No more lines. No more pauses. Let them make love. Hook the audience. The premise and the conflict of the story have been locked. And stage is all set for a dark thriller involving memorable characters, chases, infidelity, and hopefully, murders.

A lesser writer would achieve these purposes: introducing the premise and the characters, defining the conflict, and setting the mood of the film, by either making the scene dull or long. Beginnings should be sharp, short and dense, and should hook the audience. Well, the Coen Brothers are the masters. We try to learn.

How to Begin: Illustration (Opening Scene from ‘Blood Simple’)

The opening scene of the film, needless to say, is vital. Very vital. Screenwriting gurus teach you all sorts of mantras to follow as you open your first scene, and thus your film. Following is the opening scene from ‘Blood Simple’ (1984). This was the first film written-directed by the Coen Brothers, the first signs of their genius. Watch the film, now. If you can’t, well, just read this scene. In my next post I will discuss the beauty of it.

Note: The numbers in parentheses are for reference. Read my next post for that. Also, I have made minimal changes to the draft of this scene, for convenience only.

Backs of two people in the front seat-- a man, driving, and a woman next to him. Their halting, awkward conversation punctuated by the occasional glare of oncoming headlights and the roar of the car rushing by. The windshield wipers wave a soporific beat. (1)

WOMAN "...He gave me a little pearl-handled .38 for out first anniversary." (2)

MAN "Uh-huh."

WOMAN "...Figured I'd better leave before I used it on him. (3) I don't know how you can stand him." (4)

MAN "Well, I'm only an employee, I ain't married to him." (4 contd)

WOMAN "Yeah..."

Pause, as an oncoming car passes.

WOMAN "...I don't know. Sometimes I think there's something wrong with him. Like maybe he's sick? Mentally?... Or is it maybe me, do you think?" (5)

MAN "Listen, I ain't a marriage counselor. I don't know what goes on, I don't wanna know... But I like you. I always liked you..." (6)

Another car passes.

MAN "...What're you gonna do in Houston?" (7)

WOMAN "I'll figure something out (8)... How come you offered to drive me in this mess?" (9)

MAN "I told you. I like you."

WOMAN "See, I never knew that." (10)

MAN "Well now you do."

WOMAN "...Hell."

Another pause. Another car. Suddenly:

WOMAN "Stop the car, Ray!"

BRAKE Stamped on. The car squeals to a halt. A car that has been following screeches to a halt just behind it. Both cars sit. Rain patters. (11)

MAN "... Abby?"

She doesn't answer. He turns to look back and we see his face, for the first time, in the headlights of the car behind, waiting, patiently. Rain drifts down past its headlights. Finally it pulls out and passes them slowly, their headlights showing it to be a battered green Volkswagon. First the car itself, then its red taillights, disappear into the rain.

MAN "...You know that car?"

WOMAN "No." (12)

MAN "What's the matter?"

WOMAN "I don't know... I just think maybe I'm making a mistake..."

She looks at the man.

WOMAN "...What was that back there?"

MAN "Back where?"

WOMAN "Sign."

MAN "I don't know. Motel... Abby--"

WOMAN "Ray. Did you mean that, what you said before, or were you just being a gentleman?"

MAN "Abby, I like you, but it's no point starting anything now." (13)

WOMAN "Yeah."

MAN "I mean, I ain't a marriage counselor--"

WOMAN "Yeah."

The man is uncomfortable.

MAN "...What do you want to do?"

The woman is uncomfortable. After a long pause:

WOMAN "...What do you want to do?" (14)

Cut To:


RAY and ABBY in bed, making love. (15)

May 26, 2010

To An Old Friend

Kisi doosre janam ki baat lagti hai,
Jab hum donon ki duniya ek hua karti thi…

Adhoore sire toh hain abhi bhi;
Main hoon,

You-Tube par tum bhi dikh jaate ho,
Par wo baat kahan hai?

Tumhe shayad pataa nahin;

Tum wahin reh gaye Mowgli,

Main aage badh
Kaash mera kirdaar haad-maans ka na hota,

Kaash main bhi rangon-rekhaon mein racha
gaya hota…

Aaj kehne ko toh itna kuchh hai,
Bas wo rang aur rekhayen nahin hain,

Jo har itwar, subah dus baje

Mere jeene ki vajah ban jaati thi!

May 21, 2010

The Ticket to International Cinema

I go to bed around 3. Get up around 10. 6.30 am is generally when I am in the deepest of my sleep. This morning, at that time, I was watching the show of Kites at the Red Lounge, Cinemax.

Kites is not an International film. It looks international – frames and texture and the design of editing, not to forget the lead pair. Its lines sound international – more in English and Mexican than in Hindi. But thanks to the loud background score, typical of our own industry, you never get that feel. In spite of its Hollywood-type believable unbelievability and it being logically less outrageous than other Hindi romantic-action flicks, it fails to move you. It would hardly appeal to the audience. Filmkraft has finally lost its winning streak. The supremely talented Hrithik Roshan has, after a long time, failed. Kangana Ranaut was hardly there; even Barbara Mori will have to find job outside. But this film, in spite of all its failures, works for one man, for the director – Anurag Basu.

