How To Write Beautiful Scripts

What makes a great film? Of course there have to be great performances from the actors, sound direction from the director, and beautiful cinematography from the cinematographer. But before all of that, and perhaps most importantly, there must be, a great script. So the onus of a great film, with a captivating story, falls on the ingenious and inventive script-writing abilities of the script-writer. So how does one write compelling scripts?

 

  1. Honest, Real Life Stories: Truth is always the most compelling. The plot might be fictitious, but the basic stories that one writes, the characters that one creates, need to be rooted in real life. That’s when people identify and empathize with the characters and with the story

  2. Discipline: On a slightly different note, but equally important, is the discipline of writing. Writing a script is no easy feat. One has to commit to it wholeheartedly, and devise a schedule that one follows religiously. Only disciplined training can yield good writing

  3. Conflicts & Character Arcs: One’s story needs to have a main character. And that main character needs to have a flaw. For example, if there is a father & son story, the flaw of the father might be that he is too hard on his son. But if this flaw remains true until the end, the story becomes much less involving. Instead, if the character evolves, and by the end of the film, realizes that he was too hard on his son and is willing to change; the story becomes a lot more believable, and then the involvement from the audience is rewarded with the change that comes about in that character. No one wants to see one dimensional characters. Change and evolution are imperative to a good script

  4. Pacing: The structural pacing of a script is extremely important as well. Too often, one feels that a film was very gripping until the interval, and then lost its hold – or vice-versa. For this, the script needs to be written with a keen eye for its pacing – by providing plot points and story aspects just the right amount of screen time as they deserve.

  5. Education: And finally, to truly master all the above tips; the best way is to get a great script-writing education. There are too many nuances and facets to script-writing. And by learning the art & science of script writing at a professional school from seasoned writers; will give you an in depth and thorough understanding of how to develop stories, characters, and screenplays

We often feel that we have a story that needs to be told. A story that begs to be made into a film. But to truly turn that idea into a viable and engaging script requires hard work, discipline, creativity, and a number of writing basics. With the right background, it is all possible. So when are you going to tell your story?

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’.

(Image Courtesy: http://bit.ly/vt15K0)

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.

(Image Courtesy: http://bit.ly/uXHYrf)

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.”

(Image Courtesy: http://bit.ly/w1oBVl)

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.

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.

Photo Courtesy: http://bit.ly/qRoz1o

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!

Dominance of a few Rasas in Tamil Cinema

Tamil cinema, from its earliest days of silent films, maintained a ‘Cinema of the Other’ stance in the Indian film scenario. The industry started in 1917, with the silent film Keechaka Badham (The Slaying of Keechaka), Produced and Directed by R Nataraja Mudaliar. He made another film, Draupadi Vastrapaharanam (Unrobing of Draupadi), in the same year. It is significant to note the first two films made in South India concentrated on particular portions of Mahabharata that dealt with the obnoxious, producing an emotion with Bibhatsa rasa in the audience’s mind. However, the ventures met with applause and were financially successful.

In the other two hubs of Indian Film making, Bombay and Calcutta (as they were called then), the stress was on the mythological and sometimes historical, but never so much on the portrayal of the grotesque and the abhorred. Does this point to a particular tendency of Tamil Cinema, and in general to Tamil cultural psyche?

Tamil people, even under the British, were keen to keep their identity separate from the people of the North. And any part of India, northern to Madras in the east, Hyderabad in the Central and Mysore in the Western side, was considered as North India, except some southern portion of Bengal (modern day Orissa) and Southern portions of Konkan and Bombay. During the British period, specially before World War II, modern Tamil Nadu became pro-British and actually helped in motivating Indians to join the War by making propaganda features favouring the rulers. Films like Manasamrakshanam (1944) or Burma Rani (1945), represented a common trend in Tamil film industry those days.

The politics of we and they was always a part of Tamil civilization, that raised its head in a big way immediately after independence. In 1949, the germ of Tamil independence took a bigger form in Periyar Ramsami’s pro-Dravidian (and anti-Aryan) identity movement, culminating the formation of DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam). A new batch of filmmakers joined the industry then, who would appropriate the pro-Dravidian sentiment in their own ways for political gains. Among them, the most notable ones were the charismatic scriptwriter and playwright C N Annnadurai, story and scriptwriter M Karunanidhi, Matinee Idol M G Ramachandran and his protégé, Screen Goddess J Jayalalitha.

