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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 

 

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Jaideep Sahni’s Master Class at Film Writers’ Association, Mumbai: 15 years in 150 minutes

 

Jaideep Sahni’s Master Class at Film Writers’ Association, Mumbai: 15 years in 150 minutes

Bumping into Rajashree, urf (alias) Raju (that is how she likes to be known), a Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) alumnus and novelist, at Mumbai’s Linking Road, on Thursday evening, I told her I was considering attending the Film Writers’ Association’s Master Class by popular film-writer Jaideep Sahni, but the Facebook listing said it was only for members of the FWA. An Executive Committee member of the FWA, Convener of their Events Committee and the Moderator of the upcoming Master Class, Rajashree replied, “You can come, since you are a journalist, but only if you guarantee that you will write about it.” The demand was a deterrent, because I feel nobody should make such demands of journalists.  They border on the unethical. I was with my friend Irfan (we were returning from a poetry session where I was welcome without any pre-condition, though I am not a poet) who had gifted me a book some years ago, a book that would find reference on Saturday afternoon in Jaideep’s Master Class. I introduced Irfan to her, we exchanged some pleasantries and as we parted company, I told Raju I would think about her offer and only confirm on Friday. I did, and headed for the venue on Saturday afternoon.

Unexpected delays along the way meant that I reached at 2 pm for an event scheduled to start at 1.30. This was my first visit to the FWA’s office, located off Link Road, north of my own residence in Bandra, some 70-90 minutes away. Luckily, the session started only at 2.20. Unluckily, the number of attendees was twice the capacity of the venue. All seats were already taken and a good 50 persons were standing when I arrived, a number that was growing by the minute. Dreading the prospect of having to stand for three hours, and being unable to get a good view of the dais from where I found place to stand, I sent a text message to Raju, requesting her to try and find me a chair. There was no reply. She passed by me a few minutes later, with a mere nod. I was now resigned to my fate. Chak De India, written by Jaideep, was being shown on a DVD screen, and the projection was halted when Jaideep was escorted to the dais.

Manisha Korde, Joint Secretary FWA welcomed Jaideep and Rajashree, who was seated on his left. After brief introductions, Jaideep began his PowerPoint Presentation. The Master Class was held in three segments: Jaideep’s PPP, Raju’s questions and a couple of questions from the audience. Altogether, the session lasted for about two-and-a-half hours, and was studded with anecdotes from the 15 year writing career of Jaideep Sahni. Many thanks to the FWA for serving tea while the session was on, and a samosa after it got over. The pioneering event gave me an opportunity to meet acquaintances, like writers Jalees Sherwani (also a renowned poet, FWA President) Kamlesh Pandey (General Secretary), Anjum Rajabali (Executive Committee member) and Sridhar Raghavan (my colleague at Sterling group of magazines where I used to edit TV&Video World), and to see a picture of venerated Urdu writer of the 1940s, Saadat Hasan Manto on the office wall, with his thick, bushy hair, and a curl across his forehead. My thanks to the kindly soul who allowed me to sit in his chair for the last hour of the programme, when my legs were getting numb after standing for 120 minutes.

Jaideep impressed with his candid, easy-flowing speech, and his self-effacing style, even as he analysed why he felt certain components he, and the teams he worked with, put together in six of his films. The PPP did not include Jungle, his first foray into the Mumbai film industry, made by Ramgopal Varma, and Aaja Nachle, a Yashraj Films production, the house for whom he wrote three more films: Bunty Aur Babli, Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year and Shuddh Desi Romance. Sahni’s output so far includes four films for Yashraj (run by Aditya Chopra), two for Varma (Company was the other), one which he made in Delhi with help from friends and was also Creative Producer of, and one produced by superstar ShahRukh Khan (Chak De India). He has also written lyrics in a few other films.

Now to the book that Irfan gifted me. It was the screenplay of Richard Attenborough’s film, Gandhi, by John Briley. Briley is not known to be prolific, but the book is a masterpiece. I was so taken-up with it, that when I went to conduct a class on script-writing across three media--radio, television and film--at the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication in Pune, some six years ago, I used a couple of scenes from this screenplay as the base for the students to develop. Therefore, it came as a pleasant surprise and belated validation that Jaideep got interested in screenplay writing after he read this very book. An engineering graduate from small town Bidar (in the southern state of Karnataka), he worked in IT for a while, then joined advertising and then wrote lyrics for a band called Euphoria. “Listening to so many Hindi film songs, I began to feel that they just rotated some 50-100 words around to churn out new songs. Now, this can even be done with computer software, so I actually wrote a programme that could transpose words and create new songs every time, using the same words in different permutations.”

Inspiration for his film stories came from family memories (Khosla Ka Ghosla), research on the modus operandi of criminal gangs and their recruitment methods (Company), college days in a pit-stop town called Bidar (Bunty Aur Babli), a small item in a newspaper (Chak De India), friends trapped in the marketing rat race of the 21st century (Rocket Singh) and the new generation of 20 somethings, who live and work in metro cities, on their own, far away from their families, and have their own attitudes to morals and ethics (Shuddh Desi Romance). He strongly believes in workshops before shooting begins, and goes back every night after the readings to improve on the script, discovering that some actor has brought out an element that he could not have thought of. But he does not do detailed characterisation, except for one film, where he had to, because there were so many characters (Chak De India, about an Indian national women’s hockey team and its male coach).

