Writing on Writing

A few months back, I compiled a few stories around Hindi film scripts for a very popular magazine. The material got used in bits and pieces for the cover story that they were doing. The cores of the stories were picked up from books, old issues of magazines, video interviews, memoirs of film personalities etc. Putting those stories here. 

Writer Abrar Alvi was visited in Bombay by some of his rich friends from Hyderabad. With them, he ended up visiting prostitutes and met a woman called Gulabo. He never had a physical relationship with her but became very close friends, visiting her several times in the red-light district and having long conversations about her life. Later on, Alvi became very busy as a writer and could not remain in touch with Gulabo, who succumbed to tuberculosis. In fact, Alvi was passing by her locality when he decided to stop and meet her – only to see her funeral pass by. He recounted this story to Guru Dutt, who asked him to write a script out of it. That story became Pyaasa and Waheeda Rehman played the on-screen Gulabo.

Sholay (Mausi)
One of Sholay’s most memorable scenes – Jai’s ‘praise’ of Viru to Basanti’s mausi – had a real-life parallel because that was exactly how writer Salim Khan took his partner Javed Akhtar’s proposal to Honey Irani’s mother, Perin. Since Javed did not have a cordial relationship with his father, Salim was the ‘elder’ in his family but Salim’s ‘praise’ of Javed pretty much cooked the marriage’s goose. The proposal went something like this:
-          “Ladka kaisa hai?”
-          “We are partners and I wouldn’t work with anyone unless I approve of him. Lekin daaru bahut peeta hai.”
-          “Kya? Daaru bahut peeta hai!”
-          “Aaj kal bahut nahi peeta, bas ek do peg. Aur is mein aisi koi kharabi nahin hai. Lekin daaru peene ke baad red light area bhi jaata hai.”

Sholay (Tank)
While the entire screenplay of Sholay had been written right at the beginning, the exact nitty-gritties of individual scenes were discussed before the shooting schedule and modifications made to the dialogue. Viru’s most memorable scene – the drunken monologue atop the tank – was discussed several times and Javed Akhtar was supposed to write the final lines. He kept postponing it till it was time for him to return to Bombay from the shooting location near Bangalore. He started writing on his drive to the airport but Bangalore traffic then was nothing like what it is now and he reached the airport before he could complete the scene. An assistant went inside the airport to check him in while Javed kept the sheets of paper on the hood of his car and kept on writing right till boarding was announced. He just about managed to catch his flight and the lines he wrote went on to make box-office history.

Amar Akbar Anthony
Writer-director Prayag Raaj was a long-time associate of Manmohan Desai and came to Desai’s home one evening to pick up keys for a farmhouse where he wanted to spend a few days relaxing. When he arrived, Desai told him about a news item about a man who left his three sons at a park and committed suicide. What if he didn’t commit suicide and returned to find the three sons missing, he wondered. Prayag Raaj was intrigued enough by the idea to abandon his farmhouse plans and jam with Desai. What if the three boys were picked up by a Hindu, a Muslim and a Christian, he countered. They threw ideas around till late night with Manmohan Desai’s wife – Jeevanprabha – also contributing and by the end of it, the story showed enough promise to be developed into a full-fledged film.

The cast of Don – Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman, Pran – had been assembled by the director Chandra Barot and producer Nariman Irani but they did not have a script. Nariman Irani’s wife, Salma was Waheeda Rehman’s hairdresser and through her, they got Waheeda Rehman to put in a word to her neighbour, Salim Khan.
Irani and Barot went to meet Salim-Javed and the writers did have a script to spare. But they warned the team of newcomers that the script had been rejected by pretty much the entire industry including stars like Dev Anand and Jeetendra. Salim Khan honestly asked them, “Humare paas ek breakfast script padi hai jo koi nahin le raha hai... Chalega?” And the team said, “Chalega”.
Salim then looked at Javed and said, “Toh phir woh Don wali script inhe de dete hain...

Anurag Kashyap was about twenty-five when he met Ram Gopal Varma and RGV asked him to write a script based on a one-line idea: “Let’s put Howard Roark of The Fountainhead in the Mumbai underworld.” Anurag started writing the script but RGV brought in Saurabh Shukla because he felt someone more mature should be involved. Anurag was not happy about this but nevertheless they went to RGV’s farmhouse in Hyderabad and wrote the first draft in about a week.
When they were discussing with RGV on how to name the characters – who had to look and sound real – RGV told his office boy, “Bhiku, teen coffee lana...” And the name stuck.
(After the first three days of shooting, Gulshan Kumar was shot dead and the underworld’s equation with Bollywood changed. Ram Gopal Verma trashed the script written so far and started afresh.) 

Rang De Basanti
Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and writer Kamlesh Pandey were in Gujarat for researching a documentary when they met every evening and – with nothing to drink in the dry state – had anguished discussions about the state of the country’s affairs. This led to the idea of making a film on the armed freedom struggle of India and they wanted to call it The Young Guns of India. Kamlesh Pandey researched two years to write a first draft but when they bounced the idea off a group of Mumbai college students, they rejected it – unable to identify with the young revolutionaries of the 1920s. When Mehra wondered how to make this story relevant, he remembered a NDTV story on the faulty MiG aircrafts in the Indian Air Force and decided to rewrite the script with that as the focal point.  

Delhi Belly
The script of Delhi Belly was written by Akshat Verma and he pitched the concept to pretty much every big production house in Mumbai. Everyone made soft happy noises but eventually backed out. He tried getting in touch with Aamir Khan as well but could not reach the notoriously reclusive star. He left the script with Aamir’s maid and went back to LA (where he is based). The script was placed among a heap of unread scripts (yes, Aamir has one such heap at home!) and Kiran Rao happened to pick it out at random. She laughed so hard while reading the script that Aamir also read it and immediately called the writer on the number given on the first page of the script. 48 hours later, Akshat and his associate Jim Furgele were in Mumbai, narrating the script and figuring out shooting plans.

Gangs of Wasseypur
Zeishan Quadri had come from Dhanbad to Mumbai to become an actor. In between auditions, he hung around with other hopefuls and ended up watching the gangster classic City of God. He told his friends – Sachin Ladia and Akhilesh Jaiswal – this was nothing compared to the crime saga that unfolded in his hometown. This was met with disbelief till he came up with a flurry of stories and they made a treatment out of the stories. They managed to corner Anurag Kashyap inside the Prithvi Theatre complex. The director told all of them to write their own versions of the screenplay, which they did (including Zeishan, who had never written a script and wrote a novel instead). Anurag Kashyap took this voluminous material and went to Madrid, where Kalki Koechlin was shooting for Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. In four days, he wrote the script for Part 1 and half of Part 2 (while staying in a hotel full of transsexuals). On his way back, the airline lost the bag which had the script. He stayed in the airport for two days till they found the bag.
(On his way back from Spain, he was supposed to come directly to Delhi where Hindustan Times had organised a screening of Udaan and he was supposed to introduce it.)

Screen writers have been a big obsession for a long time now and much of the last two years was devoted towards researching some of the best. This post is an appetiser for – hopefully – bigger stories.


Unknown said…
Daarun. Boi ta kobe berochhe?
Iniya said…
This is terrific. Waiting for the bigger one very eagerly.