It’s a general tendency among humans to search for a leader. Once begotten, the leader is unquestionably followed till the individual is a part of the mass-hysteria. Organized religions work on this principle. So do magic and politics. South Indians rarely came under any foreign ruler before the British. Even the Maurya or the Gupta Empire never directly influenced them. And everyone knows how the the Mughal Emperors’ attempts at capturing South India kept failing for over six hundred years. So it wasn’t surprising that the Tamil would want an autonomy after their sole conqueror in history, the British, left. When that did not happen as per their choice, they revolted. Part of the revolution centered on creating a strong cultural identity in the name of Tamilalakam (Tamil land) which upheld Dravidian culture using stage drama, poetry, literature, myth, history, musicals, dance and, most importantly, cinema.

Tamil society, an ideal example of an unchanged patriarchal one, maintained a very strong identity of the male, almost opposite to the one maintained in the rest of the Indian movies. Who is the ideal Tamil hero? He must have moustache, physical prowess, authority, sexual virility and the capacity to control women. It must be noted that except for the moustache, the other character traits are not very different from the rest of the heroes in India. However, the portrayal and the political purpose were very different.

Tamil hero of the pro-Dravidian camp rejects all finesse that he considers to be part of the Aryan culture, and hugs the grotesque instead. In that way, Tamil heroes can be equated with the villains of the North-Indian myths and epics. An obsession with the denial of the other and embracing the grotesque and violent uprooting of all non-Dravidian values from culture led to a cinema of sophisticated violence and other basal instincts in Tamil Nadu.

While in films like Velaikari (1949) and Ratha Kanneer (1954), both penned by Annadurai, showed the hero’s faults as the result of his encounter with other cultures, especially North Indian culture (the vamp had to die in the second film, as she was trying to get into a relationship with a Hindi-speaking character from Bombay). It was Parashakti (1952) which was made to show the superiority of Tamil culture over others. In this film women were given an unambiguous role of being the knowledgeable, spirited and intelligent support to their male counterparts. That never meant women were independent. They were just supports, like obedient servants, who should find their place inside the home.

This made a great difference between the progressive heroine from North India and the Tamil heroine. While the former wanted equality and freedom with education and free will, the latter accepted the choice of her family. In effect, this made the outside world a jungle for man-hunting for the Tamil hero.

And the heroines, unlike their North Indian counterparts, went through literal purification, punishment or death if they chose liberation. In Rudraiah’s 1978 film Aval Appadithan (That’s the Way She Is), the heroine ends up homeless in the end and her journey throughout the film is portrayed as obnoxious. So we see a very strange concoction of Shringara and Bibhatsa rasas at work even, sixty years after it started.

In modern Tamil Cinema, the trend continues through a different guise. In a celebrated film like Veyil (2006) or the Kamal Hassan starrer Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu (2006), the hero achieves his target through extreme violence. But is it not violence and grief that lead to the purification of the soul? Maybe future Tamil Cinema will answer this question more directly.

Angry Young Man and His Troubled Relationship with his Father

Indian cinema’s Angry Young Man surfaced in the 1973 blockbuster Zanjeer. It also hailed the end of a generation of cinema that celebrated the stability and status quo India was facing in the late ‘50s and ‘60s.

The Angry Young Man, in the avatar of Amitabh Bachchan in Bollywood and Rajnikant in Tamil Cinema, was a superhero of the common man’s dream. He was just an aam aadmi (common man), with powers and weaknesses of a regular human being, who has decided to act. As normal Indians are afraid of challenging their fate in reality, the Angry Young Man fulfilled the dream they could vicariously live.

However, the Angry Young Man, especially the roles played by Amitabh Bachchan, has a special distinction. He is almost always with an absent or a dead father. And when the father is present, he is in a deeply troubled relationship with him.

Let us probe this issue a little more. In more than fifty films, from Zanjeer (1973) to the recent Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap (2011), the Angry Young Man’s character tries to restore justice, honour and dignity for himself, his family and the people around him. Except for Inquilab (1984), his fight concerns the personal space of family. And in India, who is the archetypal head of the family?

Modeled on a feudal outlook, the post-independence Indian Government framed all types of taxation, laws and governance policies, primarily on the basis of an undivided family; be it Hindu or Muslim. The unquestionable authority of the Prime Minister, other Ministers, the Supreme Court, its Judges and the Police entail from such an outlook.

