Role of a Screenwriter in Film Making

To take either a pre-written story, or even a native story idea, and translate it into an effective screenplay is the primary role of a Screenwriter in the Film industry. Having said that, there is much more to this process than meets the eye. It is not as straightforward as writing a normal story, for the simple reason that the communication is audio-visual, and not literary.

There are some very important aspects that need to be carefully observed. Some of these aspects may be generic to good story-writing such as character development, believable characters, story and engaging plot points, regardless of the story-telling medium.

But besides these elements, there are aspects specific to Film medium that need to be kept in mind. Things such as minimal dialogues, visually communicating a certain emotion, a sound sense of the visual medium itself, are vital elements in the screenwriter’s repertoire.

And therefore, a Screenwriter’s role in the overall Film-making process is absolutely vital. Because it is in the screenplay that the Film is first born. And once the screenplay is ready, it is the single most important document that forms the basis on which everyone else (the Director, Actors etc.) builds the Film.

This extremely sensitive and complex function can only be executed by someone who is creative, has a complete understanding of the Film-making process and whose sense of aesthetic is firmly placed in the visual medium. It is a discipline that can be self-taught. But it could take years before one learns the skill set effectively and gets a real opportunity to write a screenplay that is Produced and made into a Film. In essence, how to plant a story from the germ of an idea, or a piece of news, to capture the audience in a total way is a skill that can be learnt from mentors, and practice sessions.

The best solution to all aspiring Film writers is to train themselves thoroughly in the best manner possible. India too has a world-class Film school where creative young minds, who have a burning desire to make it in Films, can learn & receive a superb education. Digital Academy – The Film School is the ideal place to take a Screenwriter’s program and hone one’s writing skills. Not only will there be an opportunity to learn all the nuances of effective Film-writing from leading industry writers, but also a chance of subsequently working in the industry and making Films on the stories you write.

Script is the first part of your Films’ success and by enrolling for a program at DA and see where the world of writing can really take you.

The Life and Times of Anand Bakshi

Digital Academy – The Film School recently organized an interactive session to discuss the Life and Times of the late Anand Bakshi , one of India’s greatest lyricists where his son Rakesh Bakshi and the noted historian and lyricst Vijay “Akela” gave the students insights on Anand Bakshi’s life.

Anand Bakshi achieved fame with the song from Brij Mohan’s film titled, ‘Bhala Aadmi’, 1958. He became a star in 1965 (Jab Jab Phool Khile) and went on to work as a lyricist of over 3500 songs and 650 films in the course of his life. His hits touched the cords of the masses – right from ‘Sawan Ka Mahina’ (Milan – 1968) to ‘Taal Se Taal Mila’ (Taal – 2000). Some of his other noted work in the later part of his career included songs of ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’, ‘Dil Toh Pagal Hai’ & ‘Pardes’.

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Vijay ‘Akela’ who’s written a book on Anand ji, called ‘Main Shayar Badnam’ comprising 151 greatest lyrics of Anand Bakshi, spent a long time with the great lyricist and got to know him very closely. He and Rakesh Bakshi shared many interesting incidents from Anandji’s life. He said that once Anandji sat with a Producer to narrate the lyrics but before starting he asked the Producer to make the Actor wear a hat and only then did he start the narration. Once the Actor did that, Anandji started narrating the firstt stanza, “Tirchi Topiwale”. Anandji used to insist on listening to the whole story, because he used to make lyrics out of common everyday situations. Many times it so happened that Producers used to like Anandji’s creation to such an extent, that they would create situations and modify their movies especially to accommodate his songs.

Rakesh Bakshi nostalgically narrated “When Anandji used to write, he used to whistle. That whistle used to be the tune that he’d prepare in his mind for the song that he was writing,” Another incident that he shared was that during the India-Pakistan partition, Anand Bakshi had to flee Pakistan overnight and come to India. The only thing he brought with him was his mother’s photograph. Looking at that, his father got angry and asked him, why he didn’t carry any clothes, food or money. Anandji replied, “We can earn money, gather food, buy clothes, but from where will we get mother’s last photograph, once lost?” Anandji used to miss his mother and motherland when he moved to Mumbai, which is why he wrote a number of songs about his mother and his native land.

