Off-beat type of stories come from such Labs
Mumbai Mantra Media Ltd., the media and entertainment vertical of the Mahindra Group, has selected 10 Indian feature film projects for the first edition of their Mumbai Mantra – CineRise Screenwriting Programme that was held from August 9 -14.
At the inaugural event of the Programme, noted Filmmaker Sriram Raghavan who is one of the mentors spoke to Pandolin about the significance of such initiatives, his expectations from the participants, his approach to filmmaking and more.
Screenwriting labs have suddenly seen a growth in India. What is the potential of these labs in India today?
I remember there’s an old quote from Federico Fellini. He’d come for the Indian Film Festival and roamed around various parts of India. He was so amazed with India that he ended up saying that here he’d make one story every day. I am from South but I’ve lived in Pune and Mumbai all my life. I have no roots in the South. In a lab of such kind, there will be people from different parts of the country who’ll have stories from their areas. If you look at this year’s films be it Court, Masaan and others, they have found an audience and are doing well. So along with the so-called Bollywood films, there’s also these kind of stories. And these off-beat type of stories come from these labs.
How do you plan on guiding and helping the budding talents in this 5-day residential script lab?
We’ve been given all the ten scripts to read. I’ll be making my notes on whatever doesn’t work for me and start questioning it. Think about it like this, when I am writing something, it has taken me four months of isolated writing. But when someone reads it, they’ll like some things, they won’t like some. So we need to be objective on it.
Why did you decide to get associated with this kind of a lab and how is this lab different than Sundance or any other lab in the country?
I’ve already been associated with a lab of Sundance and this model is quite similar to the Sundance model but the reason why I am a part of it is partly selfish! I’ll get some great stories which I might want to do. If you see, a story like Masaan will come from someone who comes from that kind of a background and knows about the place. I’ve never been to Banaras, so I wouldn’t know. If you are in Bombay and writing here, you’ll just write to please. Whereas these stories come from the heart.
Is this lab following a theme?
These stories are all quite varied and they don’t have any one common theme. But I am sure there will be freshness and originality in the basic content. Because we are not looking for a basic Bollywood script.
When you are thinking about a new story, how do you decide on the characters? How do you approach the idea?
When I first started directing Badlapur, the first clichéd idea that came to my mind was seeing a happy family. Twenty minutes into the film, you see the incident happening. So I questioned myself, is it necessary? That’s why we started straight with the robbery. It’s a choice. Different people would do it differently.
Continuing with the same question, once you’ve decided the characters, how do you go about with the casting? Also, how much preference is given to newer talents with no industry connections?
If the story is strong enough and one is convinced, I can definitely risk a newcomer. There are both pros and cons for a newcomer. The biggest con is that if it’s a new face, you won’t get a big budget. Also, how will you attract the crowd to the hall? But the best part is, say for example in Johny Gaddar, we needed a newcomer. Somebody who came without the baggage of whether he’s a hero or a villain. Again in Badlapur, Varun wasn’t as big a star when he’d signed the film. But he was the hero of the film for the audience, so for a hero to become a villain disturbs you.
Sometimes while writing a script you start associating an actor with a role. How do you perceive that?
While writing Badlapur, I had this dark character who was the other guy. I had not met Nawaz then but I’d wanted someone like him. While I was writing it, I called the character Nawaz and because I’d written down his name, I started imagining him in the role. But of course, before I went to him with the script, I changed his name!
Adapted screenplays, which were once a rage, saw a downfall in the 70s. What is your take on adapted screenplays in India today?
Earlier in the 50s and 60s, there was a lot of literature that was made into movies. A lot of filmmakers of that time like Bimal Roy (Devdas, Parineeta etc.) were known for their adapted screenplays. But during the 70s and post that, the trend died. But now there is resurgence thanks to a lot of new writers writing in English. Abroad, why do they make so many movies in a year? For example, when we think about Gone Girl doing so well, it’s because there was a novel available. For me to think of a new story, write it, and then find a producer is a lengthy process. So, I’d rather look for a script that is kind of ready.
What are the major challenges faced while making a movie which has an adapted screenplay?
You have to find the heart of the novel. They are different mediums of expressions. You can describe a scene in a certain way and express the inner emotions of a person, which you can’t do in a script. You cannot unnecessarily have things voice over the script. The story is already there (in a novel). It has a beginning and it has an end, whether you change the order or not is on you. But the story already exists. The craft of trying to shape that into a cinema is the challenge. Every book will have its own challenges. I am adapting ‘The Accidental Apprentice’ by Vikas Swaroop. The novel is a breezy read but I have to make it into a two hour film. So to decide what parts to keep, what parts to leave out, and yet to keep the soul of the novel alive is a challenge.
Adapting international films, which was once unofficially done in India, is now being done officially, with cinemas being adapted and “indianized”. How would you respond to that fad?
There’s nothing wrong with it. And I do get a lot of offers for remakes but honestly I feel the adventure is missing. If the story is really nice, and I really like it, how would I change it? Should I change it just for the heck of it or do the same scenes, the same way? Somebody else has already lived through the adventure so I try to avoid doing such films unless I have a very strong reason to do it.