Tuesday, 13 November 2018

A Special Film - Behind the Scenes of 7 Lives

A couple of years ago filmmaker Runjiv Kapur told me about a heartbreaking incident in north India. A young girl had been shot and brought into a reputed hospital 'brain dead'. The girl's parents, as can be imagined, were overwhelmed and devastated. The hospital authorities were aware of the sensitive situation and yet they could not let go of the opportunity to help people who were desperately in need of organ transplants.

They approached the grief-stricken parents and requested them to consider donating her organs. That one decision could help give a new lease of life to seven people. The window of opportunity was short -- as the transplants needed to happen within a few hours of brain death.

The parents found it in their hearts to overcome their personal loss and willingly agreed to donate their child's organs. The processes were put in place. The hospital went ahead with the procedures but at the eleventh hour some community leaders came to know of this and raised objections on the grounds of religion and tradition.

This is the heartbreaking reality of India, ostensibly modern, and yet caught up with medieval values.  While researching the story, I talked to a heart surgeon who specializes in transplants and he sadly pointed out that organ donations, even in the big metros, is rare. 7 Lives, a short film based on this true story, is an effort to create awareness about the important subject of organ donation.

It's a very special film for me also for the fact that it is my first produced screenplay. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to bring this issue to light. The film is being screened at the Kolkata International Film Festival, 2018 today and has been honored with a Special Jury Award at the 7th Delhi Shorts International Film Festival, 2018.

Here's hoping that the film will touch more lives and bring about a change in mindsets.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

D is for Deus Ex Machina

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Welcome to Week D of the A to Z Writing Series. My post for the week is 'Deus Ex Machina'. 

Did you say, what the heck is that? So, here's a little definition. Deus ex Machina is a Latin term which actually means 'God from the Machine'. The term originated in Roman and Greek Drama where at a certain point in the climax of the story God would drop down from the sky (via a crane, and hence the reference to machine) to provide a resolution to the story. 

In modern story telling using the Deus Ex Machina - or divine intervention - is considered to be poor writing. While it may be argued that in life, coincidences and random events do happen, when you're telling a story, use of such a device to resolve the protagonist's dilemma or crisis can often leave your reader dissatisfied.

Whether your story is a romance or a thriller, your protagonist is the one who drives the story with his/her choices. To keep the reader engaged and turning the pages, the writer needs to make life difficult for the Main Character.

Source: https://tvtropes.org
As the stakes are raised for the Character, the reader feels invested in the story and wants to know how things will turn out. So using a random/sudden event to resolve the crisis is not advisable as the reader will end up feeling cheated.

Notwithstanding such writing wisdom, one of the most popular movies of all time (Raiders of the Lost Ark) has used the 'Deus Ex Machina' to resolve the crisis that its lead character Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford) faces at the end of the movie. Watch this short video by screenwriting guru Robert McKee who explains why despite using "divine intervention" the writers scored big with this movie.

Enjoy the clip and let me know if you can think of films/books where they used the Deus Ex Machina without completely destroying the plot.

Happy Writing!

















Tuesday, 30 October 2018

First Link in the Zanjeer

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By Jaideep Sen

As an avid viewer of Kaun Banega Crorepati, I’m struck by the fact that every time a contestant praises Amitji’s (Amitabh Bachchan) glorious body of work, the reference point is always one of the two milestone films of Indian Cinema: Deewaar or Sholay.

In one of my previous posts I have already mentioned that my personal all-time favourite is Sholay. Not just for its epic writing but also the sheer scale of the film: for once the powerful writing was more than backed up by an audio-visual extravaganza that had never before been seen by the Indian cinegoer. I would not be wrong in saying that it would have come as a surprise for even the veteran writing duo of Salim Saab and Javed Saab. And for this the Indian viewer will forever be grateful to the father-son combine of G.P. Sippy Saab (producer) and  director Ramesh Sippy Ji. 

