May 28, 2016

Must Watch Before You Die #47: Rosemary's Baby (1968)

I had watched 'Rosemary's Baby' for the first time in 2010. And I had loved it. I was not sure if I would call it a horror film, but its impact was enormous and I wanted to discuss it with everyone around me. Unfortunately, you cannot discuss this movie without spoiling it for others - as it has one of the most devastating closing scenes in film history, almost as powerful as the closing moments of 'Bicycle Thieves' (1948). I also remember doubting my fascination with the film. Without any real reason, I find myself biased toward Polanski and I love almost all of his twelve films that I have watched - including some lesser ones. Was it my Polanski-worship that made me so strongly appreciate this 1968 classic? I wondered. I wanted to give it some time, and re-watch it, and then see what it does to me.

The rewatch happened recently. With the AIB First Draft students, I revisited the film on a big screen - at Matterden. And I could feel it all over again - the masterful direction of Roman Polanski so efficiently retelling the horrifying story on screen, with every decision - of the use of color to lenses to the perfectly eerie background score adding to one singular purpose - creating a timeless textbook of not just horror, but film-making in general. I could feel my body reacting to the film, shivers all over me, and my mind getting sucked into the horrors that I was more aware of this time than the characters on screen or the students of mine around me. When the movie ended - we were stunned - no one said a word. Without any conventional horror device, the film had terrified us, and me, once again.

Do not read about it. Do not watch its trailer. Do yourself a favor and watch this film. There is, however, only one catch - experiencing this movie is a point of no return, with the end so terrifying that you might regret why you watched it. There is no escaping 'Rosemary's Baby'. But it is a must-watch-before-you-die if you are game for it! Go and get scared for life!

May 18, 2016

Weeks 8 and 9: Creating Your Characters and Setting (Part 2)

AIB First Draft is a six-month writers' residency programme where a select group of aspiring writers from all over India are being trained in the craft of screenwriting. I feel thrilled to head this project and design and conduct the course. This post is a part of the series that chronicles all that happens at the course. Click here and read from bottom upwards for all posts related to this.

Two months are over at AIB First Draft! Time never flew so fast as it did in the last nine weeks. As I write these words, the ten students have completed the mammoth task of writing one page of character sketch for ten to thirteen characters per story, as well as three pages of description of the setting of their stories: the location, the time/year/season, and the socio-cultural milieu. Considering sixteen stories are being developed among these ten students, to achieve this in four weeks is truly praiseworthy. Apart from this, they have also been working on the plotting of their stories/ episodes and on a short screenplay.

Weeks 8 and 9 involved all that is mentioned above, and more. The students also indulged in some character-development exercises to create rounded, three-dimensional characters for their respective stories.
  • Find similarities between you and each of your characters and then write about those similarities in 100 words each. The idea is to find yourself in all your 10-13 characters, including the so-called villains.
  • Find, in each of your characters, reasons that make them loveable. And write it down in 100 words each. You must find reasons to fall in love with each one of them.
  • Think of one person from your real life for the following: closest friend from childhood with whom you have lost touch, your favorite neighbor, a child who fascinates you. (27 such questions were given to them). After identifying them, write for each one of them: one admirable/ likeable quality, one flaw and one quirk.
  • Write in 50-100 words how each one of your character changes through the story.
These two weeks also included a lecture on 'Italian Neo-Realism' and the screening of 'Bicycle Thieves' (1948). The highlight, however, was the guest lecture at the sound studio of Biswadeep Chatterjee (he has designed the sound of, among others, '3 Idiots', 'Piku', 'Madras Cafe', and 'Bajirao Mastani'). From making us experience the multitude of sound that surrounds our every-day lives, to talking about the basic theoretical aspects of sound design and he eventually demonstrated for us how emotions and aesthetic of film are enhanced with the meticulous work on sound. The lecture was an overwhelming experience for me as well as the students. I am so deeply thankful to Mr. Chatterjee for his time and effort, and enthusiasm.

The students also read the screenplays of 'The Godfather' and 'Udaan', taking the number of screenplay-cum-discussion exercises to twelve in nine weeks. They also watched 'Casablanca', 'Sideways' and 'Short Term 12' - the screenplays of which they had read recently. We also watched three new releases: '10 Cloverfield Lane', 'Sairat', and 'Captain America: Civil War'. And we visited Matterden (Lower Parel) to watch the timeless horror classic 'Rosemary's Baby' on the big screen. Optional screenings of 'Apocalypse Now Redux', 'The Tin Drum', '12:08 East of Bucharest', 'Marty' and 'The Scent of Green Papaya' were held as part of our 'Cannes in Andheri Film Festival 2016'.