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Vijay Akela perfectly captured the extent of Anandji’s great work spanning generations in the following lines: “Anandji wrote songs for Rajesh Khanna, his wife Dimple Khanna, his daughter Twinkle Khanna, his son-in-law Akshay Kumar. He wrote songs for Raj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Randhir Kapoor, he even wrote songs for Raj Kapoor’s grand daughter Kareena Kapoor for the movie Yaadein.”

Rakesh once asked his father as to when he realized for the first time that he had made it big. To this, Anandji replied, “I was once travelling by train. The train stopped in the middle of the night at some small town. I looked out of the window and it was pitch dark. In that darkness, I saw a beggar singing a song and begging for alms. He came close to me and I realized he is singing a song that’s written by me. When I heard my song being sung by a beggar who doesn’t even own a radio, in a village that doesn’t even have electricity, I realized my songs are now famous. The beggar didn’t know me, but he knew my songs.”

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Anandji’s brilliance doesn’t lie in what we say or think about him, but in his words, his lyrics and his songs which speak for his genius . Such is the greatness of this man, that even after his passing away, his words will always be with us in our hearts and on our lips, for generations to come.

Return of the Studio System in Indian Cinemas?

Indian cinema started as an individual’s passion and slowly turned into a segment of family entrepreneurship. People like Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatwadekar, who took up the helms of Indian Documentary Production in the 1890s, Hiralal Sen in Calcutta and Dadasaheb Phalke in Kolhapur, who experimented a lot in theatre recording and mythico-social fiction Films, were Film makers who used their family, friends and servants as crew and Actors. In a way, the initial years of Indian Film making was modeled on the Hindu joint family structure and not as a capital venture.

As the idea of the talkie slowly crept in, during the 1930s, a need for conglomeration was felt. The model of America was available as reference – the capitalist model of assembly system for manufacture. At that time, India was going through an unpredictable economic change. On one hand, the rural self-sufficient economy had broken down and on the other hand, Gandhi’s call for self-promotion in the form of indigenous industries and products had led to the emergence of a pro-active and intelligent business class striving for a free India.

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Film industry, at the hands of Phalke and his followers, was at best a flourishing cottage industry without the promise of a continuous return. Film makers such as Ardeshir Irani and Chunilal Munim tried to get a bank loan for their projects. But as a completely unorganized industry, Cinema posed a big risk for prospective investors. Also, the whole idea of Film making, especially by Indians, was unacceptable to the conservative British. As an upstart art-form, Cinema wasn’t held in high-esteem by the elite British. With Gujarati and Parsee banias as financiers of the Films, and technicians as well as Actors coming from the lower classes, cinema was ill-reputed from the start.

With the advent of sound, similar problems were addressed in the United States. Five major and the three minor studios started controlling production, distribution and exhibition of their movies. At no point was the control of the Film out of their hands. Any uncertainty of selling the Film and showing it to a full-scale audience could be ruled out. Screenwriters, Directors, Cinematographers, Editors, Music Composers and especially the actors became members of the studio’s paid staff.

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A similar need to connect the Film industry to modern capital was strongly felt in Bombay and Calcutta. Studio system, as a fool-proof company structure stepped in to remedy the bank’s lack of support and the problem of under-capitalization in the industry. In a way, that gave a certain legitimacy to the not-so-elite essence of Cinema in India.

As a result , state-of-the-art equipments could be purchased and used. Also, technical experiments and innovations as well as experiments in ideas were encouraged. Playback system started in a studio in Calcutta called New Theatres, much before it started in Hollywood. Different colour processes, like Technicolor and Metrocolor, were tried out. New innovations from Hollywood were incorporated in Indian studios. And then the first stars appeared.