The tsunami effect of Sholay and the reverence that the writing of Deewaar has achieved draws me to that one game-changer of a film which has somewhere got a bit relegated to the periphery – Zanjeer. This is the film where it all started and  is the origin of the everlasting  phenomenon  of the “Angry Young Man”. Zanjeer, the brainchild of the Father of Film Writing in India, Salim Khan which was later nurtured by him and his writing partner, Javed Akhtar, was brought to life thanks to the relentless pursuit of its compelling story teller director, Late Prakash Mehra Ji. Despite the many roadblocks and rejections the film initially faced, Prakash Ji’s doggedness made it possible for viewers to enjoy one of the classics of Hindi cinema. 
Amitabh Bachchan with Prakash Mehra: one from the archives

A lesser known fact about this blockbuster is that the idea of Zanjeer was conceptualised solely by Salim Saab. This little nugget of information was revealed by legendary actor Dharmendra Ji in a recent TV show  when he mentioned that he was so impressed with the story of Zanjeer that he’d bought it from Salim Saab and intended to produce it as well as act in the film. However, due to some circumstances this did not happen and the rest as they say is history. 

Javed Saab in an interview had once analysed his and Salim Saab’s signature traits as writers. According to him, Salim Saab had the “courage” while he had the “intricacy” and that history repeatedly proved that revolt has always been fuelled by courage. In cinematic terms, the outburst against injustice resulted in the volcanic and iconic Zanjeer

I don’t think any other name has left as permanent an impact on the psyche of the Indian filmgoer as Vijay. Much thought had gone into the name of the protagonist as Vijay would come to symbolise victory over evil. Salim Saab firmly believed that the audience had had enough of a “passive” central character who would tolerate all kinds of injustice meted out to him. There was a need to revolutionise the Hero – and the fiery Vijay was thus born. 

He is a cop who is a no-nonsense man from the word go, completely duty bound and self-less and till the very end he is unaware that the antagonist Dharamdayal Teja who he has locked horns with is the same bracelet-clad murderer who’d killed his parents which he had been witness to. That one event has permanently scarred him and when the revelation happens in the finale, it is cathartic. The shift from anger to hatred is hair raising and is encapsulated with the searing dialogue: “Barson tak yeh zanjeer ek saap banke mujhe dastaa raha”.

The tonality of the film – edgy and simmering – had a huge impact on the audience. Never before had such emotionally aggressive language been used and the audience lapped it up wholeheartedly.

Salim Saab very recently shared with me how at times what initially is considered a handicap, in retrospect unintentionally becomes a terrific asset. The limited financial resources available to produce Zanjeer forced the crew to film in some very claustrophobic, minimalistic and stark locations. This, in the final analysis, added a raw and gritty dimension to the film.

For me, the trendsetting blockbuster Zanjeer birthed Hindi Cinema’s two most remarkable sons, Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar. The latter has often declared that Salim Saab’s body of work is a treasure trove for generations to come. He has put his creative footprint on the sands of time with his sensational talent and unwavering dedication.


Jaideep Sen is a filmmaker and a connoisseur of the art of storytelling. 

Previous Episodes in this Series: 


 




Monday, 22 October 2018

How to Improve your Craft

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Welcome to Week 'C' in the Authors Tips: A to Z of Writing series. And my post is about  How to Improve Your Craft. 


Fiction writing, like many other creative pursuits, is an artistic enterprise that involves a combination of art and craft. Talent alone can help you come up with a great concept or idea for a story. But to translate a brilliant premise into a compelling story, a writer needs to understand the mechanics of storytelling. Or, in other words, become a master of the craft.

In fiction parlance, craft generally refers to the use of techniques that aid storytelling -- plot points, subtext, a great hook, raising of stakes, building tension, exposition. Many of these can be learnt by reading extensively in the genre that you want to write. This will help you to identify the conventions of the genre and understand how different authors play around with the essential elements of telling a story.

However no amount of reading can help you improve your craft. Ultimately, it is all about practice, practice, practice.

The good part is that with every new short story/novella/novel/screenplay that you write you're working on your craft and improving your work. But how do you know for sure that you're progressing? One way to find out is getting feedback from beta-readers and/or members of your writing group. Better still, if you have an editor or co-author you work with on a regular basis, their feedback can be invaluable.

There is another way of improving your craft -- by participating in contests and challenges. Especially those that provide professional feedback.

