•  Punam Mohandas
    •  24 September 2018
    •  697

    "I try to centre it around the common man’s dilemmas."

    SWA Exclusive interview with screenwriter Parveez Shaikh

    Rightly enough called the ‘City of Dreams,’ Mumbai has made those dreams come alive that some of us did not even know we had! Many come here with stars in their eyes and some come here expecting nothing but a decent livelihood – and for those too, life takes an unexpected U-turn when embraced by this vibrant, mercurial woman that is B.O.M.B.A.Y.

    And so it has been for Parveez Shaikh, who came to the city for little else other than expecting a Bachelor’s degree and the opportunity to join an advertising agency. Fate had much more in store; whom did he happen to work with at the ad agency but Vikas Bahl who, after he joined UTV Spotboy, remembered his former colleague and asked Parveez for some story ideas. Thus, was born ‘Ghanchakkar’ which did not fare well at the box office, however, it led to the two collaborating later on ‘Queen’ a runaway hit if ever there was one!

    Presenting Parveez Shaikh then, in conversation with Punam Mohandas for SWA -

     

    Vikas Bahl and you know each other from having worked in the same ad agency. Do you think the personal rapport you share led to the winning writer-director combination? “Of course,” says Shaikh readily. “Vikas is the reason I got into the film business. A good personal rapport between a writer and a director really helps; it allows for a free and informal exchange of ideas and thoughts.”

     

    You have written on such diverse topics and yet, the ordinary, “common man” emotions and dilemmas are always at the centre of your scripts. What is it about this genre that attracts you? “I like to experiment with different genres but whatever genre I pick, I try to centre it around the common man. A common man’s dilemma is genuine and rooted in reality.” He goes on to startlingly reveal that he actually, in real life, knows the couple that inspired him to write ‘Blackmail’ (the fairly recent Irrfan Khan starrer.) “A common man problem is something everyone can identify with. It’s one of the reasons why Sci-Fi and superhero movies don’t appeal to me,” he states.

     

    Shaikh says with refreshing candour that writing screenplays is backbreaking work. He also prefers writing scripts by himself, solo. “I work alone, although I have also worked with a co-writer on some scripts,” he says. What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a co-writer? “If you have a co-writer who you’re in tune with and if both of you are on the same page, then there are no obvious disadvantages. The advantages are that the work load is reduced; you have a partner in fighting the battles and you can work on more films.” He has worked on many collaborative scripts in the past, such as ‘Queen,’ ‘Phantom,’ ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan,’ and so on.  Who has been the best co-writer he’s worked with – and why? “The writer I’ve most collaborated with is Kabir Khan; we wrote three films together and I loved working with him. The most important quality in a co-writer is the lack of ego and Kabir has absolutely no ego when it comes to ideas, he is extremely open. It also helps that we think alike and enjoy the same kind of cinema.”

     

    You have written two films now in which Salman Khan has starred – ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ and ‘Tubelight.’ Is that deliberate; do you write a character keeping a particular actor in mind? “It was not deliberate,” he muses. “It happened by chance and I’m thankful to Kabir for that. I don’t write a character keeping a particular actor in mind because there’s no guarantee that the actor would do it. Unless of course the actor has already given the nod to the idea, then yes, I write keeping him or her in mind. It’s only when I finish the script that I start thinking about who would be ideal for it.”

     

    Strangely enough, in spite of having accomplished so much as a Bollywood scriptwriter and relatively rapidly too, Shaikh’s first love remains travelling, football and then writing, in that order. “Travel is my first love!” he cries passionately. “Writing films comes a distant second. I write films only so I can make money to travel.” He swears by Sicily, Cinque Terre and the Amalfi coast in Italy, Granada in Spain and Beijing in China.

     Kanika Dhillon mentioned in a recent interview (with regard to ‘Manmarziyaan’) that she gets the physical setting straight first before writing the emotional part of the story. How much are you inspired by your surroundings when it comes to your writing; do you ever plan that this is the setting for the plot and then build it accordingly?

    “I’m hugely inspired by my surroundings when it comes to writing,” he agrees. “I believe that you should base your ideas on surroundings you know well. Mumbai is the city I know best in India and I travel a lot in Europe, so I naturally gravitate towards setting my films in these places. Sometimes you see a place that’s so interesting or beautiful that you want to set a film there and then you think of the plot that complements that place.”

     

    It hasn’t always been an ideal run at the box office for Shaikh. How do you cope with failure, when your films don’t do well?

    “It does pinch when your film doesn’t do well,” he admits honestly.  “I don’t fret about it too much, though. Once I deliver a script, I’m fairly detached and have moved on to my next because it’s out of my hands. Of course, you want all your films to do well but that’s not always possible; once you learn to accept that then you’ll be fine. The best you can do is learn from it.”

     

    How challenging is it to adapt someone else’s writing and make it your own, be it a book or screenplay adaption? “It can be challenging, especially books which are descriptive and have a first person narrative. Reducing a 300-400 page book to a 100 page screenplay is tough. I don’t worry so much about making it my own; I look to retain the flavour, the style and the structure as much as possible. I like to stay true to the author’s voice rather than my own,” he says, remarkably. “Adapting films is easier because you’re adapting like-for-like. Again, I like to stay as true to the original as I can. Most people change it so much under the guise of ‘Indianising’ it that in the end it’s nothing like the original. I feel that defeats the whole purpose,” he states emphatically.

     

    Suddenly, the Bollywood film industry is witnessing a plethora of new writers and more off-beat scripts compared to yesteryears. Who is your favourite writer of the current crop and which is the film in recent times that you thought had a really strong storyline? “I think this is the best time to be a writer because there is so much interesting stuff that’s happening not just in films, but also on the web. Stories which couldn’t be told earlier are now being told. These days writers are also more exposed to world cinema and fantastic web series, some of which are better than films. Frankly, I’ve not seen many of the current movies so I can’t say who my favourite writer is from the current lot. But I can tell you which film I saw recently which I loved and wish I had written: ‘Mulk’, for its strong story and message.”

     

     Is there anything from your experiences that you would like to share with aspiring writers of the SWA?

    “Screenplay writing is a self-taught profession, so don’t just watch films, read screenplays - the more screenplays you read the better you get. And keep writing; don’t get attached to just one idea. If you write five screenplays, one will get made. Don’t pre-empt the audience and write what you think people will like - write a story you believe in. Write every day!” he signs off.

    Punam Mohandas is a film buff, a journalist, an author, an accomplished travel writer and an expert on South Asia. She also writes columns on film personalities. She has lived and worked in India, Dubai and Bangkok.