The first trio of stars from Indian cinema, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand, were products of the studio system to start with. However, as their careers progressed and a major chunk of the audience started equating the stars with their Films, studio system led to an era of stars. This was due to the intake of large venture capital in the form of black money. Quite a few newcomers entered the industry as financiers/Producers. But they were interested in making a portion of their money legal and not in a sustainable growth of the industry through a disciplined, charted out process as taken by studio owners.

Under pressure, major studios like New Theatres, Vassan Studios (later Gemini Pictures), Bombay Talkies, Prabhat, Ranjit Movietones and a bunch of others either closed down or changed their operation from movie production to another niche.

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It was at this time when the Indian government stepped in to support Film Production, distribution and exhibition through organizations like Films Division, NFDC, PSBT and other similar bodies in the 1950s. However, there used to be a pro-State propagandist stance in the Films produced and exhibited by the government. Cinema being the biggest machinery for hegemony in the post-independence years, only certain expressions of mind were allowed.

Mainstream cinema of 60s and 70s, specially the Angry Young Man Films, were silently supported by the government program of integration and subordination. In the 80s, the theme of corruption, anger, inequality, underworld and romance continued. Indian cinema was not genre based then. Terms such as masala movies were coined keeping this phenomenon in mind.

Indian cinema became too parochial in this period. Bollywood became the other name of Indian Cinema, flanked by the alternate, art-house Indian new wave Films, most of which weren’t properly distributed or exhibited outside Film festivals and failed to pull a crowd. There was almost no variation in the mainstream themes. Even though both non-mainstream and parallel cinemas had really interesting stories to offer, their presentation was mostly off-the-mark and boring for the uninitiated audience.

In the post-2000 scenario, with easy access to movies with better sound and picture quality which could be watched at home, old theatres started dying. But interesting changes were occurring in the Indian retail marketplace. Shopping malls began sprouting up in every major city in India. They offered a panoply of choices under a single roof and a cozy tour across designed spaces in the weekend. These malls became meeting joints and the hub for all activities for the youth. They were the new public squares where all kinds of enjoyment and socialization was possible.

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As the way to incorporate foreign venture capitals in Indian industries, American and European companies started coming to India for collaborations in the entertainment business. Companies like Reliance, Mahindra and Mahindra and UTV started operating in a structured way, reminiscent of studios in the 30s. As Bollywood became a burgeoning brand, owing to the large expat groups in the Western world, many production-distribution companies like Pathé, Channel 4, Warner Bros, Disney and Fortissimo Films started showing interest in collaborating with Indian entertainment companies. It was unimaginable, even in 2000, that every week a host of Bollywood Films could be commercially shown in theatres across Germany, Netherlands, France, America and UK.

So how do these corporates differ from the previous single Producer system in approach? The answer is simple – neatness of activities and a proper business orientation with domain knowledge. During the star system, Films were produced by short-sighted businessmen who wanted a quick profit in exchange for their unaccounted money. Staleness of thought and repetition of themes crept in easily. New corporate Film houses changed this habit. Habits of financial transparencies changed. But more noticeable was the changes in stories and the way the movies were shot. It was impossible to imagine something like Ishqiya, Band Baaja Baaraat or Delhi Belly a few years back.

As new players took over during the period of globalization, models for sustainable growth were chalked out. The new corporate structures are based on modern American Film studios. In a way, this is the second coming of the old studio system with the difference that, barring a few exceptions, the companies aren’t family bound. The studio system in India was like a feudal structure while the new corporate model is capitalistic. With fresh talent from Film schools joining these companies the current picture looks more pro-youth.

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However, like anything that’s new, the corporate structure has some problems too. Some companies are under the impression that entertainment can be run just like any other business and they tend to undermine creativity. Creativity can be controlled but can never be methodical. That would be similar to controlling the human psyche in a flowcharted manner. Mystery and beauty lies in this randomness. The old studios understood this and gave birth to some of the most beautiful works from Indian Cinema. The star system of the 50s made fixed patterns stronger with the help of stars. People used to come to the theatre to get entertained, even though they already knew the story. That was pleasure for an audience that had a limited choice for entertainment.

