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Interview/Kamlesh Pandey, writer/Rang De Basanti
Rang de Basanti has taken the country by storm. And, as is always the case, the media spotlight has fallen on the stars, the director, the lyricist and the music composer and almost none on the writer of the story: Kamlesh Pandey.
Pandey is a veteran screenplay writer, having penned such hits as Tezaab, Dil, Saudagar, Khalnayak and Jalwa. At his tastefully furnished flat at Andheri, the silver-haired writer seemed resigned to the low status of writers in Bollywood. But he did not mince words about the situation.
Excerpts from the interview:
Are you surprised at the stupendous response to Rang De Basanti?
I am surprised because it has gone beyond all our expectations. When I narrated the story to director Rakeysh Mehra in 2001, he said the script was brilliant and original but you have seen what kind of films are succeeding at the box office: the designer films and the candyfloss films shot in Switzerland by big production houses. Who is going to watch Rang De Basanti? So I said, ‘Rakeysh, if and when this film sees the light of day and if just one boy or girl comes up and shakes my hand, our efforts will be worthwhile.’
Did that happen?
Yes. I was invited to a convocation a few days ago, at National College in Bandra. I am not a celebrity, I am just a poor writer and I did not expect to be recognised. But this student volunteer, who was at the gate, shook my hand and said, “Sir, thank you for giving us Rang De Basanti”. That, for me, was the ultimate reward.
Can you analyse why it has made such an impact?
I am a citizen of this country, and the concerns of common people are also my concerns. I have the same issues regarding politicians and bureaucrats and the powers-that-be. I am concerned about my country. The idea was simple: if Bhagat Singh had been alive today, what would he have done? I was trying to bring Bhagat Singh into our period to wake up the young generation.
Are they sleeping?
See, everything is fine. They are enjoying their lives: MMS, SMS, anti-dandruff shampoos, girlfriends, cell phones and international brands. I am not against all that. But, please open your eyes. Thirty per cent of the MLAs and MPs are history-sheeters. Tomorrow, they will be fifty per cent. They are making the laws of our land, my dear friend, which you and I will be obliged to follow. What will happen then? Are you blind? The government, the politicians, the bureaucrats and the businessmen, they all want to keep the status quo, so that they can exploit us as much as they can.
Let me give you one more insight: The youth in India were never allowed to be young. That is why there was this system of child marriages. Before a boy could become a young man, he was married, he was the father of two kids, so how can he be a rebel? All ancient cultures become very cunning and it was a clever device to maintain the status quo, so that exploiters can have a free hand. Conformity went into our DNA. The Indian youth surrendered itself to the monolith of the family, the corporation and the society. They were never allowed to have a free mind or ask uncomfortable questions. It was only during the freedom struggle, that, somehow, the spirit surfaced through Bhagat Singh and his friends.
Would you agree that, without a good story, a film is nothing. The story is the bedrock.
The writer is the first star of a film. And it is not me who is saying this. Steven Spielberg said this. If writers don’t write, Hollywood will not have a job. Alfred Hitchcock said, ‘I need only three things to make a good film: Script, script and script’. In Bollywood, they don’t understand this. Producers would rather wait outside a star’s bungalow, begging like a dog, to get a commitment. They will not come to me and say, “Kamleshji, do you have a great script?” That is how the system works. And that is why 95 per cent of the films flop in Bollywood. We claim to be the largest filmmaking country in the world and we make crap. This happens because you do not give the writer what he deserves.
Any new writers coming up? Somebody whose talent you are excited about?
No. In the entire industry, there are not more than six genuine writers, who know their job. And I am being optimistic here. We do not have a single institute or a workshop or any place where you can learn scriptwriting. I learned on the job. I learned by my mistakes and from my seniors. In America, every university has a film course. Every city has hundreds of screenplay workshops. Every year, America produces around 10,000 fresh writers to feed the industry. How many do we produce? Nothing. Zero. Most people, who come to Bollywood to become actors or directors and could not get a job, they become writers. Because, in our industry, they believe anybody can be a writer.
Which way is Bollywood going?
However, despite what I have said, the future is incredibly great. An American organisation has found out that, by 2025, Bollywood movies will have the biggest audience in the world. India has never invaded any country, but now we are starting an invasion through music and dance and the stories we have to tell. The world is waiting for us.