Saturday, May 28, 2011

My Biggest Achievement

When life gets super sucky and I feel like I have accomplished nothing in the 32 years I've been alive, I stop and think:

At least I made it past this:

Ain't my country SOOPER?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Writer's Block

The ideas wouldn't come so she nibbled her pencil. She gnawed it down to the quick and started on the yellow notepad. Her teeth tore into the pages until she reached the desk. But she didn't stop. She chomped down hard, crunching its wooden legs down to their ends. Then she ate her way through the floor, which became the downstairs' tenant's ceiling. She ate the downstairs' tenant's ceiling & floor and kept on going.

She gobbled the foundation of the building and began burrowing into the ground. Swallowing fistfuls of clay, mud, roots & rodents, she made her gastric way through the earth. She grew larger & larger until her girth drilled a massive tunnel straight through to China. That's where she came up for air.

"I love you, oxygen!" she exclaimed before turning around.
She rolled all the way back, devouring earthworms & fossils along the way. When she finally reached home, she sat back down in her chair, pulled out a fresh sheet of paper and brand new pencil.
The ideas still wouldn't come but at least she was full.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What I Do

Whenever someone asks me what I do for a living, everything slows down as I release the word 'Screenwriter' from my mouth. I stretch time, savouring their widening of eyes and the 'wooooooowwwwww' that seems to go on for days.
I do this because the next question will promptly crash my little hovercraft of delusions into the ground.
"What films do you write for?"
"Non fiction."
"Like serials?"
" documentary films."
"Like Big Boss?"

Here, I pause. Because they're right. These films I help make (or 'supposedly' help make, as my mother believes) don't reach too many people. The last time I did something that was broadcast, was in 2007. I know of 2 people who saw it. One of them was my mother.

Still, it's a great job. Someone with a lot of money contacts me and tells me they don't have any money. Then they tell me the subject they wish to make a film on e.g: sewage treatment. I am asked to take a trip for research purposes. Thanks to such trips, I have experienced strange & fascinating things like the inside of a mountain, secret rituals of the Khalsa, Malyalee robots bumping into tables, a duet between Manoj & Shweta Tiwari and a Citibank conference.

Researching for documentary films is a respected profession amongst the 6 people who know what it entails. You're the equivalent of a Harvard PhD in this tiny group. What you say & believe about a particular subject is the gospel truth. You are, in fact Jesus of the film crew. (Or so you tell yourself as they delay your payment by another month.) No need for them to know that your analysis of the Guru Granth Sahib was the result of standing in the karha prasad line at the Golden Temple. After all, the final film will only give you 30 seconds of voice-over to expound on Sikh philosophy. Of which 'The Guru Granth Sahib is the Sikh holy scripture" takes up a whole 5 seconds.

After research is done, it's time for writing. This is a task of many contradictions. A good documentary film writer isn't one who actually writes well. It is one who knows when not to write. In a medium where the hierarchy of communication tools places visuals, sounds & interviews above everything else, the writer must constantly 'unwrite'. Shakespeare would've made an awful documentary film writer.

Then there's the unspoken rule. What you write is never right. Takes a while to get used to the gentle sounds of dismay when one presents first drafts. Contempt, horror & anger will be hurled at you by people who can't spell their own names correctly (or even spell 'correctly' krektly).
"Madam, you have not even written anything about our great Baba Kamdev's Exceptional Institute For the Hormonally Challenged!"
Who will explain to them that the visual of a building saying 'Baba Kamdev's Exceptional Institute for The Hormonally Challenged is quite Exceptional' does more than what a 2 page voice-over ever will.

And so you unwrite the script and present the film to your client.
They are effusive in their praise - "This cinematographer has done wonderful work!" "Who is your editor? Simply fabulous graphics!" Your chest bursts with pride or something like it and you eagerly await your pay cheque. You discover they've cut your pay because you only wrote 3.5 sentences in the hour long film.
You make like Guru Dutt in Kagaz Ke Phool and renounce the world.

Then, one day you're switching channels and catch a line that sounds vaguely familiar. You realise this is your line. You cringe at how horrendous it sounds but don't change the channel. You wait till the end of the show for that golden moment - the moment that, if your work was being shown in a cinema hall, would be the one when everyone walks out.
In a sea of names rolling up the screen, you see yours for a nanosecond.  It will be gone before you blink, not to return in a hurry, not to see a DVD release or fancy premiere. And so you stretch time again.