She is part of the trio that has given unconventionally brilliant films like 99, Shor in the City and Go Goa Gone. Writer Sita Menon began her journey with writer – directors Raj Nidimoru & Krishna DK and there has been no looking back since.

As their latest film, Happy Ending, gets ready for release, Sita speaks to Pandolin about their style of writing, the importance of humor and how the film came about.

Your association with Raj & DK happened with their first full-length feature film, Flavours. Tell us about the association. Was cinema an avenue that you were consciously exploring?

I used to be a movie editor with I was researching a story on Indian American filmmakers; it was a time when they were blooming came across this short feature called Raj & DK were the directors and I went on to do a piece on them. We got talking and one thing led to another. At that time they were ready with the first draft of Flavours and asked me to take a look at it. It began from there and I ended up executive producing that film. I got involved with the script, the music, even wrote some lyrics, and handled the entire post-production of the film from India. By then we were friends and they are more my friends now than professional colleagues. It was a natural progression. I was juggling my career as a media person and movies for a long time. I finally gave up my job in 2011 and made a full time jump into films.

Cinema was never on the agenda. Even when I was writing with them, for the longest time I thought it was a hobby. I did take it seriously but I was just juggling two balls. But slowly when you get into the process of filmmaking you realize that it is very addictive, very heady.

What makes you’ll click as a team?

I think that mainly stems from the fact that we have been friends for so long that I know where they are coming from, what they want and it just becomes that much more easier to write with them. Most ideas are always discussed. For example, right now I am writing a couple of scripts for somebody else, but it’s so natural for me to discuss everything with them, they are my bouncing board. It’s the same for them too. People write in to them and are approaching them to direct their films, so they too run those ideas past me.

How would you describe your style of writing?

I usually tend to take 50 words when 20 are enough. DK is the one who brings it down and Raj, because he is a quirky person by nature, loves to egg me on and tells me to keep writing. Raj is overflowing with ideas. DK is the sane voice in the entire scene; he has an instinctive sense of screenplay and formatting, the progression of the story and so on. I have lots of ideas. Most of them get tossed but some do get taken and then they get made (laughs).

Humor plays a key role in your stories. Does it flow naturally into your writing? 

This too stems from the fact that Raj and DK as people are extremely humorous. When they talk to each other and with other people, humor is always part and parcel of their conversation. I’ve learnt a lot of that being with them. My humor is wry, I use sarcasm very often as humor but Raj & DK are genuinely ‘funny’ funny. And that’s what they like to see in their scripts. Even in Shor in the City, which is a gritty film, there are a lot of little things with lighthearted humor. They like to see humor in everyday life.

Sita Menon with Raj, Krishna DK

With Krishna DK and Raj Nidimoru

Where do you draw inspiration from for your films?

Just watching films is inspiring enough. But watching real life people is the number one inspiration. For example Shor… was culled from a bunch of newspaper stories that we put together and fictionalized. Most of the people in our films are inspired from people whom one of us has known or met in real life, so the characters have their characteristics, their mannerisms.

Saif has said that Happy Ending is like a spoof on romantic comedies. Is it really? How did the idea of this film take birth?

We like to experiment with different genres. A rom-com or romance is the toughest for any of us to write. But people connect with rom coms. So we took it up as a challenge. But we couldn’t do just a simple rom-com and had to add our own twist. So we made it an anti-romantic comedy, like a spoof. It was almost five years ago when we first came up with this concept. Nothing consciously held on, it’s just that at certain points in life people prefer certain ideas. In fact Happy Ending wasn’t even narrated to a lot of people at that time, because it was just a small treatment, not a script. It was towards the end of the making of Go Goa Gone that we were talking to Saif about Happy Ending and he jumped on to it. That’s how it got going. The actual head banging work started after Saif had already liked the idea.

Has it been treated as a spoof?

We have these certain elements – boy girl meet, boy girl fight, circumstances keep them apart, an item song, a love song – that are standard of a romantic comedy. So we used these elements in the film to showcase that the story is progressing this way. It’s about this writer, who wrote a book, a crime thriller, which was a bestseller around 6 years ago and he is living off the royalty since then. Now he’s completely broke and his publisher, who is also his friend, says that he has an assignment for him and the assignment happens to be writing a Bollywood script for a has-been actor. And that means a romantic story with drama, action, love and so on. That completely stumps our hero as it is completely out of his reach. So it has a little bit of us as well in him. He doesn’t know how to write romance but gives it a shot and in the process meets the heroine and realizes that his life is unfolding like a romantic comedy itself.

One of the first drafts that we wrote actually had a sequence where he meets the heroine and she will be under this pool of lights with her hair flying and stuff like that. That’s not there now. But quite circumstantially there is a fan there and she happens to walk into a spot of sunlight. So that’s how it is, making fun of those typical things.

What were the pressure points while writing Happy Ending?

I think with this script, we had to create a balance and not go overboard or it would become cheesy. When you write something like this, very often, you end up ridiculing. I guess when you find something really tough it’s easier to laugh it off. We had to check ourselves every time to ensure that we were going the right way. Once you see the film you’ll know that the relationship between the heroine and hero and the way it flows was one of the biggest challenges. It is good to say that it’s a spoof on romantic comedies but it has to be a good story and they have to eventually fall in love too.

Happy Ending

You’ve written the dialogues of all the previous films. Why not Happy Ending?

Though I’ve been born and raised in Mumbai, Hindi doesn’t flow that naturally for me. It was good to do Goa Goa Gone, or Shor in the City, since Shor… had a lot of Bombay in it and that was easy. But I felt that this story needed an edge, needed actual play with Hindi which needed a professional and that’s when Hussain (Dalal) came in. Normally I do 2-3 drafts of Hindi and then we give it to a Hindi dialogue writer and then I comeback and work on it. But this time we gave it completely to him. And Hussain brings his own creative inputs to the script.

Does writing your story drafts in English pose a difficulty? Has the practice of writing in Hindi diminished in Bollywood?

We think in English and we can’t get that out of the system. The English expression doesn’t lend itself very easily to Hindi. For example, one word in English will take more words in Hindi. And there are some expressions that have nothing similar in Hindi. That has been the most challenging part of writing in English. But I still do one draft in Hindi before it goes out.

It is just people like us who think and write in English. But there are so many people who are basically Hindi writers. It’s definitely not diminishing. We are a small part of this whole gamut of the industry.

Were you present for the shoot as well? Was there any improvisation on sets?

I’ve always been on the sets of all our films and creatively partnered on the projects. But with this project it so happened that I went on to co-produce a film in the south and that clashed with the shooting dates of Happy Ending.

On the spot improvisations do happen especially when you have good actors. Govinda did a lot of improvisation while shooting. Saif himself does quite a bit, and brings a lot to the table. Even Kunal (Khemu) is a very spontaneous actor.

After the success of Go Goa Gone, what can the audiences expect from Happy Ending?

Audiences can expect a really good time from Happy Ending. It is not fair to say that leave your brain behind because we aren’t the kind. I don’t mean it in a bad way. There is a lot of thought that we put into what we write. We like to make you think and laugh too. And you’ll laugh. There’s lovely music in the film and has come out really well in the picturization too. And it’s a good love story.

Would we see you donning the director’s hat as well? Please tell us about your future projects?

Yes it is on the cards. I’m working on a few short films. I know very closely what being a director really entails and it’s just so crazy. So I’m gearing up to get down and dirty.

In terms of upcoming projects, there’s Farzi with Raj and DK, starring Shahid Kapoor, which is set to go on the floors. These are stories that we had written a while ago and are all kind of falling into place now. There are two other big ones that you’ll have to wait for.