However, the Indian audience of the new millennium is smarter. They are consumers with a variety of choices. With the advent of so many TV channels, websites and social networking sites, it is very difficult to keep the audience glued to the big screen. So an organized market research, market segmentation, vertical and horizontal combinations in the market are mandatory to survive today. With companies like Big Pictures creating theatre chains across India and in US, the return of the studio system in the new guise of the corporate has arrived. It is for the new generation of Film lovers, like us, to see if it sustains. 

What happened to the Villains?

Stars should be dead, leaving the world lightless and pointless in the 21st Century, according to stardom theorist Richard Dyer. However, in Bollywood, we are experiencing a phenomenon of a different kind. The villains are dying.

Gone are the days when cinema was larger than life, shocking the audience at every turn by the larger than life villain, be it a comic book Mogambo in Mr. India (1987), a rough edged Gabbar Sing in Sholay (1975) or a psychopath Gokul Pandit in Dushman (1998). The bad men in post-2000 Bollywood are vanishing out from the silver screen. The question is, why is this happening?

If we think, the slow erasure of stardom and the death of the villain are connected. The audience is composed of common working people from all stratas of the society. Whatever the differences between two individuals may be, the common man is always driven by a typical quest regarding existence. He wants to know how anything in society is made, how making is organized and understood, and what their own relation to making is.

The complex ways in which we make an explanation of the world around us involves the ways in which we separate ourselves into public and private persons, into producer and consumer. And we always make sense of the world in terms of contrasts and differences. We cannot realize the good unless we know the bad. So, good and bad define one another for us. Which one is accepted as morally or legally good and which one bad depends on the nature of our society, our position in the power hierarchy and our education.

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Dividing all choices into black and white is known as binary opposition to social theorists and practitioners. This works fine when the society is going through a troubled or a developing phase, when the logic of we and they is functional, when the enemy is defined and is at sight. For Hollywood, the enemy was the erstwhile USSR, during the cold war.

In India, the enemy was rarely named. But he was there, both inside the border and outside. In the days of nation building, after Independence, the enemies were shown in general categories, like the black marketer, the gambler, the conning middleman or the usurper in the city and the land-owning zamindar in the village. The gullible hero of the ‘50s Bollywood, Raj (as he was known in many of his films), in Raj Kapoor’s movies, who is from the village and comes to the city, is shocked at its corruption. City bred marginal heroes, played by Dev Anand, knows corruption like the back of his hand (eg, Kala Bazaar, 1960) and even the tragic hero played by Dilip Kumar; all of them were defined sharply in contrast with dark opposing characters. By being a counter-force to the enemy of the common man, the hero was recognized by the mass of viewers who thronged cinema halls after a murky day of work and survival.

Villains were needed to implant dreams in the spectator. The dreams were the goals, the hero was the active virtual agent through which the spectator would reach the goals and the villain was the necessary barrier, who blocked the hero from reaching the goal. The pattern was epic in structure, as the ultimate goal was always connected to nation building in the post-independence era. The Indian mind accepted it and related it to real life sentiments.

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The situation changed in late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The neighbouring enemy was specifically named after wars with China and Pakistan. Also, the inside enemy was spotted and shown more precisely before and during emergency period. However, the villain became more of a personal, than a social villain, during emergency and since. During the Angry Young Man’s rule in Bollywood, be it Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna or another less successful actor, the villains were much more flesh and blood and less metaphoric. Those films were driven by a spirit of family vengeance. With rising figures in unemployment, uncertainty at work and a nation caught up in unstable politics (Congress was successfully challenged and thrown out of power for the first time after independence in 1977), more personal stories were required for the dreams on the silver screen.

