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Friday, December 03, 2021

‘What everyone wants is a predictable package’

The perception that Bollywood is changing is gaining credence,especially with the success of films like Ship of Theseus and The Lunchbox.

New Delhi |
October 20, 2013 5:30:46 am

Akshat Verma,43

Screenwriter,Delhi Belly

The perception that Bollywood is changing is gaining credence,especially with the success of films like Ship of Theseus and The Lunchbox. But we shouldn’t forget that the former was backed by private funds and the latter had French producers. Even much before this,Salaam Bombay,for example,was made with European money. If we’re not putting money on films like these,how can we say things are changing?

I see Ship of Theseus and The Lunchbox as exceptions that prove the rule. Even when there’s an ostensible desire for something different,it disappears by the time cheques need to be signed. If you don’t put your money where your mouth is,you’re not serious. What everyone wants,the stars,the producers,is a predictable package,where there are clearly defined revenue streams,in the hope that all risk will be mitigated. I can’t say I blame them,but I have no desire to manufacture and sell films like,say,toothpaste. Today,something on a small scale,without stars,and a limited budget is still not easy to pull off.

I don’t want the pressure of making a film that has to do great business across the country. I can only make films for an audience that I understand,and only hope that it connects to them. And this is okay. If you attempt to be all things to everyone,you’ll be forced to pander to the lowest common denominator and the material will get diluted in the process. As Kurt Vonnegut said,if you open the window and make love to the world,you will catch pneumonia.

When I write,I’m not thinking of audience demographics. My only responsibility is to the scene,the characters and the emotional truth of the moment. If you approach screenplays as marketing or packaging exercises,you’ve already sucked the soul out of the material — and your audience will sense this,even if they can’t exactly articulate what it is that they feel is wrong.

The marketing of the film has to follow the material,not the other way round. Not every film can,or should,be sold to audiences the same way. If you look at marketing patterns,almost all films,big or small,have the standard song-trailer-song release strategy. What if a film doesn’t have a marketable song? Instead of changing the marketing,what happens is a song is added to the film,whether integral or not. We end up modifying the material in order to sell it,not vice-versa.

When I wanted to make Delhi Belly,all the studios in town said no to the project. Had it not been for Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao,the film wouldn’t have been made. I have nothing against any kind of film — all I want is room for differences of opinion to exist. I want producers to worry about story before they worry about satellite rights.

Art is all about making people uncomfortable,pushing them to where they don’t want to go,taking them out of their comfort zones,it’s about creating moments that resonate. The most memorable work does exactly this. In India,we are still a long way from pushing boundaries. People got upset with Delhi Belly,which was a pretty straightforward film. We are willing to get offended by just about anything and everything

But then again,even if nothing changes,something will,just by virtue of moving forward in time. The internet has given us access to a global film culture and it’s impossible to keep the influence of the rest of the world out. This will affect us and change us,whether we like it or not.

Making a film is half the battle,perhaps even less. The bigger task is getting people to watch it. A film that isn’t watched is almost a film that didn’t get made. And to complete the loop,we not only need filmmakers who are adventurous,but also an audience similarly inclined. If people want change,they have to come out and vote with their wallets,it doesn’t come free. But I believe our best is ahead of us. When there are enough disgruntled people,it’s impossible for the status quo to sustain.

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