There is no clear how-to manual when it comes to screenwriting. Sure, there are books suggesting method and structure — Syd Field had a day like his last name taking those to the bank — but there is no definitive checklist of how to make scriptwriting your day job. Here then is what I can offer: my story, of how I randomly came to be in the position of having my first screen credit appear this week. And what better way to tell this story than in screenplayese?
EXTERIOR, MUMBAI AIRPORT, DAY:
(Super: Five years ago)
Our unshaven long-haired protagonist exits the airport with a tote bag and massive Aviator sunglasses. He is a Delhi boy who believes he needs a dynamic city to shove him out of inertia. Jobless and without even a specific idea of what he wants to do, but armed with an irrelevant Master’s Degree he treads into the sultry city hoping for, um, action.
MUMBAI STRUGGLER MONTAGE:
We see the protagonist go through vagabond-wannabe clichés: sleeping on his aunt’s couch, renting half a garage and living with a corrugated metal wall, working for a tiny advertising agency that doesn’t pay him, lots of bus rides and much super-budget dining. The entire montage is interspersed with several quick-cut shots of local train travails, and our man’s klutzy ineptness at the same.
INTERIOR, REDIFF OFFICE, DAY:
Protagonist is being interviewed by over a dozen people, spread over three days. He says the Formula 1 column he’s been writing for Rediff is something he enjoys the most, so can they use a sportswriter? They take turns hmmming and hawing before asking if he watches movies.
INTERIOR, MOVIE THEATRE, VIVAH PLAYING:
Protagonist yawns and soldiers on with his bad movie watching. We establish how he has become a full-time critic based on a ridiculous, almost-masochistic love for motion pictures, and because there aren’t that many critics around in the first place, he’s become oddly well-known – albeit much criticised across the Internet for lambasting an Aamir Khan or a Hrithik Roshan, as need be. He enjoys watching the Bollywood circus up close and is amused by how seriously the circus itself takes him.
EXTERIOR, COFFEE SHOP FOYER, SUBURBAN MUMBAI:
The protagonist sits across from Sourabh Usha Narang, director of the rather creepy Vaastu Shastra, who is inexplicably convinced — based on reading reviews — that the protagonist should pen screenplays. Our man grins and agrees, and they come up with a thriller called Sunday Morning, set in realtime from 7am to 9am on a Sunday. It is a thriller so clever it obviously gets shelved and hasn’t been heard of since.
THE BOLLYWOOD MONTAGE:
The protagonist has shaved. We see shots of him in movie screenings, in conversations with directors, making friends with the industry and digging how it really isn’t all bad. He’s surprised to discover that the people he admires the most are the most accessible and down-to-earth, and friendships are forged over hedonistic nights. (Note: possible item-song opportunity here)
EXTERIOR, SAME COFFEE SHOP, DAY:
Back with Sourabh Narang around the same table, the protagonist is told that Narang wants to make another horror movie. They sit around a table and spin random ideas, and Narang decides to get him contracted. Men from UTV are met (also at coffee shops) and work begins on a film called K11.
INTERIOR, SEN’S ROOM, NIGHT:
A dramatic internal monologue shot, the words are coming in as a voiceover while we see our character type intensely. We establish that directors and megastars are suddenly taking jabs against him on their blogs, calling him a frustrated wannabe director. He grins at the attention. Later Vishal Bhardwaj asks if he truly wants to direct. Protagonist says he has never wanted to direct, writing is fun. Bhardwaj says if he can do it anybody can. (Ref: Awesomest people are the most down to earth, SCENE 6 reference)
INTERIOR, MUMBAI LIVING ROOM, NIGHT:
Protagonist is learning to play poker. The two men teaching him are Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, a couple of directors who made the decidedly charming Indian-American Flavors. They are working on a fun script called 99, and wonder if our man would like to do dialogue. He gives it a whirl, they sign him on, and before he knows it, the film is shot.
VIDEO CLIP, 99 TRAILER:
99 is a cheeky caper-film set in the year 1999, with a hero who constantly bemoans the ‘almost’ in his life, about how he always falls short of a hundred. Everyone in the film does, really. 99 stars Boman Irani, Kunal Khemu, Cyrus Broacha, Soha Ali Khan and Vinod Khanna, and releases on May 15 — braving the IPL season. Heh. With this script, this gamble feels appropriate. Plus, our man is super-proud to have gotten paid to write in Hindi. (Take that, torturing Hindi teachers from Don Bosco!)
END OF ACT ONE.
It really is a gamble. Right now, it’s an admittedly exciting time with 99 releasing May 15 and K11 slated to start shooting real soon. Having said that, it’s important to realise that the fanciful Barton Desi screenplay above is made up of nothing but highlights. And that I’ve worked on K11 for almost three years before it’s finally inching towards production, while 99 happened with fabulous gusto. So you really got to hang in there, and have faith. You never know which side lightning strikes from. It’s an exciting time in the industry with great filmmakers positively hungry for scripts and ideas, and all you need to connect with people is enthusiasm. So good luck to you all from someone who is very far from having arrived, and do go catch 99. Peace.
Published Yuva magazine, May 1, 2009.
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