Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Getting the script right

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from Hindustan Times

Scriptwriter Jaideep Sahni is basking in the unexpected success of Khosla Ka Ghosla

Shevlin Sebastian

One day, a few years ago, scriptwriter Jaideep Sahni, 35, went on a reconnaissance trip to Australia with director Ram Gopal Varma. They were looking for foreign locations for the underworld film, Company and landed at the Queensland branch of the Australian Film Commission. When the duo mentioned they were looking for locations for a Hindi film, the lady there got very excited. She said she knew of a bridge, where hundreds of the dancers could stand. For fights, she had another location. She promised she would get all the extras that would be needed and rattled off the names of A, B, C and D grade hotels for the unit. “We told her we make those movies, too, but this is not that type of movie,” says Sahni. “She kept saying ‘Bollywood, Bollywood’ and I kept saying, ‘Hindi films, Hindi films.’ She thought we were some jokers who did not know what we were doing. In the end, she was so disappointed with us.”
Sahni laughs when he recalls this incident, as he munches on a burger at a fast-food outlet in Bandra at 9.30 pm. A bespectacled man, with an intense way of speaking, he has a glow on his face, thanks to the unexpected success of Khosla Ka Ghosla. Sahni has written the story, screenplay, dialogues, the lyrics, and has been the creative producer.

The Khosla success story
It is the story of a middle class family in Delhi. The head of the household invests in a plot of land, which is taken away by a land shark. The family tries desperately to get it back and when that fails, they concoct a plan to outwit the hoodlum.
It has, Sahni admits, some autobiographical overtones. When he was in Class ten, his uncle and aunt had invested in a plot of land in Delhi with their life’s savings, but a member of the Mafia captured the land. “After that, for the next few months, they tried everything to get the land back,” says Sahni. Like in the movie, they went to the local politician, the courts and the police, but nothing happened. In the end, after months of harassment, they were forced to sell it to the Mafia at a pittance.
Interestingly, his uncle and aunt went to see the movie and Sahni was nervous about their reaction. Would they get upset or disturbed or, maybe, end up crying? “Instead, they felt poignant and laughed a lot,” he says.
The movie clearly has struck a chord among viewers and trade circles are now calling it a runaway hit. “The movie has entered the fifth week and the number of shows have gone up,” says a delighted Savitaraj Hiremath, the CEO of Tandav Films Entertainment, which produced the movie. Says director Madhur Bhandarkar: “The screenplay was very tight, with one scene flowing into another and it engaged the audience easily. The performance of Anupam Kher and Boman Irani was flawless”
Director Govind Nihalani expressed his admiration for Sahni’s sensibility and “his talent to combine a realistic situation with black humour. He has a bright future.” And David Dhawan feels the only way a small budget film like Khosla could do well is because the script is good.

And this is not the first success for this talented scriptwriter. After a so-so success with Jungle, he wrote the well-received Company and Bunty aur Babli, which was a huge hit. It is unusual to find somebody who is good at different types of cinema: from a film about the underworld, to two small-town crooks to a middle class milieu in Delhi. “I love working in different genres,” says Sahni, who latest screenplay, Chak De India, is set in the world of sports. “For me, characters are everything. The characters determine the form, the look and the feel. As a writer, I create a world and populate them with people who fascinate me and then one day, directors and cinematographers and actors come in and add their magic, and soon, it is up there on a 70mm screen. It is a great thrill.”
It is a thrill he never imagined would happen to him.

Unusual life
Like the Khoslas, he has had a middle class upbringing in Delhi. His father was a civil servant and his mother a teacher. As a child, he was torn between arts and science. Since he could not do both, he studied computer engineering: ‘It seemed as close to an art form as I could think of’. Later, he worked as an IT consultant, spent a few years in advertising and as a communication consultant, before he drifted off to ad film-making.
One day, he bought several books and one of them was a screenplay of Gandhi by John Briley. He read it and felt that he could do it. At that time, through a friend, he met Ramgopal Varma, who was looking for a new writer. “I told him I have never done a screenplay before but I think I knew how to do one,” says Sahni. “He replied, ‘That’s okay with me.’ The advantage was that Varma is never scared of working with new people. So, I started writing Jungle.”
Apart from screenplays, he has another gift: that of writing lyrics. He has written the songs for Bluffmaster, Company and Salaam Namaste. The lead song for Salaam Namaste was written in a day, in between surfing the Internet and reading the writings of Po Bronson. He has also written a song, Maaeri, for rock group Euphoria, and for Shobha Mudgal. But it is scriptwriting that is currently occupying all his attention.

Writing is R & D
On the oft-repeated charge by producers and directors that there are no good original scripts, Sahni says, “In the film industry, writing is the R&D. Yet, except for some exceptions, do these people allocate time, money and resources to a writer? Is writing important for them? Will they give a writer six or eight months to write a script? In Hollywood, they are given a year or more to write a script. It is not fair to expect writers to be great revolutionaries and go hungry while everybody else is partying at the Marriott.”
The burgers are over and it is near midnight when we step out. As we go past Barista, we see a group of young people sitting around a long table and just for a lark decide to ask them whether they have seen Khosla Ka Ghosla. They have all heard of the film but only one has seen it: Kaushik Shah, 24. “It is a very good movie,” he says, as he shakes Sahni’s hand. Sahni is on a roll and audiences will be hoping Chak De India will be as true to life as Khosla Ka Ghosla.

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