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Historically, we have neglected the craft of screenplay writing: Anjum Rajabali

Rajabali, veteran writer and chairperson of the jury for the Cinestaan India's Story Tellers Contest, spoke after a masterclass for participants conducted in Mumbai.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Shriram Iyengar

The announcement of the second edition of the Cinestaan India's Story Tellers Contest was accompanied by masterclasses conducted for the shortlisted writers from the first edition by three of the more prominent writers in the industry — Rajkumar Hirani, Juhi Chaturvedi and Anjum Rajabali.

With all three being members of the jury for the contest — the fourth member of the jury is actor-producer Aamir Khan — the gathering was interested in hearing the key to constructing a perfect script.

Speaking after Hirani and Chaturvedi, Rajabali, who is also chairperson of the jury for the contest, explained how a tight screenplay often helps to further the emotional impact of a story.

Anjum Rajabali, Juhi Chaturvedi and Rajkumar Hirani at the Cinestaan India's Story Tellers Contest event. Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Talking to Cinestaan.com after his masterclass, Rajabali emphasized the need for a tight screenplay. Asked to elaborate on his masterclass, the writer said, "Today, not only do we have a number of people with beautiful ideas for stories that can be turned into films, but they can also write out these stories. I am making a distinction between story and screenplay because screenplay involves a little more design structuring. You have to be conscious of the craft."

Sadly, he added, "Historically, we have neglected the craft of the screenplay. Generally, the emphasis has been on story and dialogue."

The craft of writing was something all the masterclasses were focused on. While Hirani and Chaturvedi spoke about the story and about character development, Rajabali added that the screenplay is the 'bridge between the story and the world'. "The screenplay becomes a bridge between the story, which is a personal statement, and the world," he said. "For it [the story] to reach the world, for a universal expression, you need to have a screenplay."

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"Screenplay involves a certain degree of precision and crafting which has to take place," he continued. "Whether you do it intuitively or consciously or logically, it has to be done.

"We haven't had a tradition of learning this craft. Even formal learning through institutes is only about 14-15 years old. It is a sunrise craft, because everybody is looking for a good script. But good scripts, very few are actually being accepted because of the quality of the screenplay. Scene design, writing of dialogue, structuring of screenplay and rhythm, these things will have to be inculcated by new writers and it may take a little time."

Despite his emphasis on improved writing, Rajabali was not afraid of speaking of failure. "If you are afraid of failing, you will not be creative," he stated emphatically at one point during the masterclass.

Elaborating on it further during the conversation later, the veteran writer of films like Ghulam (1998), China Gate (1998) and Pukar (2000) said the perfect script is a myth, "like the perfect piece of art. There is no such thing as a perfect painting, or a perfect poem, because it carries its own process which imparts to it a certain subjectivity. A work of art is never perfected, just abandoned."

However, the writer maintained that there are some 'masterpieces' that offer great lessons. Mentioning films like Aakrosh (1980) and Ardh Satya (1983) by Vijay Tendulkar, Tere Mere Sapne (1971) by Vijay Anand and Salim-Javed's Deewaar (1975) and Shakti (1982), he said, "Likewise, if you look at Rajkumar Hirani in his Munna Bhai MBBS (2003), you will discover that there is new ground being broken."

With the first edition getting close to 4,000 entries, and the second edition now open for participants, Rajabali expressed the hope of change.

"One thing that has impressed me has been the courage of the writers to be able to base full-fledged screenplays on very novel ideas," he explained. "The way they have built a relationship on that small conflict and the characters gets elevated to the level of a full-fledged feature film. I really like the novelty of those ideas of the stories on which the scripts are based."

He went on to state that he hoped for better 'structuring' and 'character depth' in the scripts that he might read in the future. "The thing is that the characters stop revealing the depth which they [initially] promise to," he said. "It is there, hidden in their personalities, and what makes the character interesting. You believe the character has the potential to reveal those inner conflicts, those contradictions. [But] it doesn't tend to go that deep. So, the depth of characters is something I find a bit wanting in terms of their expression, and the second is the structuring of the screenplay."