I have seen Jungle, half of Khosla Ka Ghosla on TV, half of Company on TV, Bunty Aur Babli, Chak De India and Aaja Nachle. Jungle was slightly disappointing, Bunty Aur Babli was partly formulaic (Jaideep acknowledges that the item song and the portion leading to it was inserted on the producer’s insistence) and the three main characters had shades of similar personalities in one Hollywood and one Hindi film, Aaja Nachle was under-rated. Khosla Ka Ghosla is the film closest to his heart because he went back from Mumbai to home-town Delhi, self-respect bruised, and decided to make one last film before calling it quits. It took him a long time to get it completed and released. But when it hit the screens, it became the talk of the country. Another work of sheer passion was Chak De India. He was driven to tears at the plight of the Indian women’s hockey team, and made it his mission to get them some respect, and sponsorship for their clothes and kits. Shooting began only when all the actresses had learnt play hockey at a level that could give any state team in India a run for its money, an exercise undertaken just to make sure that the long-shot sport, with so many players running at the same time, appeared realistic on screen.

Making a strong case for self-respect, Jaideep advised aspiring writers not to lick the boots of producers and directors, “Never indulge in the ‘Sir-Sir’ culture. Let your page do the talking for you. If you find something objectionable, speak up.” It is worth mentioning here that the writer duo Salim-Javed (Sholay, Deewar, Don, among other block-busters) were the first to ensure that writers were paid very well, treated very well and given credit on par with directors. S-J arrived on the scene around 1968, the year Jaideep was born! They have split now, with Salim doing little or no writing and Javed writing only songs. In every interview, the duo has spoken of the prevalent socio-economic conditions as the milieu which gave rise to their characters and scripts. Sahni expressed the same point of view and detailed the circumstances and incidents that gave birth to his stories. He also quotes lyricist-writer-director Gulzar on two or three occasions. (One song in Bunty Aur Babli, ‘Chhote chhote shehron se’, written by Gulzar, sounds so much like the whole film in a capsule)!

A very good orator, Jaideep could manage to hold your attention in spite of a constant monotone. His command over both Hindi and English is amazing, expect for the occasional catch word, ‘yaar’, and the Punjabi way of combining the pronoun ‘aap’ with the verb ‘ho’, whereas it should be aap+haen. Incidentally, he said that some producers and directors often commented that he did not know how to write dialogue, because he wrote the way people spoke in real life, as against the stilted, unrealistic manner in which they talk in Hindi movies.

 

Back in 2010, Jaideep enumerated the five stages in his life that led him to become a screen-writer, and they appeared in a newspaper as

5 steps to being a screenwriter: Jaideep Sahni

Jayeeta Mazumder, Hindustan Times, Mumbai | Updated: Jul 17, 2010 02:01 IST

What we heard and saw on Saturday, 30 January 2015, was a personal and much more elaborate presentation, and, one must add, with almost no groping or fumbling at all, except for a brief contemplative second, every time, before he answered Rajashree’s questions.

 

Jaideep Sahni’s filmography, as writer

2013 Shuddh Desi Romance (Pure Indian Romance) (written by)

2009 Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year (written by)

2007 Aaja Nachle (Let’s Dance) (screenplay & dialogue)

2007 Chakde! India (Hail India) (written by)

2006 Khosla Ka Ghosla! (Khosla’s Nest) (story, screenplay & dialogue)

2005 Bunty Aur Babli (Bunty and Babli) (screenplay and dialogue)

2002 Company (written by)

2000 Jungle (story, screenplay and dialogue)

 

Awards

Filmfare Awards for Best Dialogue and Best Story, for Company

Filmfare Award for Best Screenplay, for Khosla Ka Ghosla

IIFA award for Best Story, for Chak De! India

 

My humble comments and suggestions

1.Hold these Master Classes at bigger venues. Yes, cost will be a factor, but you should find a way.

2.Hold them in the time slot 3-5.30 pm. Most people in Mumbai have lunch at 1.30, and they have to travel great distances to reach the class venue, in the mad Mumbai traffic, so starting the class at 1.30 or even 2 is not a good idea.

3.I know there was an FWA meeting scheduled that day immediately after the Master Class, but that should not prevent you from putting the audience’s questions to the Master Classer. I presume there must have been 50 questions forwarded, on paper, as were the instructions, of which only two were answered. Bad percentage.

4.Try and convince speakers to dwell on the ‘process’ a bit. True, the experiences of Jaideep were lessons in themselves. A dash of the writing process would have added much more weight, undoubtedly. To manage time, the speakers could dwell on fewer examples than, say, the seven films that Jaideep covered in detail. Yes, I realise that one cannot lay down strict guidelines for speakers, who, I am sure, come and speak pro bono, but surely a suggestion can be made, based on the time factor and the nature of the audience.

5.Tea and a samosa were most welcome. On the tea, maybe half-a-cup would be much more appreciated than a quarter cup. On the samosa, it was so piping hot that my lips actually got scalded when I unsuspectingly and hungrily bit into it (having skipped lunch to try and reach on time, I was really hungry by 5.30 pm) and I had to then wait for a full 12 minutes for it to cool before I could bite into it again. Delicious, nevertheless.

6.Welcome the media, without any stipulation. Every media-person might not give such extensive coverage as what you have read here, and some might not write at all. That is an occupational hazard. Also, every media attendee will cost you tea and a samosa. Surely that is not too much of an investment into a worthy cause. (Tongue-in-cheek, samosa in mouth)!

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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