‘One has to know the characters inside out’
During the Vijay Tendulkar Memorial Lecture held at the 17th Pune International Film Festival, noted screenplay writer Kamlesh Pandey highlighted the importance of script writing in films and more
Vijay Tendulkar always looked for stories that others seemed to overlook,” said Kamlesh Pandey, noted screenplay writer and chairman of Film Screenwriters Association, at PIFF Forum last week. The lecture was moderated by Dr Jabbar Patel, chairman and director, PIFF and Prof Samar Nakhate.
When Patel asked Pandey to discuss the genius that Tendulkar was, Pandey said that he was lucky enough to grow up watching Tendulkar who is best known for his plays Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe, Ghashiram Kotwal, and Sakharam Binder. “Tendulkar was always searching for the truths that were dark and not always beautiful or comfortable to reveal. His eyes would look in various directions. He would stop and look at a beggar with her baby and he would say that the woman is a story for him because it is beautiful to see how a woman, who is going about doing her business, is also nurturing a child on the street. He would develop the visual into a story in his mind,” reminisced Pandey.
Tendulkar ripped off our bandages, delved deep into our inconveniences and showed us those wounds (hypocrisy, social discrimination, injustice, rituals) etc. “He was trying to figure out why did those wounds exist in the first place. He taught us that as a writer, we have the moral responsibility that the truth is told which may heal so many wounds,” he added.
Starting his career as copywriter, Pandey who was offered to write the screenplay of Ankahee by Amol Palekar, is well-known for writing films like Jalwa, Tezaab, Jazbaa, ChaalBaaz, Dil, Saudagar, Khalnayak, Bhagyawan, Jaan, Wajood, Laawaris, Rang De Basanti, Aks, Jazbaa and so on. He says that the soul of a film is its script and as a writer he never learnt to confine himself. He said, “I haven’t differentiated between a commercial cinema and artistic or parallel cinema. The only quality that I have had as a writer is that I never had any boundaries, either in my writing or otherwise. At that point in time, the parallel cinema was growing and I treated everything as food and material. As writers, you can’t restrict yourself to any one kind of cinema— you have to taste and be exposed to everything.”
When Nakhate asked Pandey about the significance of script in a film, he said, “For me, the writer is the first star of the film. Before the writer, a film is a blank piece of paper.”
Pandey narrated how difficult it was for him to convince producers to believe in the script of Rang De Basanti which went on to become a cult film. Talking about how the film was conceived, the writer recalled that the idea came from a letter that Bhagat Singh had written to his father in jail. “The letter that read ‘Independence doesn’t mean white exploiters are replaced with black exploiters’ shook me completely and I wanted to make a film on it. But the challenge was how do I bring Bhagat Singh and his friends in young India (1997). So we thought of introducing a foreigner who wanted to make a documentary on Bhagat Singh. When she meets these young boys who are completely indifferent to what patriotism is, suddenly while rehearsing the scenes, they turn patriotic,” he added.
As for developing his characters, Pandey said that he writes the biography of every character, even the most insignificant ones, before s/he enters the script. “One has to know the characters inside out— their psyche, fear, anger, aspirations, what they wear and how much money they have in their wallet.
They have to be real so that they start to communicate and talk back to the writer,” Pandey quipped.
He expressed his disappointment with the present day films which have unnecessary use of songs in the script. “We can’t tell stories without songs in them, but one has to know how to use them intelligently. Sometimes songs are forcefully put in a film, but for me songs are like a scene in the film and a part of the storytelling. Often, a character expresses his or her feelings, inner conflict, angst etc through songs which may be otherwise difficult. Songs can’t be just used as entertainment. Hindi songs have given a voice to people to express their emotions in real life too,” he concluded. Pandey is currently working on a story focussing on farmers’ suicide.