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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for 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. 



Mumbai Mantra-CineRise Screenwriting Programme 2015: It all begins with a story, and then …

Mumbai Mantra-CineRise Screenwriting Programme 2015: It all begins with a story, and then …

Names, names and more names. And frankly, Anjum Rajabali, should consider an alternate career as a compère. Not many could rattle off name after name of film personalities and their films with such élan and in such fluent English. And even then, had the audience at the J.W. Marriott, Juhu, Mumbai, not already partaken of a sumptuous Sunday-morning breakfast, it would have found it difficult to keep pace. Some 20 others spoke too, some briefly, some not so briefly. All for a very good cause, though.

Mumbai Mantra-CineRise Screenwriting Programme 2015 was inaugurated by actor-producer Anil Kapoor. As many as 550 entries were received, of which 100 were initially short-listed and, after two-day workshops in Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata, that figure was brought down to 10. These 10 ideas and their ideators were introduced to the press that day, 09 August. After sumptuous food and flowing drinks, this select group of Top 10 was escorted to Lonavla, a hill-resort near Mumbai (when in doubt, head for the hills?), to be mentored at eight defined stages of creative intervention, over a five-day screen-writing Lab. By the time you read this, the group must be back to base. But the S2S (script to screen) Lab will really culminate with a Pitch Event, to be held in Mumbai, a rare opportunity for screen-writers to pitch their stories to potential producers, financiers, distributors, film festival programmers and curators.

Mumbai Mantra has already had a successful three-year association with the Sundance Institute, which gave shape to the Screenwriters Lab in India, and the Sundance Institute-Mahindra Global Film-making Awards, awarded annually at the Sundance Film Festival. As many as 16 filmmakers have been awarded and 25 screen-writing fellows have been through the last 3 Screenwriting Labs.

Among the four films awarded last year was Indian debutant director Neeraj Gheyvan’s extremely well-crafted Masaan (Fly Away Solo), and he was present at the current event, along with his writer Varun Grover. I got an opportunity to share some notes on Urdu poetry with Varun, who hails from the city which has been home to dozens of outstanding Urdu poets, Lucknow. Varun’s father reads and writes Urdu, but he regrets not following his father’s advice. Yet, Varun and Masaan have done yeoman’s service to the art, by including the works of both classic and modern Urdu poets in the film. The event  also gave me a chance to meet my old friend Shahid Akhtar, son of Urdu poet and film lyricist, late Jan Nisar Akhtar, and younger brother of Javed Akhtar, after some 20 years! Shahid works for the organisers.

This year, the screenwriting programme’s banner is Mumbai Mantra-CineRise, but the nature and format of the workshop remains the same. Rohit Khattar, Chairman, Mumbai Mantra, said, “Our mission at Mumbai Mantra is to provide a springboard for writers which will help them take their scripts to the screen. These screenplays (and even those that do not get selected as finalists), shall be part of the CineRise Script Bank, and may still get attention from producers in the future. India is a land of stories and we would like to provide. The programme is also open to non-resident Indians and even those with mixed Indian parentage.”

Anjum Rajabali, Convenor and Mentor, who has been with the programme from the very beginning and who looked at Sundance as the obvious choice to spur the movement on, three years ago, opines, “There is no doubt that the most important need facing the Indian film industry today is fresh, original, cinematic scripts. For that, we need to encourage and nurture young talented screenwriters, by helping them develop their skills, and provide them an interface with filmmakers so that their work can be showcased productively. And that is precisely what Mumbai Mantra has been single-mindedly focussing its voluntary energies on.”

We know it all begins with a story, but then it needs a mantra (magic formula) to turn into good cinema. Given the right inputs, some of these 10 stories might just turn out to be an Umrika or Margarita With a Straw, two other well-received films that grew out of previous Mantra editions. So, as they say in Umrika (America), and elsewhere, "Cheers" to that!


Mentors include:

#Akshat Verma (Delhi Belly)

#Anjum Rajabali (Drohkaal, Ghulam, The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Rajneeti)

#Audrey Wells (Shall We Dance, Under the Tuscan Sun, The Truth About Cats & Dogs)

#Michael Radford (Il Postino: The Postman, Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Merchant of Venice)

#Navdeep Singh (Manorama Six Feet Under, NH10),

#Ravi Jadhav (Natarang, Balgandharva)

#Pubali Chaudhuri (Rock On!!, Kai Po Che!)

#Sebastian Cordero (Europa Report, Cronicas, Ratas, Ratones, Rateros)

#Sridhar Raghavan (Dum Maaro Dum, Khakee, Bluffmaster!) and

#Sriram Raghavan (Ek Hasina Thi, Johnny Gaddar, Badlapur).

