Go Goa Gone:
In which Raj and DK direct.
In which Saif brings the cool.
In which I write his lines.
(Oh, and did I mention zombies?)
Friends, audiences, countrymen: watch me play the fool.
We trade places this Friday, cinema and I.
The arrangement has long been a simple one. Movies unfold themselves before me, while I sit back — one hand eager to applaud with thigh-slapping glee, the other resting by a freshly sharpened scimitar — and watch, then write. This weekend I do neither, as a film where I am but a celluloid passenger hits screens. I am now in your hands, you turner of pages, you complainer of my words, you disagreeing deity. And it is to your chopping block I offer my throat, ready for garrote, guillotine or gaali.
In Sudhish Kamath’s ridiculously independent film Good Night Good Morning — releasing across the country this Friday — I am, as conceded above, a passenger. (Literally. I sit in a car surrounded by real actors, as one of them talks to a pretty actress.) It is an unconventional and peculiar romance, an all-night phone conversation brought to the audience via black and white visuals mostly split halfway down the middle, and while I have absolutely no idea how good the film is, I suspect the conversation may be quite disconcertingly close to reality. Or at least that’s what incessantly-texted conversations I’m currently having in the off-screen world seem to indicate.
And that, in a nutshell, is the whole problem, and the point of this column: I just don’t know how good it is. I can’t. I’ve watched the film four times over various festival screenings and finally now — with prints scrubbed up digitally and the sound mixed to multiplex standards — it does indeed feel like a ‘real’ film, and yet I, too busy cringing every time I see myself on screen to drum up any objective viewpoint, have no idea how the film actually is. I’m ‘told’ it’s quite good. Occasionally “intense,” even. But you know how critics are.
Which is why I’m asking you to go see it, and then let me have the full earful. (And yes, like I said last week, if you don’t like it halfway through, walk right out. And do tell me you did.) But giving it a shot would be both nice and a personal favour, since I, flummoxed and exasperated by not being able to have an opinion, would really like you to do what I usually do and tell me how terrific or trashy it all is.
Several online haters, infuriated by my less-than-devout attitude toward their favourite superstars, have been hammering this poor little film all over online forums, calling me names and even calling it a knockoff of George Clooney’s fantastic Good Night And Good Luck, merely because both films are black-and-white-and-titled-politely. Sigh. Murder the film by all means, but get it in your sights before you squeeze that trigger, yes?
So impale it or embrace it, high-five me or hang me, all I say is watch the film and smack me between the eyes with your opinion. Because it’s killing me to not have my own.
First published Mumbai Mirror, January 18, 2012.
I call it Bollywood Blues.
There is no clear how-to manual when it comes to screenwriting. Sure, there are books suggesting method and structure — Syd Field had a day like his last name taking those to the bank — but there is no definitive checklist of how to make scriptwriting your day job. Here then is what I can offer: my story, of how I randomly came to be in the position of having my first screen credit appear this week. And what better way to tell this story than in screenplayese?
EXTERIOR, MUMBAI AIRPORT, DAY:
(Super: Five years ago)
Our unshaven long-haired protagonist exits the airport with a tote bag and massive Aviator sunglasses. He is a Delhi boy who believes he needs a dynamic city to shove him out of inertia. Jobless and without even a specific idea of what he wants to do, but armed with an irrelevant Master’s Degree he treads into the sultry city hoping for, um, action.
MUMBAI STRUGGLER MONTAGE:
We see the protagonist go through vagabond-wannabe clichés: sleeping on his aunt’s couch, renting half a garage and living with a corrugated metal wall, working for a tiny advertising agency that doesn’t pay him, lots of bus rides and much super-budget dining. The entire montage is interspersed with several quick-cut shots of local train travails, and our man’s klutzy ineptness at the same.
INTERIOR, REDIFF OFFICE, DAY:
Protagonist is being interviewed by over a dozen people, spread over three days. He says the Formula 1 column he’s been writing for Rediff is something he enjoys the most, so can they use a sportswriter? They take turns hmmming and hawing before asking if he watches movies.
