Script to Screen with Harshavardhan Kulkarni
He may have been an engineering student but was actively involved in writing plays throughout college. Harshavardhan Kulkarni then assisted B.P.Singh, the writer and director of TV series, C.I.D. who was then working on the horror show, Aahat. Post this Harshavardhan joined FTII and wrote a few episodes of Aahat, his first step to screenplay writing. He wrote several stories, the first long one being a 70-minute telefilm called The Chosen One that was directed by Vinil Mathew (Director of Hasee Toh Phasee). His first feature film screenplay, which took a while to take off, is called Hunter and is currently in post production. Hasee Toh Phasee is his first release.
The eloquent screenwriter takes us through the process of script writing and how the script finally culminates into a film.
A step-by-step guide to script writing
First step: Concept.
Essentially there are 2 kinds of films, largely, it could be a plot driven film or a character driven film. It could be a plot that hits you or a character that hits you, like Hasee toh Phasee is essentially a plot driven film – two sisters, one boy and so on. First and foremost, you need to understand the idea/concept that is driving you.
Second step: Character Sketch.
Start creating the characters and make them believable, real and having a life of their own. This is also a huge step towards writing your story as well. It is very essential to crack the characters to the T and this is done by observation. There is a wealth of characters that you have experienced in life, people you have met and so on that can provide inspiration. Many others take inspiration from characters they have seen in films, not by lifting ideas, but characters that talk to them are from the reel world.
Third step: You sit and write.
Switch off from all distractions and focus on writing. The most important thing for me as a writer is to get into that zone. Every individual has to find his/her own comfort zone. The zone is very magical, because once it happens, you start visualising the film, dreaming about it, characters start talking to you. It does happen because you are very focused and then even if you get stuck at something, the answers seem to appear in front of you. You should then go the whole hog and finish the script and that is where your first draft happens.
It is a key part of the writing process. You write one round of dialogs with your screenplay, then sit over it with the director and make changes according to the way in which you want your characters to talk. Sometimes the spoken language suits the story better while at other times the dialogues need to have a punch. In certain cases, if the dialogues are not working for others, you incorporate other dialogue writers.
Fourth step: Taking the script to people.
Once your first draft is done, it goes to the producer, the director comes on board and so on. Once you start interacting with the director you need to start making changes, so that he too connects with the story. There will be disagreements and back and forth but you need to respect the director’s vision and give him time to start living the film. During that process you go through several drafts and finally come to a common page.
Fifth step: Casting.
Once you start casting, you start making alterations because now you know the face who is attached to it. The believability has to go higher so that it merges with the casting that has happened. It is now that you start getting some perspective as to whether the script is working or not, communicating or not and then you start altering it again.
Essential pointers for an aspiring writer
A filmable script: You have to create actions which are going to give you the character sketch. A lot of times when you read screenplays you get the characters superbly but while watching the film several traits don’t come out. People write but at times they don’t understand the film language. When you write, you need to know how you are are going to translate that on the screen.
Commercial Viability: You cannot write something that is commercial and viable by just thinking in that way. Commercial viability comes only when actors act in it. There are two kinds of films, one of which is the entertaining kind of cinema which has a tilt towards viability, viability in terms of having a higher chance of somebody signing on. But don’t always focus on commercial viability, today various kinds of film co-exist, so see what appeals to you and work accordingly.
Favourite scripts from across cinema
All classics are my favourites. All of of Salim-Javed’s films, Guru Dutt’s films, films by Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and many more, belong to great scripts. It is not about successful films, it is about longevity. Any film that has stayed long enough and we still talk about it, they have had great stories. So you need to look at them and see why, what is the reason behind it. Contemporary wise Monsoon Wedding, Satya etc. had fantastic scripts with great characters. Even an Andaaz Apna Apna for that matter. Also Chaplin’s films like The Great Dictator had a fabulous script. You need to see how transitions have been done, scenes have been devised, it is all a learning experience.