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.