Manu’scripts’ of a rendez-vousConversations — By Neha K Kulkarni on May 2, 2012 at 11:18 AM
Oh, that’s a great movie!!! We walk out of the theatre with praises for the actors and the director. The music composer is praised too for the songs as well as the background score. But we all forget one of the important person(s) behind it all…the script writer. A script and story of a movie is like a basis of it all. So why not appreciate the efforts of the person(s) behing it? The Punekar in conversation with the talented script and story writer Upendra Sidhaye who has written for movies like Mumbai Meri Jaan, Payback and the recently released Blood Money. Well, there is a lot to a movie than just the actors and director.
Take a look!
Did you always dream of being part of the Indian Film Industry?
Being a part of films never really occurred to me. If someone who have told me then, that I would be part of this industry one day I would have never believed them. For a really long time I didn’t not know what I wanted to do in life.
After my 10th standard, I opted for Commerce only because I did not want to pursue science and had no clue what Arts was all about. After my 12th standard, all my friends opted for chartered accountancy and I just followed them. It was during my articleship that I realised that Chartered Accountancy was not meant for me. Even then I couldn’t figure out what was my calling.
How did your journey in the Indian film industry begin?
I used to watch a lot of movies with my friends; it was then that I felt I wanted to somehow be part of them. I was also part of theatre during college but did not really take it seriously.
Finally I decided to quit CA in spite of opposition from my family, all I knew was that I wanted to be in films. With that in mind I tried enrolling in various schools like FTII but couldn’t get through. I just had one year to find my calling. Finally I took up Masters of Communication studies in University of Pune and that’s when I started working towards my calling. In the next two years I was part of Purushottam Karandak where I wrote, directed and acted in a play called Enigma and we bagged the 2nd prize. It reassured me that I was on right path. During the course I made two short films and finally landed with a job at UTV Motion Pictures as an in-house writer. That’s when I met Nishikant Kamat. After my stint in UTV for 9 months, I started working with Nishikant Kamat. The Mumbai blasts happened around the same time and Mumbai Meri Jaan was born.
Have you taken formal education for screenplay and story writing?
When I was pursuing my masters, script writing was just one of the subjects there. Whatever I know about writing is what I’ve learnt while watching movies, reading and writing screenplays. I’ve also learnt a lot from Professor Samar Nakhate, Nishikant Kamat and Yogesh Vinayak Joshi who was my co-writer for Mumbai Meri Jaan. I normally follow my instincts and will do so even in the future.
You have worked on three projects namely, Mumbai Meri Jaan, Payback and Blood Money. How different has the experience been on all three projects?
Interestingly, all 3 projects have been as different as they can be. Mumbai Meri Jaan is one of the most non-commercial films made in recent past. It didn’t have conventional story, action, comedy, romance, songs or stars. We wrote it without thinking about any box-office expectations. It came straight from our hearts. It was deeply rooted in the real Mumbai and was about real people. It dealt with emotions experienced by us post the blast. The movie focused on characters’ journey rather than the plot. We took 9 months to write the script but I am glad that we took that much of time. It was a huge learning experience as I was part of the entire process, right from the inception of the idea till the first print. It was also interesting to see how Nishikant Kamat translated the script onto the screen using his unique visual language which took it to another level altogether.
Payback was also rooted in real Mumbai but was an action thriller. The team working on it was new. From the producer, actors, director to the rest of the crew and was made on a shoe-string budget. Unfortunately didn’t well received. Everyone who worked on this believed in the script and that’s what mattered. It was written with an intention of addressing some important moral questions.
Blood Money was more like a commissioned project. Bhatts & Vishal (director) had the story already in place. Everyone knows that Bhatts make their own kind of cinema. They have their own formula, though I hate that word. It was a new experience for me because previously I had a free reign in Mumbai Meri Jaan and Payback but here I had to adhere to their elements, treatment, philosophy and yet add something extra of my own which could make it different from their other films. It was a very interesting and learning experience, especially working with Mr. Mahesh Bhatt. Blood Money was the most mainstream/commercial film I have written till date. Interestingly, it is also a kind of film which I am not a target audience of. So it was a challenge to write something which you yourself wouldn’t necessarily like to go and watch in theatre. It was like a non-smoker being hired to make a cigarette.
From you first project to your third one, how has it changed you as a writer?
The most important thing I have learned is to let go of your script. I think writer should surrender the script to director after finishing it and then forget about it. But it is quite natural for writer to get possessive about his own baby. Once I finish writing the script, I let it go and move on to the next one. Some scripts, I hold on to but otherwise I try to let go. As you work more, you learn that writing is only the first process in film making. There are tons of people who will work on your foundation and will shape the final product. Also as a writer, I am more conscious of the craft now than before. When I started, I didn’t believe in “craft of writing” per say. Even today I am not fan of crafting and techniques but at least now I know what they are. Occasionally, I use them as a tool to crosscheck the script after the first draft. The aspect that has remained the same is that I still try to put a piece of me in every script I write. And I listen to my heart and my instinct as writing should come from within. My basic process of writing has not changed but there is definitely more discipline now.
Are you working on any project(s) currently? If yes, could you tell us about them?
Currently working on another film for Vishal Mahadkar who has previously directed the movie Blood Money for Vishesh Films. I am also working on another film for producer Shyam Bajaj. Apart from that, I am currently pitching a couple of scripts to various producers in Mumbai.
What advice would you give all those who wish to enter into screenplay and story writing?
The most important advice is “have your own voice in your script.” Put a part of yourself in the script and it will make the script stand out in the crowd. Find your own voice and write through it. In return your script will always be original. Always follow your instinct and heart. The best advice is “start writing RIGHT NOW.” Because most aspirant writers plan to write but actually never get down to doing it. We must remember that scripts in minds are useless. They must be put down to paper to be realized on screen. And keep your eyes open. Because best stories are always happening around us.
In your opinion, what are the essential qualities of a screenplay and story writer?
I think honesty, persistence, patience, sensitivity, being able to see things differently, discipline, ability to visualize, keen observation and, of course, creativity are essential qualities to be a writer.
You’ve also worked as Assistant Director for Mumbai Meri Jaan. Do you wish to pursue that field or stick to your current one?
Everyone working in film industry either wants to be an actor or director. I want to direct films. Currently, I am trying to get my own Marathi film started. But I will never stop writing for other directors.
What is/are you non-work passions?
Apart from watching movies, I love to read and I am a big foodie. I love to listen to music as it relaxes as well as inspires me. I also love to meet new people and listen to them.
Favourite Movie: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Godfather, Satya
Favourite screenplay/story writer: Charlie Kauffman, Christopher Nolan, Jaideep Sahni
If not a writer what would you want to be?
I wish I could create music. I also would have loved to become a chef.