In the last two decades, screenwriter Anjum Rajabali has showcased an expansive range. His filmography includes the action film China Gate (1998), crime thriller Ghulam (1998) and Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit-starrer drama Pukar (2000), among others. If he delved into history with The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002), Rajneeti (2010) saw him blend current events with a mythological undertone. The writer was recently seen in Veere Di Wedding, having replaced his writer’s hat for an actor’s chair. He played Kishan Puri, Kareena Kapoor’s father in the film. Rajabali has also been a very vocal champion for the screenwriters’ rights in the industry and has lobbied for changes in the Copyright Act that may benefit writers in the near future. Currently on a break in Croatia and Bosnia, he talks about the transition, the challenges of being a writer and why evolution is the only way to survive for a writer. Excerpts from an email interview:
How did your role in Veere Di Wedding come about? Have you ever wanted to try acting?
Hah! I don’t know how they thought of me. I was told that Shashanka (Ghosh), the director of the film, was keen that I essay that role. I’ve done bit roles earlier — in Ghajini, Kama Sutra, Teen aur Aadha, Time Machine, and Turning 30 among others – for fun. I had heard of Shashanka as an out-of-the-box thinker with some interesting work on TV, so I was happy to work with him. But I have no career ambitions in acting. So when they asked, I balked and refused for 18 days. But, they persisted. Anil (Kapoor) called, urging me to do it. My travel plans came undone, and I thought, why not.
I must say though that I enjoyed the experience, the sofa scene notwithstanding. As writers, we do play all the characters of our scripts inside our heads while writing scenes, and especially when writing dialogues. But the actual experience of facing the camera can throw up surprising and useful insights for one’s writing. Expressions, nuanced body language, pauses that the actor brings in, silences, all these contribute so much to the subtext of the scene that I’d advise all screenwriters to do some acting stints.
How was it to be part of a film with an all-female cast?
On the whole, it was good fun. It’s so good to see the easy self-confidence that young women exude. These four actors ruled the proceedings with great assurance. Apart from them, there were many girls in the unit and I just marveled at the infectious quality of youthful energy they carried, which livened up the general atmosphere on the set. I know Swara (Bhasker) well. And, since she’s bright, informed and well-read, it’s always fun to catch up with her and have our vigorous discussions. From among the female stars, my work was only with Kareena. She’s a consummate professional. So doing scenes with her was, frankly, a breeze. In fact, as soon as we faced the camera for the first time together, we hit the ground running, striking the father-daughter chord, without a hiccup. Apart from that, it was a pleasure working with Ekavali Khanna, Vivek Mushran, Manoj Pahwa, and Ayesha Raza. These are powerhouse actors, and I could sit back and watch them perform endlessly.
What do you make of the new actors on the block?
It’s so wonderful to keep discovering them. Every few months, in some film, you come across an actor whose performance you’re struck by. It is important that the film industry doesn’t remain dependent on a small bunch of stars to drive their films. We’re all hoping that studios and investors will begin to display confidence in the combination of good scripts, good actors, and good directors to deliver good films. There’s no reason, then, for the audience to not respond positively to those. Our cinema economy needs to become more broad-based.
Given the new kind of films where good writing/script is being credited as the X factor for success, do you think the writers are finally getting their due?
We’re seeing a lot of new, young talent coming into screenwriting. They bring with them a lot of ambition, vigour, and courage. Their efforts are beginning to result in some surprisingly interesting scripts. On the other hand, the film industry is steadily beginning to acknowledge the central importance of scripts. As a result, writers are receiving some recognition and prominence now. We still have some distance to go. New writers have to improve their craft, they have to be more confident about pursuing original ideas, relying on their conviction, and being able to defend their vision more energetically. But, despite all these concerns, it’s still an encouraging time indeed.
Is it a good time to be a writer in the industry? What do you make of the new ones?
Absolutely.You become a writer because you want to write. Given that, anytime is a good time to become a writer. But, I suspect the question is: are writers getting what they deserve, today — appropriate fees, status, appreciation? No, not yet. However, the situation is certainly changing and it’ll change faster if writers move with a mix of good work, a knowledge of what that’s worth, and some clarity about their rights. Rights are never obtained without a struggle, anywhere. So, I’m afraid, eternal vigilance is what is required here. The Screenwriters Association is fighting this battle in its own way; individual writers too should be more proactive about their rights.
As a screenwriter how does one evolve as a writer and make sure that one is not stuck in a familiar pattern?
Life is never stuck in a pattern. So, if one lives it fully, gets touched by it, connects it to writing, draws from it, then there is no question of not evolving.