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Writing for celluloid

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Different perspectives (Clockwise from centre) Kamal Haasan, K. Balachander, Shekhar Kapur, Vishal Bharadwaj, Olivier Lorelle, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Balu Mahendra will share their ideas with 250 delegates who are participating in the screenwriting workshop
Different perspectives (Clockwise from centre) Kamal Haasan, K. Balachander, Shekhar Kapur, Vishal Bharadwaj, Olivier Lorelle, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Balu Mahendra will share their ideas with 250 delegates who are participating in the screenwriting workshop

The international screenwriting workshop that commences today at IIT-Madras is like a dream-come-true, says actor Kamal Haasan in a chat with SUDHISH KAMATH

The Tamil filmmaker is like a street dancer with some exciting moves but if you ask him to show you something else, he will do the same thing again,” said Kamal Haasan, waiting to get his MacBook Air installed with a parallel Windows operating system at the Apple Store near Central Park in New York City. “The need of the hour is trained dancers, who can adapt to different forms of dances. But where will new forms come from if we continue to keep churning out the same old moves?”

It was in January when he first spoke about his desire to organise a screenwriting workshop to initiate young writers into screenwriting and getting some fresh blood into the mainstream. In the third week of March, I get a call. It’s the man himself. The workshop is still at the top of his mind. He has some speakers in mind and he’s very clear it should be the biggest of its kind in India. Or at least the South.

When the curtains go up at “INTERIOR, ICSR Auditorium, IIT – Evening” today, the dream of this man with unbridled passion for cinema comes true. Speakers from around the world, including veteran French writer Jean Claude Carriere, Olivier Lorelle (whose film “Indigenes” was nominated for the Oscars in 2006), Shekhar Kapur, K. Balachander, Balu Mahendra, Gulzar, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Vishal Bharadwaj, Rituparno Ghosh, Shyamaprasad and Sriram Raghavan will share their thoughts between May 28 and June 3.

“I envy the 250 delegates who will get to be at the ICSR auditorium to listen to the masters and attend the screenwriting workshop to be conducted by Anjum Rajabali, Atul Tiwari and K.Hariharan,” says Kamal Haasan, speaking about the event hosted by Raajkamal Films International, in association with Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. “Back in the 1970s, we scrounged and floundered, trying hard to get our hands on whatever information we could find on cinema. There was a magazine called Pesum Padam that brought out scripts of films made here, but we realised they were just transcriptions of the completed film produced to the Censors. There were no VHS tapes... So we used to watch every film five or six times. Once for the writing, once for the performances, once for the shots, once just to see the cuts. RC Sakthi and me (they made an art house film called “Unnarchigal” together) used to watch every film that released in Casino. We watched ‘Woodstock’ around 30 times. We would go in with a sandwich and sit and watch it back to back at Safire because if we left our seats, someone else would take them for the next show,” recalls Kamal.

He continues, “Even before Coppola made the ‘The Godfather’, we had started casting in our minds... which Italian actor should play what. So when we heard that Coppola had used an all-new cast, we were initially disappointed. But Brando was our favourite.”

“The Godfather” later went on to influence two of Kamal films — “Nayakan” and “Thevar Magan”. “Not many people know ‘Thevar Magan’ was born out of ‘The Godfather’ which itself was born out of ‘King Lear’. Similarly, ‘Mahanadhi’ was ‘Les Miserables’.”

Kamal is dedicating the seminar to his old friend Ananthu, who first introduced him to world cinema. “He was the one who got me into writing. Suchitra Film Society would screen films from around the world. Every time films came for festivals, we would hijack the films and watch them,” he remembers.

“Once I could afford it (in the 1980s), I went to the U.S. and spent some time with (John) Truby. He was like my coach. He introduced me to all the tools I needed. ‘Thevar Magan’ was the first film here to be written with Movie Magic, a screenwriting software.”

The next biggest influence in his life was Jean Claude Carriere. “He would write for three hours a day and then we would unwind and he would just talk to me. I had showed him the script and we were sitting at the bar, when he asked me who I had in mind to write the French parts of ‘Maruthanayagam’. I said any young French writer he would recommend, thinking that obviously I would not be able to afford someone like him. And he asked me: ‘Are you particular about a young writer or is a young-minded writer good enough?’ I asked him who the writer was and he said: ‘How about Jean Claude Carriere?’ He liked my script enough to write it with me.”

The two collaborated on “Maruthanayagam”. “In the time I spent with him, he spoke to me about his collaborations with Luis Bunuel. He then introduced me to Abbas Kiarostami and that was the first time we spoke of mentoring writers and filmmakers. Because not all storytellers make for good screenwriters. Even if Shakespeare was around today, he would have to learn screenwriting. Not to say screenwriting is greater than Shakespeare. It’s just that the rules of the game have changed. It took me nearly 20 years to learn what is today taught in film schools. These 250 students we have selected will need just a week to take their first baby step towards writing,” says the filmmaker.

All the speakers belong to different schools of cinema. “The people I have invited are those from whom I have learnt even if they are younger than me. Some of them I consider mentors. K. Balachander has written and produced 100 different films, Balu Mahendra and I wish Mani Ratnam could’ve come too but he has a film to complete. The Americans and the Europeans may not all agree with each other. But it is important to present the different perspectives because there is no one way to write a script,” smiles Kamal.

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