Every writer goes through a cycle of attachment and detachment alternately as an idea takes the form of a script, the filming begins, the rushes are edited, and the final mixing done before it reaches the theatres. This intense process of writing and production was pieced together as writer-director Meghna Gulzar, writer Juhi Chaturvedi, writer-editor Pooja Ladha Surti, cinematographer Modhura Palit and author Sumedha Verma Ojha discussed the nuances of filmmaking at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Goa.
To start the process, every writer needs to find a reason that’s compelling. For Gulzar, the “duplicity” in the way the Arushi murder case was handled was the reason to make Talvar (2015). Similarly, while making Raazi (2018), she was moved by the story of a young girl who overnight agreed to put her life at stake for the country’s security. “It’s the core of the story that grabs me, and it has to have that backstory that will keep me engrossed,” she says. Chaturvedi, who has written films like Vicky Donor (2012), Piku (2015) and October (2018), agreed with Gulzar. “For example, in October, it’s Dan’s unconditional love that moved me. At its heart, Piku is about a father-daughter relationship, but it’s also about the times that we live in,” says Chaturvedi.
While for some people the process of writing is a solitary exercise, others love to collaborate. “For me, the first draft of the film has to be written by me alone. I work with Shoojit Sircar. Even though we discuss the crux of an idea, he doesn’t know what I’m going to write. My first draft is the purest version of an idea and then a lot of things goes into it — scenes are removed or added. But for me, as a writer, I need to know that subject completely by myself,” says Chaturvedi, who often tries to think like her characters while writing. However, once she is done with the draft, she takes a step back and looks at it with a fresh mind.
Unlike Chaturvedi and Verma Ojha, who write alone, Gulzar and Ladha Surti love to collaborate with other writers. “I love collaborative writing since I am a very lazy writer. The verbal jamming with my co-writers is fun. More than a conflict, it would be a different point of view if ever I have creative differences at the script level,” says Gulzar. For her, there is a process of detachment that happens when the film is edited. She can very easily let go of the scenes that don’t work. “Once we begin our other post-production process of adding sound and music, the emotional attachment comes back. I say the final goodbye when the film goes from me to the audiences in the theatre.” Surti, who worked with co-writers in Andhadhun (2018), says collaborators can come up with surprises that adds value to the script. “I love to put my characters up against a wall and make them take decisions that you know would change their lives or spoil them or make them better or whatever the case may be,” she says and adds, that a film first gets written on paper, then during the shoot and once again on the editing table.
Being a cinematographer, Palit’s relationship with the characters is different even as she loves the way the personalities on screen are built gradually. However, she has to move fast with the next project. “We are fast movers, I can’t afford to grow attached to the characters in my previous projects as the pre-production of the next is already waiting for me to start it from scratch. I can’t bring that hangover of the previous shoot as I work back to back. It is better to get out of that zone ASAP and look at the new script and characters set in a different world,” says Patil.
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