INTERIOR, MOVIE THEATRE, VIVAH PLAYING:
Protagonist yawns and soldiers on with his bad movie watching. We establish how he has become a full-time critic based on a ridiculous, almost-masochistic love for motion pictures, and because there aren’t that many critics around in the first place, he’s become oddly well-known – albeit much criticised across the Internet for lambasting an Aamir Khan or a Hrithik Roshan, as need be. He enjoys watching the Bollywood circus up close and is amused by how seriously the circus itself takes him.
EXTERIOR, COFFEE SHOP FOYER, SUBURBAN MUMBAI:
The protagonist sits across from Sourabh Usha Narang, director of the rather creepy Vaastu Shastra, who is inexplicably convinced — based on reading reviews — that the protagonist should pen screenplays. Our man grins and agrees, and they come up with a thriller called Sunday Morning, set in realtime from 7am to 9am on a Sunday. It is a thriller so clever it obviously gets shelved and hasn’t been heard of since.
THE BOLLYWOOD MONTAGE:
The protagonist has shaved. We see shots of him in movie screenings, in conversations with directors, making friends with the industry and digging how it really isn’t all bad. He’s surprised to discover that the people he admires the most are the most accessible and down-to-earth, and friendships are forged over hedonistic nights. (Note: possible item-song opportunity here)
EXTERIOR, SAME COFFEE SHOP, DAY:
Back with Sourabh Narang around the same table, the protagonist is told that Narang wants to make another horror movie. They sit around a table and spin random ideas, and Narang decides to get him contracted. Men from UTV are met (also at coffee shops) and work begins on a film called K11.
INTERIOR, SEN’S ROOM, NIGHT:
A dramatic internal monologue shot, the words are coming in as a voiceover while we see our character type intensely. We establish that directors and megastars are suddenly taking jabs against him on their blogs, calling him a frustrated wannabe director. He grins at the attention. Later Vishal Bhardwaj asks if he truly wants to direct. Protagonist says he has never wanted to direct, writing is fun. Bhardwaj says if he can do it anybody can. (Ref: Awesomest people are the most down to earth, SCENE 6 reference)
INTERIOR, MUMBAI LIVING ROOM, NIGHT:
Protagonist is learning to play poker. The two men teaching him are Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, a couple of directors who made the decidedly charming Indian-American Flavors. They are working on a fun script called 99, and wonder if our man would like to do dialogue. He gives it a whirl, they sign him on, and before he knows it, the film is shot.
VIDEO CLIP, 99 TRAILER:
99 is a cheeky caper-film set in the year 1999, with a hero who constantly bemoans the ‘almost’ in his life, about how he always falls short of a hundred. Everyone in the film does, really. 99 stars Boman Irani, Kunal Khemu, Cyrus Broacha, Soha Ali Khan and Vinod Khanna, and releases on May 15 — braving the IPL season. Heh. With this script, this gamble feels appropriate. Plus, our man is super-proud to have gotten paid to write in Hindi. (Take that, torturing Hindi teachers from Don Bosco!)
END OF ACT ONE.
It really is a gamble. Right now, it’s an admittedly exciting time with 99 releasing May 15 and K11 slated to start shooting real soon. Having said that, it’s important to realise that the fanciful Barton Desi screenplay above is made up of nothing but highlights. And that I’ve worked on K11 for almost three years before it’s finally inching towards production, while 99 happened with fabulous gusto. So you really got to hang in there, and have faith. You never know which side lightning strikes from. It’s an exciting time in the industry with great filmmakers positively hungry for scripts and ideas, and all you need to connect with people is enthusiasm. So good luck to you all from someone who is very far from having arrived, and do go catch 99. Peace.
Published Yuva magazine, May 1, 2009.
Delhi Destiny, the first music video from 99.
Again, comment your blessed hearts out.
Coming to theatres May 1.
What do y’all think?
It isn’t important enough to mention in the promo, but dialogues are by yours truly.