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Of story and screenplay


SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Jaipur, January 23, 2012 12:48
Tags : jaipur literature festival | jaipuir literay fest 2012 | bollywood movies | scripts | bollywood screnplays | javed akhtar | gulzar | prasoon joshi |

There are few things that have divided the opinion in the Indian film industry than the divergence in the idea about how a story needs to be told. Not that this discussion is new; in the past too, in almost all the decades, people have kept arguing on its merits, it is in last couple of years that this debate has intensified like never before and has threatened to split the industry through the middle.

This edition of Jaipur Lit Fest saw one of the sessions dedicated exclusively to this debate. While the old-guards were represented by quintessential Javed Akhtar and Gulzar, the young-guns found themselves represented by none other than director-composer Vishal Bharadwaj and lyricist Prasoon Joshi. However, since the lion-share of the stipulated time was given to Akhtar sa’ab and Gulzar, the debate remained a bit skewed.

Javed Akhtar, who is known to stick by puritan interpretation of screenplay and the structure of its deliverance, and is otherwise a liberal on every possible stance, maintained that the Indian style of storytelling, the cyclic nature of it, has sustained the onslaught of time and has proved itself and therefore he does not see any reason why it should be altered. He was specially alarmed by what he called new trends where linear and non-linear approach of Hollywood is being replicated.

Prasoon Joshi was of the belief that since the audience are exposed to western cinema these days that has found acceptance lately, it is only natural that Indian filmmakers are entering into those territories. Akhtar insisted that our style of storytelling has its roots or has been borrowed from our epics and saga such as Mahabharata, Krishna Leela, Nautanki and lately Urdu-Parsi theatre. And that is precisely why we are good in dealing with long stories that run through generations. On the other hand, west has relied mostly on short stories and they treat it better when they mount these stories.

Gulzar interjected to add that unlike many writers in the industry, he has no qualms about short stories and while he has relished and enjoyed long stories and epics better, he likes to adapt shorter ones when it comes to direction. However, he added, that one needs to discover elements to make these stories interesting.

Akhtar also mentioned about the basic difference between the treatment of screenplay and dialogues by Indian and western writers. “After the second world war, many of the talented directors and story writers migrated to the US. These people, while master craftsmen when it came to storytelling, were nonetheless poor in English language. That is where story, screenplay and dialogue got split. They had to hire locals with command over English to deliver while they took command of the narration,” Javed revealed. 

The participants also argued the sustainability of the traditional narration structure of ‘beginning, middle and end’. “Even if you consider the traditional structure, it is essential to treat the ‘end’ with utmost care as that is what makes a film likeable or not. Although some might depart from the traditional structure altogether and take up new challenges,” added Vishal Bharadwaj.

Prasoon seconded the thought and added that Indian cinema narrative has always been about ‘How’ and not ‘what’. “When you are halfway to Sholay, you know something will happen with Gabbar Singh. He won’t be let free. So the ‘what’ part is almost taken care of. What holds the audience enthralled to this day is ‘how’,” he explained.

The argument on the narration has intensified in last few years and there appears to be no common ground for understanding. It would be interesting to see who will wink first in this intense battle of ideas.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017