Even after Congress came back in 1980, the scenario remained more or less the same, until it changed for a return of the lovers in the later half of the ‘80s. The villain was still a personal one. But he was not only a professional bad man like those played by Ajit, Prem Chopra or Amjad Khan, but someone like Gulshan Grover or Shakti Kapoor, who is also interested in the heroine. Facing these villians was less vengeance and more of a challenge. A good example of such a villain is Shekhar Malhotra (Deepak Tijori) in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992). However, the old traits did not vanish. The cinema villain matured.

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Two new types of villains appeared in Hindi Cinema at the turn of the decade. The first was the cold blooded villain played by Nana Patekar as Anna Seth (Parinda, 1989); the other was the two-faced hero of Baazigar (1993), Shahrukh Khan. While the first type got worked, reworked and mixed with the second one in films like Krantiveer (1994) or Satya (1998), to become a stereotype in the end, and to gradually evaporate, the second one slowly became the norm.

Today’s films are less of an epic and closer to reality. Today’s youth knows how a society runs. Moral values have changed with a feel good economy, after India opened a large section of its market to the world. The concept of black and white villains and heroes are dated. In today’s list of coterie movies, the ambivalence is more prominent. The Badmaash Company (2010) hero Karan (Shahid Kapoor) or Delhi Belly’s (2011) hero Tashi (Imran Khan) could not be considered good even by the standard of ‘90s in Bollywood. They are considered normal. Cheat the cheaters is their motto.

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When the whole world has become a competition, and the best cheater gets the crown, how can a good hero be pitted against a dark villain? Such villains do not exist anymore, as the heroes have changed themselves. Today’s society does not need such villains because it has dispensed the idea of such heroes. Today’s society lacks a hero, a model figure in the classical sense. Hence, it is only normal that it should lack the contrasting figure of the villain too. Gone are the days when the bloodthirsty Gulshan Grovers romped the screen!

Shine Bright in Tinsel Town

Just like there is no sureshot formula to making a box-office hit, there is none real formula to making it big in the film industry. The path can be, and usually is, unclear, difficult, competitive and unpredictable. At the same time, there are plenty of opportunities, and a place for many. If you have talent and the sheer grit to stick out, stardom may just be yours. Here are a few tips to steer your spectacular journey to tinsel town:


Have clear goals: Decide right at the start what is it that you want. Whether your aim is to direct, to act, to choreograph, to edit, or to script. It takes time to understand the workings of the industry, and hence, it’s best to identify what you want to do, and start early.

Create a niche: Once you decide where your passion lies, move ahead and decide the genre of filmmaking that you would like to be associated with. Some actors or directors make comedy films, while others action, and still others, documentaries.

Build a portfolio: No matter what resources or opportunities are available, start doing what you love, and keep building on it. If you like to act, do college plays, theatre, even home videos. If you wish to direct films, use any camera available, and start filming.

Participate in film festivals/film groups: Every city has film clubs that watch movies and discuss them. And if you are adventurous enough, you can also participate and screen your films in regional, national, or international film festivals.

Take care of all audiences: It is essential as an artist to not get slotted in one kind of role/films. You should not do only low budget films, or stick solely to big budget films. You must strive for a combination, so that you can reach out to all audiences.

Network with people from the trade: Business is about networking – go out there, actively talk to people about yourself and your work. Approach all your ‘filmy’ contacts, and see if anyone can help you in your rise to the top.

  1. Improve your skills: Take up a course for the skills that need working, whether acting, speech delivery, writing, editing, dance, etc. Many film schools and academies offer these courses.
  2. Assist a good director: While you are still waiting for your big break, it is a good idea to get some work experience interning with a good production house, or under a good director.
  3. Watch, read, absorb: Watch as many movies as you can spanning genres and nationalities. Read film trade magazines, and follow industry trends. Moreover, keep absorbing the life around you, as films are nothing but an interpretation of life.
  4. Embrace the media: The media is both a friend and a foe to the film industry, but the sooner you accept and embrace it, the sooner it’ll become your strength. Woo the media, and half your battle to stardom is won.

