We had not planned a sequel while writing Rock On – Pubali Chaudhuri
Farhan Akhtar’s musical drama Rock On created quite a stir in 2008 amongst the masses and critics alike. When the makers decided to make a sequel, the writer of the film Pubali Chaudhuri was bestowed with a huge responsibility – taking forward this cult story and its characters. Though a fun process, it has not been an easy one she opines. As Rock On 2 hits theatres today, Chaudhuri shares with Pandolin all that went into writing the script, her takeaways from the experience and how making a sequel is more a business decision than a creative one.
There’s been an eight year gap between Rock On and its sequel. How has this time period affected the script?
We had not planned a sequel while writing Rock On. In fact, one of the challenges of writing a sequel was that we had already tied all the plot threads at the end of the first film. We had resolved everything. So, when it was decided that a sequel will happen, it was a challenge for me to open threads of a story, which was already a complete structure.
I started writing the sequel almost five years ago, not knowing that the making would take as long as it did. But I did account for the fact that time has passed in my characters’ lives. Since, it was a sequel, where I continue with the same characters, it becomes a continuation of lives that we have seen in the first part. I had to keep in mind that there has been a passage of time. It’s interesting because between Rock On and it’s sequel, I have written the story in four timelines. Rock On had the characters in their early to mid thirties. We have a past heralded back then, which was in their twenties. So, there’s already two timelines committed to in the first film.
When I started the sequel, more time had passed. So I needed to club in this time as well between the end of the first film to the beginning of the second film. As a writer I had to know what had happened to these characters and their lives in the interim. Thus, when I was writing the sequel I had four timelines to trace back to. So for instance, if I have shown a character doing a certain thing in his 20s, which was then continued in his 30s, now I should know how he is handling the same thing in his 40s. There has to be some kind of continuity and no loose threads lying around. It was really interesting yet challenging. Also, I hope there is some kind of surprise for the audience at the start of the film as the characters have moved on from where you had seen them last. That’s one of the challenges of a sequel where there is something about the original, the good thing about it’s spirit, that you would like to retain but you have to refrain from repeating things. As a storyteller, I am torn between something that should seem familiar in the story universe and yet should not have dimensions that I have already explored.
This is your first encounter with writing a sequel. What were the learnings?
As far as my understanding goes, Rock On 2 is a different kind of sequel as we didn’t have larger- than-life kind of characters in the first film. It is not a story that has flamboyant characters like say a Munna Bhai, where you can take the two characters who have become an archetype and play it in a different universe all together. So while the first film has him trying to become a doctor, the second has him as a Gandhi bhakt and so on. The same goes with Spider-Man and it’s sequel. The characters remain the same but the setup, conflicts etc. change altogether. And as an audience you won’t challenge that.
But Rock On is realistic, it has characters you can identify with, which works in it’s favour. They are not super heroes. It’s not a franchise in the way that Batman or Spider-Man are. So continuing the stories of real people meant that it has to be believable and I have to stay true to the characters and the tone of the film. Rock On 2 had to look like an extension of their lives and not a different setup altogether. You have to remain committed to the kind of story or the cinematic universe that we portrayed in the first part – real, relatable and no amount of fantasy. My challenge was that we had closed all narrative threads, dissolved everything, at the end of the first film. So to open them up again, while remaining relevant and not seeming repetitive was the first step.
What worked for the first part was it’s structure, which was considered different back then because it went back and forth and all of that. But I didn’t want to do a formal jugglery unless my story demanded it. You are tempted because it worked the first time, so may be it works again. But then shouldn’t I do something different? Forming this balance was fun. Secondly the story is about musicians, so the relation of the characters with music was important. Music forms an important part of the main storyline. That’s how I approached the sequel; keeping music at the core and exploring the journey of the musicians.
As a storyteller, I am torn between something that should seem familiar in the story universe and yet should not have dimensions that I have already explored
How was it collaborating with Farhan Akhtar?
Farhan had done the dialogues in the first part too. Thus he is familiar with the plots points and characters. Hindi is not one of my strong points so I write a screenplay and forward it to the dialogue writers. I handed over the baton to Farhan here. Also, he was always a part of the story development as the lead actor, and one of the producers of the film. It is not a case where a new colleague joins the scripting. Like in Kai Po Che, Supratik Sen who wrote the dialogues came in after a certain stage of script development and was totally a new element to the project. With Farhan it’s not that. Farhan totally knows what happened from point one of the script till now and has worked in different capacities in the film, so it’s easier to collaborate.
Bollywood is bursting with sequels – Tum Bin 2, Force 2 etc. Your take on this ‘trend’ of sequels?
I have no idea. I have spent 10 years in Bombay now not knowing half the people! I really don’t know trends nor do I follow them. I just know that the Rock On sequel came along as a suggestion from the producer. To be honest initially I reacted in the negative – how can we make a sequel when we have finished the tale? But when the producers and collaborators felt that there is scope, I went forward with it. My only greed was that I know these characters so well, I have lived with them for so long while writing the first part that if there is indeed a new story to be told in the next part it has to be written by me. Characters become like your fictional friends. There is you and the blank page and in your head you hear characters speaking, stories evolving. You see them as real people, you see them fighting, celebrating. So how can somebody else befriend them just like that? Hence I said, let me try it first whether they (characters) talk to me! On the sides, when I was a kid I actually had three imaginary friends and insisted that my mother feed them too! (laughs)
‘Trends’… I really don’t have an idea. Actually I remember reading a quote by filmmaker William Goldman. It said, “Sequels are mostly a producer’s idea”. Meaning they are mainly business-driven ideas because you think that one thing has worked, then why not make more out of it? Then it’s upto us, the creative professionals to find a creative cause behind it.
And why are we limiting this ‘trend’ to a country? It was been all over the world. If there is one successful idea or story, the studios make a franchise out of it. You never know you will have Spiderman 66, etc. (laughs) So that way the Bombay film industry doing sequels is not something totally new. It has been happening internationally in various movie industries.
I approached the sequel by keeping music at the core and exploring the journey of the musicians
What are your upcoming projects?
When I work it is more like wishful thinking! (laughs) I am supposed to be writing a sequel for Dil Chahta Hai which is not a continuation of the same characters but is the same brand. I have written my own, original script, which the directors have shown interest in. We can hopefully take it to the actors by the end of this year. I would really be thrilled at that. And then there is this loosely thriller type script that I am going to write for Navdeep Singh.