We decided to reward the students with two things in these two weeks. One, we had a surprise dance workshop where they were introduced to different dance forms and encouraged to shed their inhibitions and shake a leg. And at the end of the ninth week, the students had three days off, almost. The daily writing of 1-2 pages of scenes continued and as on today the students have been doing this for a consecutive 63 days! Isn't that something! :)

May 02, 2016

Weeks 6 and 7: Creating Your Characters and Setting (Part 1)

AIB First Draft is a six-month writers' residency programme where a select group of aspiring writers from all over India are being trained in the craft of screenwriting. I feel thrilled to head this project and design and conduct the course. This post is a part of the series that chronicles all that happens at the course. Click here and read from bottom upwards for all posts related to this.



The ten students at our course are currently, among themselves, working on sixteen ideas - eight feature films and eight shows. In the second month of the course they are supposed to brainstorm over their ideas, research about the setting and the tone of their stories, and develop characters. This is the phase where there cannot be any right or wrong decision. You have to welcome all ideas and consider them to be used later. You have to understand your story and its world and know why you want to tell it. You have to familiarise yourself with this new world and characters you are creating. Trial and error. Considering one option and then having more. Thinking wild. Indulging in the vague and hoping that clarity will arrive, soon. This is what they are doing currently. 

Writing Tasks of these Two Weeks: The students started week six with writing a one-page account of their experience at First Draft so far. Excerpts from what they wrote were shared in this post. Over these fourteen days, they were supposed to write 200-word sketches of ten characters per story. They were also supposed to write 200-word descriptions each of the place, the time, and the socio-cultural milieu in which their stories are set. Apart from this, they expanded their story outline to a one-page document, worked on some short film ideas, and continued writing two pages of scenes every single day, thus taking the uninterrupted practice to 48 consecutive days! 

The activities during this period were designed to enable the students achieve these targets. We had a lecture on 'the Eight Character Archetypes', based on the writings of Christopher Vogler, followed by breaking down a character into his or her physiological, sociological and psychological traits. A few practical assignments followed this: 
  1. Each student was assigned one of the batch-mates, ideally someone he or she does not know very well. Then the student was asked to interview all remaining students, except the one assigned, to understand that one character. By the end of the week, they were supposed to submit one page of character sketch of the assigned batch-mate. 
  2. Each student was asked to go out and find a stranger who is willing to talk to them. Then, after a couple of hours of conversation with their "stranger", the students were asked to write one page about him or her. 
  3. They were asked to answer a questionnaire to discover the darkest secrets and the biggest ambitions, and so on, of all the ten characters they are developing. They were also given a list of about 600 character traits and asked to choose the best traits that define their characters. Six per character. 
The students studied and had long discussions on the screenplays of 'Short Term 12', 'Chinatown', 'Casablanca' and 'Sideways'. They studied five chapters from the book 'The Tools of Screenwriting' by Howard and Mabley. They also watched the latest releases: 'Fan', 'Nil Battey Sannata' and 'The Man Who Knew Infinity' and discussed the merits and weaknesses of their writing. They also watched shows and movies recommended to them individually as per the ideas they are working on. And all of them watched the entire Season 1 of 'Fargo'. All of this in two weeks. And more...

We had three more lectures, covering different aspects of writing and film-making: 
  • A feedback session on scene and dialogue writing where a scene written by each one of them was presented and we discussed ways of improving each one of them. 
  • A screening of Alfred Hitchcock's 'Vertigo' (1958), followed by a discussion on the film's narrative. We also had a lecture on 'The Basics of Sound Design in Cinema' followed by demonstrations from selected clips from different films. 
  • A screening of 'Singin' in the Rain' (1952), followed by a lecture on the first fifty years of American cinema, including the contribution of Griffith and the merits and limitations of the Hollywood Studio System. 
We had a wonderful guest lecture where Shakun Batra, writer-director of 'Kapoor and Sons', shed light on his writing and creative process and inspired them about the medium and its craft. The students also watched the play 'Shakkar Ke Paanch Daane' at Prithvi and a classical dance performance at NCPA. 

Seven weeks are over. Already! Time is flying away!!