Saurabh Shukla speaks to students of Mumbai University

Speaking on the topic of ” Careers in Cinema “, Mr Shukla said that to be a Film Maker, one should obviously know the art of Direction but should acquire knowledge of all aspects of Cinema or at least have the working knowledge in areas of Cinematography, Writing, Editing, Acting and Production Design. He recalled his own days as a student in Delhi when he was studying for his M.Com when he was trying to be a ” Nobody ” He said that that was the time when he sensed a certain calling towards theatre and dramatics.He said that he was never formally educated in anything that is part of his profession.Those days, he said, when I look back, I worked very very hard but it was not work….everything that I did gave me a lot of joy…Every morning , after waking up, I felt the eagerness to go to the theatre for rehearsals, I read and analysed a lot of literature..and tried to analyse great works to the best of my ability….but had I been formally trained, I would have gone further and at a much quicker pace.Mr Shukla said ” The greatest thing that formal education gives you is a way, a much richer scientific and methodical path. I never had an opportunity that you people are getting now.

He said that the if a person is talented and works sincerely, he is bound to be successful in the world of Film and television which could not only pay very well, but also give enormous satisfaction and recognition. As a parting note, he said that in the journey that the students were about embark upon, he suggested to make the best use of all that they will get and wished the students all the very best .

Filmmaker of ” Harishchandrachi factory ” (The Factory of Harishchandra) visits Digital Academy – The Film School


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Paresh Mokashi , Writer, Director of the Marathi film ” Harishchandrachi factory ” or ” The factory of Harishchandra’, India’s entry to the Oscars, while on a visit to Digital Academy – The Film School, surprised the students when he said that he had never assisted any Film maker before he started making this film and also revealed that the first time that he ever visited a Film set was for this debut film of his. He had been part of Marathi theatre for a long time as an actor, writer and Director . He said that the greatest two qualities that any Film Maker should have apart from the know how of the technique of Film Making is clarity of mind and stubbornness. He said that most of what he learnt about Film making was by seeing films, many made by the masters of Cinema. He said that he did spend a lot time watching the treasures of world cinema in the National Film Archives in Pune and it is by watching these films that he enhanced his visual sense and knowledge. He said that this is what helped him have clarity of mind as to what he wanted the film to look like and this was most of the battle won. If a Director is confused, then the crew will take over the decision making and ultimately the look of the film will reflect that. Once a director knows what he wants, stubbornness helps in sticking to his decisions.


Speaking about the film’s journey, he said that patience is a necessary quality in this business. He said the the budget of this period film was about 3.5 crores , an unusually high figure for an Indian regional film whose recovery in the box office is very difficult. He said the when he selected his crew, all of them ie the cinematographer, costume designer etc had never done a single film independently before.After the wait for finance of almost three years, he was the only person in the crew who was making his debut…all of the other technicians were experienced by a few films…


Paresh then spoke about research he had to do for a period subject such as this. The film concentrates about a period in the life of Dadasaheb Phalke, the father of Indian cinema, when he made his first film ” Raja ( King) Harishhandra”. The entire story deliberately was chosen not to be a biographic but about the time when Phalke was Directing and producing his first film. It was also given a humorous touch because Mr Phalke, according to many sources did have a good sense of humor. Research was an exciting part of the process because not only the city and costumes looked different, also the sound of the rickshaws operating then had to be sourced and or produced to get as close as possible to the original.

Speaking on the Oscars, he said that I am not surprised the my film did not make it to the final list of the Oscars as the final five were much better than my own film.He was happy to inform that the next film revolves around an archaeological treasure hunt and is linked to the journey of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata .

The students were very enlightened by the visit of Mr Mokashi and after being given a tour of the Film School, Mr Mokashi was delighted with the facilities of the school, its vision and objectives of creating visionary Film makers of tomorrow.

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