I have been writing screenplays for several years now. But it's only recently that I started entering my work in contests. Of course not all contests are alike and most of them also charge hefty fees. So I went about doing some research -- I looked into their credentials, any info about their judging parameters, testimonials from previous contestants/winners, etc. My purpose was two-fold: one, to get feedback from judges of reputed contests and find out ways to improve my script; two, winning and/or placing among the finalists would be an added bonus.

I decided to go with Finish Line Script Competition which provided me with feedback that was on  point. Their notes helped me to see what was not working in my story, spot the plotholes that I had missed and even point me in the right direction to help me rework my script. After reworking the screenplay, I resubmitted it to the competition which ended up placing as a first runner up. That was definitely an unexpected bonus and it boosted my confidence in my writing a great deal.

I have also discovered that 'writing challenges' can be a great way to improve one's craft. The NYC Midnight Challenge is one such program where screenwriters are challenged to write short screenplays of maximum five script-pages based on a genre/character/prop combo-prompt assigned to participants during a 48 hour period. Here the focus is on writing to a deadline and coming up with a compelling sequence of scenes. For me, this challenge offers me the opportunity to work out of my comfort zone -- writing horror for instance! -- and also benefit from professional feedback which the organizers provide to all participants.

Talking about challenges, the NaNoWriMo Challenge is around the corner. If you wish to set yourself a deadline and finish the first draft of your book, that's one challenge that you should not refuse. Would love to hear your thoughts on how you challenge yourself to do better.

Here are some not-to-be-missed "C" posts in this series:

C is For Cover Design by Sudesna Ghosh

Co-Authoring by Devika Fernando

Is your Writing Cliched? by Reet Singh

Conflicts, Character Sketch and Climax by Preethi Venugopala

C for Community by Saiswaroopa






Saturday, 13 October 2018

The 'Sangam' of a Genius and His Admirer




 Jaideep Sen highlights a memorable incident between Salim Saab and the iconic filmmaker Raj Kapoor...

It’s been a few days since Mrs. Krishna Raj Kapoor left for her heavenly abode. I thought this piece could be the right tribute to her since I truly believe that she was the strength behind the greatest cinema made in India by Raj Kapoor Ji which I even conveyed to their youngest son, Rajiv Kapoor at her prayer ceremony.

This piece also gives me an opportunity to bring to the attention of readers the implicit, immense and unadulterated respect that Mr. Salim Khan has for the iconic Mr. Raj Kapoor whom he addressed as Raj Saab. His admiration for the legendary filmmaker was expressed through an audio tribute. Another celebrated filmmaker Manoj Kumar Ji endorsed it as one of the greatest tributes to be made by one artiste for another.  On hearing it, India’s Pride Lata Mangeshkar Ji’s eyes welled up with emotion.   

Krishna Raj Kapoor Ji on hearing it marvelled at how Salim Saab had encompassed her husband Raj Saab’s life in a few minutes. The only answer to that is, devotion.
Devotion is a form of great strength which is what Salim Saab has for Raj Saab whom he considered an elder to the extent that after Prithviraj Ji’s passing away whose feet Salim Saab used to touch, he continued this tradition by touching Raj Saab’s feet as long as he lived. 

In this audio tribute Salim Saab said that Lord Krishna had mentioned in the epic Mahabharat that whenever and wherever there shall be a drought of virtue He shall make his presence felt in whichever sphere of life. Salim Saab firmly believes that on 14th December 1924 Lord Krishna was himself born in the form of Raj Kapoor Saab to take the arts to its pinnacle.

According to Salim Saab, Raj Saab was the “man of the match” of every film that he made and a complete filmmaker who was far superior to any other because of his understanding of each and every aspect of emotion and film-making, especially romance and music.

They shared a special rapport and whenever Salim Saab was a guest at Raj Saab’s get-togethers Raj Saab would always ask him to stay back. After the other guests departed Raj Saab would bond with Salim Saab and share with him experiences of his life which enriched Salim Saab both as a human being and a writer.

