A story is about the what, a screenplay is about the how: Javed Akhtar

‘A story needs coherence. If an entire story can be told in three lines, it's a good story' said Javed Akhtar, poet, lyricist and scriptwriter, while discussing the intricacies of storytelling in the morning session of The DSC Jaipur Literature Festival's penultimate day.

Titled ‘Kahani Kisko Kehte Hain? Script, Screenplay and Story,' the session was a great success, with the panel comprising some of the most illustrious names in Indian cinema and the literary world including Gulzar, Javed Akhtar, Prasoon Joshi and Vishal Bhardwaj.

Moderated by author Samit Basu, the session began with a short look at the art of storytelling. “I know people write on the computer nowadays, but for me, I need to hold a pen in my hand for my thoughts to flow” said Gulzar, one of the country's most respected poet, lyricist and director. He compared the act of telling a story to that of building a house on a broad, open space. “A story starts when you find a theme and start building around it. First, comes the open space of the theme, and then the layers that build upon one another, like the floors of a house.”

Asked about the differences between a story, a script and a screenplay, Akhtar said: “Those are three very different endeavours. I used to think screenplay meant editing. But it doesn't. A story is about the what, a screenplay is about the how. A screenplay translates onto the screen the descriptions in a book; both in terms of sounds and visuals.”

Akhtar added that one cannot really explain how a story becomes a screenplay. ‘It's like asking how a river starts from the mountains and reaches the ocean. But yes, a river cannot complete its journey without enough water and thrust.'

Prasoon Joshi, the prolific lyricist and screenwriter believed that everything had a story. ‘There are narratives everywhere. The human mind is constantly creating stories out of everything. It is a way to preserve culture, heritage and history, a way to motivate, and yes, sometimes, de-motivate people.'

Joshi said that while initially, movies were more in a collective consumption format and books inspired a more individual and personal relationship; the onslaught of DVDs and other mediums of watching movies had changed this to a great extent.

While discussing the various aspects of a story and screenplay, Vishal Bhardwaj, a director, famous for his popular and successful adaptations of some of the greatest stories, said, ‘For me, the resolution of a story is the most important part. A story for me flows back from its climax.'

As the discussion moved ahead and approached the topic of Indian cinema in particular, Akhtar said, “As for mainstream Indian cinema, it has not invented its particular form of storytelling but has inherited it.” Adding to that thought, Joshi said that our history of oral tradition had played a great role in affecting the type of cinema India produced. While the Hollywood format of storytelling was closer to that of a short story, the Indian cinema format usually followed that of a novel. ‘We have been brought up on stories of epics and sagas. Today, the storytelling in Indian cinema is getting thinner. I'm not saying that is good or bad. Just that it is changing,' Akhtar said.

‘Climax of the session'

The discussion went on for an hour, and ended with what Gulzar referred to as the ‘climax of the session.' Javed Akhtar's new book ‘Lava: The Drama of Words,' a collection of some of his best poetry, was introduced and presented by Gulzar. Akhtar also read a few poems from the book, the power and beauty of his words leaving the crowd enthralled and asking for more.

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