The tapering figure of the father figure is central to a society and its citizens. In America, there may be a faltering loyalty to Uncle Sam. But in India, it is the father who wields the law.

In Lacanian Psychology, a male child constructs his identity throughout his growing years, by internalizing the name of the father. In short, the name of the father can be equated to the child’s position in the lawful order of the society, in its norms and customs. In contrast, an imaginary father is the figure that sets the child out to the world, alone and cut off from the peace of his mother’s lap… the blissful security lost after the child becomes adult.

In all the films from the Angry Young Man genre, Amitabh or Rajnikant, crave to return to their mother’s lap. In Deewar, the character Vijay, in his last words to his mother, says “Tujhse dur rehkar mujhe kabhi neend nahi aayi maa! Main kabhi nahi so saka maa! Aaj phir mera sar tumhari god mein hai maa. Ek bar phir mujhe sula do maa!” (I could never sleep staying away from you mom! I could never really sleep. Today, again, my head is in your lap. Put me to sleep once again!). By killing or compromising the imaginary father, and making peace with symbolic father, the Angry Young Man finishes his journey in his mother’s lap, thus finishing a cycle of action with his real father.

When the real, imaginary and symbolic fathers can not be separated, the Angry Young Man emerges. In a very simplistic, almost fairy tale overview of life, this almost always happens in Bollywood.

Among all the Angry Young Man films, Amitabh’s character actually has a real but a flawed father only in Laawaris (1981), Sharaabi (1984) Aakhree Raasta (1986) and most significantly Shakti (1982). Only four out of around fifty films where he played the role of an Angry Young Man. In almost all other films, the father is dead, mostly killed by an enemy, thus setting Vijay (meaning Victory, Amitabh’s name in most of the movies belonging to this genre) on a road to vengeance.

But that does not make the Angry Young Man’s disturbed relationship with the father a myth. In the absence of a real father, the child clutches the imaginary father in a very ambivalent way and makes it a friend and an enemy both. In officially first film of the Angry Young Man genre, Zanjeer, the hero (Vijay, again) grows up to be a police officer who’s obsessed with upholding the law (the imaginary father’s one side) and wiping out evil(the imaginary father’s other side). To complete the journey, the hero must know the name of the father. Hence, in Zanjeer, as in Shahenshah (1987), he decides to punish the bad on his own. However, it is significant that he never negates the law. He merely supplements its execution.

In this way, the Angry Young Man’s journey never collides with the ideology of the powerful class or that of the State. In fact, it is not surprising that this character was nurtured more carefully in the post-emergency India, as he talks in favour of tradition, a classless society and power structure. The hero rarely talks about bigger issues. Even when he does, as in Coolie (1982) or Inquilab (1984), he is more concerned about solving his personal problems. That actually made the character a sociological stereotype and called for a change in Bollywood’s prime genre at the end of the ‘80s, which gave birth to the dark hero, as in Baazigar (1993) or Khalnayak (1993).

The hero wants to salvage his pride (because of birth), bad karma (for good means) and lack of security as he grows up. Hence, even in a romantic film like Mili (1975), the Angry Young Man’s psyche surfaces, and the reason is the same – a shame of father’s (or parents’) deed. The ultimate goal is always to be at peace with the father, real or symbolic, by the end of the film.

Hence, it’s not surprising that nowadays the Angry Young Man comes back as the father figure himself. From a Fruedian point of view, that is how it should happen. At the end of the journey the child succeeds in becoming the father himself.

Careers in Screenplay Writing

A career in scriptwriting is not a sedentary desk job, as most would imagine. Although the seed of the film is planted in the script, the Scriptwriter, like a gardener, tends to the germination and eventually the full flowering of the plant. She becomes a dynamic member of the filmmaking team and is often required for consultation in preproduction, production and postproduction.

Scriptwriters nowadays need to be savvy about the latest digital developments, be they in the area of compositing, keying or frame blending. They also need to know new transition techniques like motion interval shooting, morphing and ramping.

This along with the good old principles of correct screenplay writing makes a heady brew of a career, which gives you a chance to fully exercise your imagination, express your socio-political concerns, create riveting drama and tell immortal tales.

The money is good too. While internationally Scriptwriters have been demanding and receiving handsome remuneration, the scene looks quite bright in India as well. In short, a career in Film and Television Scriptwriting is a thrilling career that could make you rich and famous.

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