One such memorable and enriching moment that Salim Saab experienced happened during the premiere of Deewaar where on the completion of the film Raj Saab called him over. Raj Saab felt that they had made a mistake in the characterisation of Vijay and that even after literally striking gold and amassing money, after going illegal, Vijay should have still been unkempt and attired in his porter’s uniform amidst the high society that he was now a part of. Raj Saab explained to him that whatever Vijay had done was not for himself but for his Mother which is why he shouldn’t have been interested in an appearance overhaul and the presence of a dishevelled man in a neat and clean surrounding would have taken the emotional impact of the character to another level altogether. To date, Salim Saab doffs his hat to this in-depth observation of Raj Saab which underlined the minutest details that only Raj Saab’s cinematic genius could pick up.

And then life gave Salim Saab the opportunity to receive the ultimate compliment he could ever get from the ultimate filmmaker Raj Saab. It took place when the latter watched Salim Saab’s first film as an independent writer, Naam.  How uncanny it is that Naam shared the same grain of Deewaar, which Raj Saab had made an observation on. But this time, Raj Saab felt Naam was a flawless film and went on to tell Director Mahesh Bhatt that.  Without taking anything away from his remarkable directorial talent Raj Saab felt that Naam was a film first directed by a “pen”. 

He turned to Salim Saab and told him that he always believed in his talent and in spite of the rough times that Salim Saab experienced after his separation with his partner, and hearing uncomplimentary theories about Salim Saab’s writing abilities or rather the lack of it, Raj Saab always knew that Salim Saab would rise like a phoenix from the ashes.

Salim Saab has the highest respects for Krishna Ji whom he also credits for being the strength in her husband’s celebrated life and journey as India’s greatest fimmaker whose eternal “Raj” of brilliance shall always shine the brightest.

Jaideep Sen is a filmmaker and a connoisseur of the art of storytelling. 

Previous Episodes in this Series: 



 





Thursday, 11 October 2018

B - Doing the Background Work

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Continuing with the Series of A to Z tips, here is my Week #2 post which focuses on Alphabet B....

B is for Background.

Writing stories is more than just creating characters, developing the plot and writing scenes. To be able to do all that you have to first do the 'background' work.

And it begins with brainstorming. Often times, the seed of a story just pops into your head. It might be inspired by something you read in the newspapers, a snatch of conversation you might hear, a photograph or even a long lost memory that randomly floats into your consciousness.

Whatever the inspiration, stories rarely come into existence all fully developed with a beginning, middle and end. Before it turns into a full-fledged story, you need to brainstorm the idea. To me, this is the most exciting phase of creating a new story. The possibilities are endless. You can take the idea in any direction and let your imagination go wild. You don't need to set any boundaries such as genre. Not yet. There is just one rule: not letting yourself get too attached to any of the possibilities.

At this stage I make a lot of notes. Sometimes I'm excited about a character or two. At other times the setting. There are times when I can hear snatches of dialogue in my head or have scenes coming forth.

Photo Credit: Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash
A notebook and pen are the most handy tools to have at this stage. After a few days (or weeks) of this brainstorming, you begin to realize that you like a certain train of thought more than the others. Now's the time to pin down the idea that fascinates you the most. What about this particular idea or train of thought excites you? Why do you want to tell this story in this particular way and not another? Sometimes the answers will pop up immediately. It's important to jot those down. Because when you get down to writing the story, you often  lose track of that excitement. When you are deep in the trenches of your story and you're bogged down in the details, it's a good idea to revisit your notes in order to grasp that early excitement that started you on the journey.

Writing it down also helps you evaluate the idea...whether it has legs to run through a novella, short story  or novel. Often it enables you to identify the themes that you want to work on while telling this story.

Writing an initial synopsis of the story (not more than 100-150 words) is also extremely vital. It keeps the focus on the big picture without getting lost in the details; before you get to work on filling out that picture with colour, texture and the finer elements.

So, it's always good to take your time on doing the background work before you dive into the writing. The more spadework you do, the easier it gets to plot your story.

Last, but not the least, a disclaimer. Every writer has his/her own process and the process that I have described here is the one that works for me. Feel free to give it a test-drive and tweak it to suit your story/writing process. Happy Writing!

Don't forget to check out these posts in the A to Z Series....

B is For Balancing Work, Life and Writing by Saiswaroopa Iyer

Building a Routine, Backstories, Beta-Readers and Backup by Preethi Venugopala

B is for Blogging as an Author by Sudesna Ghosh

B is for Backstory by Ruchi Singh 

B is for Burnout by Reet Singh