Attendees at the glittering event included Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Abbas–Mustan (brothers, director duo), Nandita Das, Sudhir Mishra, Gul Panag, Onir, Hansal Mehta, Poonam Dhillon, Renuka Shahane, Tisca Chopra, Siddhartha Basu, Kamlesh Pandey, Vasan Bala, Danish Aslam, Jaaved Jaffrey and Nilesh Maniyar.

The ten projects short-listed


An ambitious head of a ‘Coaching-Class’, who’s chasing a dream, is having illicit affairs with the wife of a local municipal corporator, and with one of his female-students, simultaneously.

Writer/Director: Gaurav Patki


A ‘Paagi' (The Footmark Detective) would die to keep the honour of his art, but would he choose his integrity above someone’s life?

Writer/Director: Gajendra Shrotiya


Ved is a teenager who lives in the suburbs in a tiny apartment. He attends a posh school in south Mumbai where he is a star cricket player. Fareed used to work as a foot soldier for the underworld but has spent the last several years drinking relentlessly, and not leaving his tiny room in a tenement where he sees and talks to a girl with a hole in her head.

Writer/Director: Rajiv Rao


Set in the early 90s Hindi film industry in Bombay, the story is a psychological drama about a

dispirited assistant director whose life changes when she discovers an old film script, presumably written by her clinically depressed ‘Professor’ father, and unlocks the mystery that ruined her family years ago.


After a hostile invasion leads to a military standoff at the LOC, Americans mediate between the Indian and Pakistan Prime Ministers; as the crisis escalates, the Indian Prime Minister’s son is arrested for murder.

Writer/Director: Pranav G. Mahadevia


Two charismatic brothers, poles apart in character, are bound by love and a passionate dream.

A future envisioned by their father, a vibrant man who believed in the healing powers of alcohol, is cut short when he dies in a sudden accident, and their life is turned upside down.

Writer/Director: Manav Vigg


Mitra, an emotional story of a man and the woman he idolises, who happens to be a lesbian, is set in pre-independence India, when the struggle for independence from colonialism was at its peak.

Writer/Director: Ravi Guria


In a lawless suburb in Kanpur, tough, conservative cop, Jatil Yadav, attempts to solve the murder of the head of an old feudal family, Raghubeer Singh, who is found lying in a pool of blood, on the night of his wedding to the young, alluring bride, Radha.

Writer/Director: Smita Singh


Thakurmar Jhuli is a collection of old Bengali folktales that have travelled down the paths of time as bedtime stories to children, one generation after another. One of the most iconic stories in the mix is the story of two princes, reincarnated to fight the blight of demonic predators that prey on humans in a world full of magic, awe and mystery.

Writers/Directors: Mahee Pal & Mon Pal


An extraordinary tale of an ordinary roadside Biryani seller from the streets of Kolkata, who embarks on a journey to realise his unfulfilled dream of becoming an artist, set in the backdrop of globalisation and the rapidly-changing socio-political demography of urban India.

Writers/Directors: Rajdeep Paul & Sarmistha Maiti


A $16.5 bn multinational group based in Mumbai, India, Mahindra employs more than 1,80,000 people, in over 100 countries. Among a host of industries, it is also in the film-making and vacation marketing. The group has produced the films Sorry Bhai, Antaheen, Shukno Lanka and Tempest, and the camp at Club Mahindra resort in Lonavla was courtesy Mahindra’s hospitality arm. Mumbai Mantra is a Mahindra group initiative.

Associated with the event as prime sponsor is Tube Investments (TI) India, part of the Murugappa Group. Founded in 1900, the INR 269 bn Murugappa Group is headquartered in Chennai. Major companies of the Group include Carborundum Universal Ltd., Cholamandalam Investment and Finance Company Ltd., Cholamandalam MS General Insurance Company Ltd., Coromandel International Ltd., Coromandel Engineering Company Ltd., E.I.D. Parry (India) Ltd., Parry Agro Industries Ltd., Parry Sugar industries Ltd, Shanthi Gears Ltd., Tube Investments of India Ltd., and Wendt (India) Ltd. Renowned brands like BSA, Hercules, Ballmaster, Ajax, Parry’s, Chola, Gromor, Shanthi Gears and Paramfos are from the Murugappa stable. The Group has a workforce of over 32,000 employees.

(TI is not to be confused with Texas Instruments or Toastmasters International, on account of the same acronym).

Comments (1)

They are called Bija Mantras,

They are called Bija Mantras, Bija means seed, and if you wonder what does mantra mean, you should know that the power of the mantra is hidden in the seed. It powers the mantra. and different Bija mantras have different powers. Like Aim is Saraswati Bija which gives knowledge. Shreem is the Lakshmi Bija which gives prosperity. Science deals with things which can be verified by the senses. Religion begins after the senses are overcome. Scientific explanations are for things which can be grasped by the conscious mind only. Things which are beyond the mind are outside the reach of science.

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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 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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