Friday Review

Between the lines

Javed Siddiqui   | Photo Credit: 19dfr Javed

The media is often guilty of scratching the surface. It came to the fore all over again when during the celebration of 1000 weeks of “Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge”, the entire focus remained on the star cast. No film can last this long in people’s imagination unless its content, its dialogues continue to remain relevant. The film changed the way romance was approached on screen. It shunned elopement, which had become central to Bollywood love stories since “Bobby” and aspired for parental acceptance of young love.

So one called up Javed Siddiqui, whose dialogues are an important cog in the DDLJ juggernaut. It not only won him the Filmfare Award trophy but being his 50 film as a screen writer DDLJ has a special place in his oeuvre. “Bade bade shehron mein, chhoti chhoti baatein hoti rehti hain Senorita” still rings a bell with the youth but Siddiqui holds there is more to the film than the “cheesy line”. “Usually such lines stick to the mass palette. I remember I wrote a crude line in ‘Ashanti’: Teri jaat ka paida maroon. (loosely translated as I will vanquish your tribe). It has been repeated many times over in film and real life. It is not an abusive line but conveys the intent. To me the lines that I wrote for Amrish Puri in the opening scene where he says that how he came to be a free bird in London but now feels like being caged carry much more weight. Similarly, the conversation between Farida Jalal and Kajol, where she tells her to follow her heart, is much more timeless.”

Siddiqui says when you are writing the dialogue you don’t really know what will stick. “It works with the package. Like the ‘Baazigar’ line: haar ke jeetne waale ko baazigar kehte hain is not extraordinary but it has lasted all these years.”

Having written for Shah Rukh in “Baazigar” and “Darr” as well, Siddiqui maintains, “More than anybody else the pressure was on Shah Rukh for he was coming straight from “Baazigar” and “Darr”, films which had established him strongly as an anti-hero. The fact that he made a smooth transition and that we have forgotten about how he started tells something about his talent.”

Looking back, Siddiqui agrees the conversation between Anupam Kher and Shah Rukh was ahead of its time as it presented the father-son relationship in a refreshing way. “It provides the much needed contrast to the Amrish Puri-Kajol relationship and establishes where Raj is coming from.” Also, the much talked about climax, he says, has to be on the railway station for it completes the cycle which started on a railway station in Europe where Kajol picks Shah Rukh on to a train. As for the lines, Siddiqui says everything fell into place smoothly because director Aditya Chopra was clear what he wanted.

“Adi was absolutely clear in his mind. And when the dialogue writer knows the character and the social background and the milieu, the task becomes much easier. I don’t remember there was any conflict between us. Also, I am not the kind of writer who doesn’t allow even full stops to be changed in his writing. I believe the director is the captain of the ship and if he asks to rework the lines, I am ready to do it not just twice but also thrice.”

However, amidst all the commercial success we tend to forget that Siddiqui, a celebrated playwright, has a serious, cerebral side as well. He started with Satyajit Ray’s “Shatranj Ke Khiladi” and his filmography includes films as varied as “Umrao Jaan” and “Chakra”.

However, Siddiqui wears his versatility modestly. “To put it crudely, I am like a DVD player. Whatever CD you will put inside, I will play it in the required mode. I was as comfortable writing ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi’ and ‘Umrao Jaan’ as ‘Pardes’ and ‘Taal’. My theatre background helped but the dialogue writer should not flaunt his literary merit. He should write according to the character and the situation,” says Siddiqui who has been associated with IPTA and has written timeless plays like “Tumhari Amrita” and “Saalgriha.”

“Usually, it is not possible to find all the traits of the character in one person around you. What I do is pick the language of one person, body language of another, dialect of the third and then blend all of them. Slowly a new character emerges. It has to be close to the vision of the director and you have to be honest to the situation as well the unseen person you have created. If you look closely in ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi’, the Urdu of Saeed Jaffery and Sanjeev Kumar is different from the language of Amjad Khan who played Wajid Ali Shah. Similarly, the idiom of courtesans is different from that of Shabana Azmi and Leela Mishra.”

As a dialogue writer he learnt the importance of silence early. “Apart from writing dialogues, I assisted Ray on ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi’. He told me categorically write only what a picture can’t convey. He said sometimes the silence between the two lines is much more vocal than the lines themselves.”

He emerged on the scene at a time when Salim Javed were ruling the industry. “I often found them indulging in claptrap. The lines worked largely because they had the advantage of Amitabh Bachchan. I wanted to be as real as possible and true to the character even in commercial films. Film dialogues are not supposed to generate ooh, aah and wah. It is not a bloody mushaira after all,” he exclaims. “I hated the dialoguebaazi where one line rhymed with the other, irrespective of the social background of the characters.”

Not somebody who cribs about the current generation of film writers, Siddiqui says each generation is driven by the social milieu and it reflects in the writing. “What I don’t like is the deliberate use of abusive language to grab attention. Your film is not going to be deleted after the weekend. It will stay forever even when you are not there. So respect the medium. If your character demands it do it with restraint. I used expletives in ‘Chakra’ for it was about slum dwellers but I asked the director Rabindra Dharmraj to first take permission from CBFC.”

Apart from writing Muzzaffar Ali’s next, Siddiqui is writing the television serial “Udaan” these days with long time collaborator Robin Bhatt. Interestingly, it is an adaptation of a film called “Girvi” on bonded labourers that they once wrote for Mahesh Bhatt. The film could not take off and has now found its way in the form of a television series. “Film scripts are finite. Here you only know the beginning and then there is a long tunnel and you don’t know when you will get to see light again! We are only looking at the shape that the script will take in the next three months. There are other people to write the episodes,” Siddiqui sign off.

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Printable version | Nov 25, 2021 11:53:27 AM |

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