June 05, 2010

The Power of Screenwriting

India has been a land of epics and legends. We take pride, and rightfully so, in the treasure of our traditional fiction. From folk tales to songs of all genre to poems – small and epic, we have been telling stories for centuries. Why then, when it comes to telling a story on celluloid, we fail miserably? Why the country with the greatest epic in human history fails to make films that could enthrall the audience for two hours? Or we are forced to include songs to keep the audience pleased and hooked? We have even failed to create decent adaptations by exploring our rich literary heritage. Our characters, mostly, are half-baked; their conflicts unconvincing; their actions defy logic, and we try to defend that with embarrassing and ridiculous display of melodramatic emotions. Why, in spite of having quality actors, we can not utilize their potential? Why, except for a few gems, we have failed to utilize the power of cinema, more so in the last couple of decades? The answer to all these questions is, ironically, known to all – we lack quality scripts. I would like to modify the answer just a little bit, so that it actually answers all the questions above – we lack the craft of writing quality scripts.

I’ve been reading a few excellent books on screenwriting lately. It is just that at this moment, thanks to these books, I’m better placed to exactly diagnose the flaws we traditionally commit, and to appreciate the ‘tricks’ used to ensure a decent product. I feel fortunate, that under these circumstances, last morning, I watched the first show of Rajneeti. It left me strained. And I’m loving this state I am in.

Rajneeti is one of the most powerful Hindi films you are going to see, and definitely the most powerful film in the last few years. I went with tremendous expectations, because I knew it is an adaptation of that very epic I just talked about, our very own Mahabharata, because I believed in the writers – Anjum Rajabali, one of the few men in Mumbai who know the craft of screenwriting, and Prakash Jha, who is second to none in creating hard-hitting scenes and penning powerful dialogues. And in spite of great performances, and meticulous direction by Jha himself, I would like to congratulate the writers of this film for exceeding my expectations. And would thank them for this wonderful gift. Because it is the writing of the film that, in spite of no songs, doesn’t let you relax for close to three hours. Because the characters are so well created to inspire Arjun Rampal and Katrina Kaif to leave memorable impact and Ranbir Kapoor, Nana Patekar, Ajay Devgn and Manoj Bajpai to excel in a way only they can. Because it uses their star image and persona, the crores of rupees that go into the making, and the eye of the director to create an epic of a film. From scenes that follow the Mahabharata verbatim – like the Karna-Kunti Samvad, to subtle changes – like Draupadi’s hair (notice Katrina’s hair in the final act), Rajneeti has fulfilled the onerous task of daring to play with the ancient epic. And in spite of hitting you with such enormous force in the end it leaves you empty within. The tragedy that Mahabharata was is re-lived through the lives of these modern humans – all grey, powerful, yet vulnerable. And you feel a pain, a sense of loss, as affecting as the cerebral stimulation the political film has blessed you with. I wished it hadn’t ended, somehow, like those good, old stories that we want to continue forever. Yes, cinema allows you to revisit it in its exact form. I will do that, soon.


  1. am tempted to go through it all now, but have saved it for post-movie reading...

  2. The Raajneeti debate on the op-ed page of today's Indian Express http://epaper.indianexpress.com/IE/IEH/2010/06/09/index.shtml

  3. Sudhir Mishra has a contrasting take on Rajneeti. He feels the weakest aspect of the film was its writing.
    But he praised the movie, esp. Jha's direction and was happy that the movie did well.
    One interesting thing he said was: "Watch the movie again, to learn how a director re-writes the script on celluloid; how he takes to a different level altogether and covers all its flaws."
    Once my brother returns from London, I'll go for the movie again.

  4. Read Satyangshu's post. Well written!Well said. We lack quality scripts.

    I have a film in mind that will be a retort to the Slumdog! "The Meaning of India' under whatever name! It would have a global canvas and would essentially be a critique of civilisation and the directions it has been taking of late. The contrast wold make the Americans and Europeans understand the meaning of Indian and Asiatic civilisations which present more than crime and poverty. If properly scripted, it can not only win Oscars but could make an impact on the entire 'developed world' that does not understand the sanctity of marriages, produces children without marriages - leaving them to the care of the state and God; where nuclear individualism and self-centric freedom have started painfully redefining human civilisation like in Scandinavia... No more at the moment as it is already 1 a m.

  5. watched the movie yesterday. simply loved it. going to watch it today again :)

  6. @ Mr. P.K. Siddharth:
    It was such a pleasant surprise to see you Uncle here on this blog. Seems Priyadarshi is doing a lot of publicity for me!
    I never got a chance to meet you, but through Priyadarshi, I got to know a few things. I really appreciate all that you have been doing and must admit that I feel inspired.
    Regarding this idea you have suggested, I hope we sit and have a proper discussion on it.
    Otherwise too, hope we can work together some day.

  7. Yes, few creative people have the clarity of mind and the developed cognitive abilities that you seem to have. I am sure you are going to have a great future.

    Could you send me one of your scripts?

    Yes, Priyadarshi is the one that guided me to your blog. I have great trust in his abilities and judgment. When I saw your blog my faith in him got further confirmation.

    Best wishes!

  8. Thanks Uncle for your good wishes.
    I will take your email ID from Priyadarshi and send you something that I have written. I don't have many finished products as of now and some of them are under consideration with studios. But I'll send one to you.
    Thanks again.