This is an important film for Basu, and will always be. From Balaji TV Soaps to Kuchh Toh Hai to Murder to a couple of better films, and now Kites. Looking from the filmmaker’s perspective, Anurag Basu can now easily approach an international studio with this latest offering and show them that he has it in him to direct an International film. I was really impressed by the production design of the film, and its editing. It is hardly two-hour long, but still has lots of non-verbal, slow, fluid scenes. Visually, and strictly so, it is at par with the best of world cinema, no doubt about that. If Basu writes or acquires a mind-blowing script with International sensibilities, Kites can be his ticket to International cinema.

But then, that is the problem – the script, the root evil for entire film industry, and also for this particular film. The screenplay has been designed interestingly, and some scenes do really work, but there is nothing in the story to offer, and that shows. A weak story is a weak story. Period. And even the best screenplay design can not save that. I really wish to go back in time, meet the makers of this film, and make them put some more months on story development. And then leave it on Anurag Basu to do his job. And then go back once again during the post-production, and replace the entire background music track with some powerful sound design. Less is more, when it comes to the score, but not when you are talking story. I pray for the day when Hindi filmmakers will stop trying to strengthen the impact of a weak story by using a deafening score. It can not work. It will not work, especially for an early morning show!

BTW, I loved the way the film ended. That was a gutsy thing to do!

May 16, 2010

Re-watch of a Classic: 21 Grams

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's 21 Grams ends with a voice over. Here are the lines, also, possibly, the reason for the convoluted screenplay of the film. Go for this movie today if you haven't. This is modern cinema at its best.

"How many lives do we live? How many times do we die? They say we all lose 21 grams at the exact moment of our death. Everyone. And how much fits into 21 grams? How much is lost? When do we lose 21 grams? How much goes with them? How much is gained? ... How much is gained? ... 21 grams. The weight of a stack of five nickels, the weight of a hummingbird, a chocolate bar… How much do 21 grams weigh?"

May 13, 2010

A Couple of Classics

I was going through screenwriting guru Lew Hunter’s book and here is something I thought I could share. He compares Drama and Melodrama: “Melodrama is most simply a story where guns are available to solve character’s problems. Drama is more realistic. If not truly honest, the dramatic stories give an illusion of honesty… Melodramas nearly always have chase sequences… Dramas tend to have lots of wrinkled foreheads instead.” And then he divides Comedy into realistic (e.g. Woody Allen) and non-realistic: “Chaplin films have nonrealistic spines with sporadic inclusions of reality to keep the audience grounded.” And then he asks one important question: Can a filmmaker combine drama, melodrama, comedy, realism and non-realism? Hunter says that this is the hardest form of writing and generally it fails. But when it works 100 percent, it results in a blockbuster.

I was instantly reminded of the way Hindi films work. Traditionally, we strive to combine all the above mentioned genres. Almost always, we fail. But when it works, a Sholay results. Next time someone talks about the inconsistency of Hindi films, here is the explanation to it.

Watched two such Hindi classics recently- both hugely successful films. The first was Vijay Anand’s Jewel Thief. Frankly, I was not expecting much as Teesri Manzil had not worked for me at all. But Jewel Thief was such a fun film to watch - a complete entertainer. I can easily rate it as one of the best made Hindi films and there are lots of merits to talk about. But I would like to mention two points. One, the use of montage. Vijay Anand edited the film himself and his composition of some scenes is breathtaking. Watch the scene where Dev Anand is waiting in Helen’s room for the culprit to arrive. There are not many sequences in Hindi cinema that can boast of such beautiful design of montage. Another high point for me was the choreography of the song ‘Raat akeli hai’. The two-paced rhythm of the song always puzzled me. Watching the film you know why. The character of Tanuja is meant to seduce, but she is otherwise a very sweet, fun-loving, rich girl. So, although the entire song has a seductive slow rhythm in the sensuous voice of Ashaji, each stanza ends with an abrupt rise of tempo – and the seductress turns into a girl bubbling with infectious enthusiasm. Definitely, one of the best songs on screen.

The second film was the one that made Yash Chopra rise as the craftsman of big-budget, multistarrer blockbusters. Waqt is again a film that can only come out from India. More melodramatic than otherwise and slightly weak in parts, Waqt does not really match up to the standards of the films I mentioned above. But it is still one of the best films in Hindi. Watching Balraj Sahni act is a pleasure in itself. But for me the star of the film was Raj Kumar. Let me confess, I didn’t know that these immortal lines were from this film: “Ye bachchon ke khelne ki cheez nahin. Haath kat jaaye toh khoon nikal aata hai.” And “Chinoy seth, jinke apne ghar sheeshe ke hon, wo doosron par patthar nahin phenka karte.” Oh, that is history!