Monthly Archives: October 2017

Rest In Peace, Lekh Tandon Ji!

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Lekh Tandon (13 Feb 1929 – 15 Oct 2017)

Veteran writer-director and actor Lekh Tandon passed away on October 15th 2017, Sunday (evening), at his house in Powai, Mumbai. He was 88. (While the details on the cause of Tandon’s death are still awaited, industry sources have confirmed the news.)

Tandon was a multifaceted artiste who wrote, directed and even acted in many films like Swades, Rang De Basanti, Paheli and Chennai Express. He had also won the the 1978 Filmfare Best Screenplay Award for his movie Dulhan Wahi Jo Piya Man Bhaye, shared with Vrajendra Gaur and Madhusudan Kalekar. His directorial Amrapali which starred Vyjayanthimala and Sunil Dutt, was India’s submission to the 39th Academy Awards for the Best Foreign Language Film.

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Lekh Ji is also credited with giving break to superstar Shahrukh Khan by casting him in his TV serial Dil Dariya. We at SWA, deeply mourn the demise of Shri Lekh Tandon Ji and pray for his soul to rest in peace.

Adite Banerjie’s script makes it to the prestigious Academy Nicholl Fellowship 2017

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The Academy Nicholl Fellowship, launched in 1986, and organised by the Academy of
Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is the most prestigious among Hollywood screenwriting
contests and labs. Each of the winners receives a $35,000 prize and opens doors for aspiring screenwriters all over the world.

This year’s Nicholl Fellowship (2017) saw Indian author, screenwriter and SWA member, Adite Banerjie’s screenplay titled COACHING CLASS, place as semi-finalist. It was among the top 151 screenplays that made it to the semi-finalists level out of a total 7102 entries from all over the world. COACHING CLASS is a gritty and uplifting drama set in small town India about a dishonoured teacher who takes on the education mafia to give his rag-tag bunch of brilliant but dirt poor students a shot at changing their destiny.

One of the readers of the script observed: “This is an exceptionally well-written story with a pro-active, sympathetic protagonist, and a variety of interesting characters. The plot
development is suspenseful up until the very end. Backstory is also used very effectively in
the present day plot. It is very rich in themes about class struggle and overcoming barriers to have a better life, and the themes are portrayed substantively in both the main plot and
various subplots.” Another reader observed: “The screenplay is very effective in portraying
the viewpoint of its characters through the dialogue, which is rich in language and also
reveals character.” The script had earlier placed as first runner-up in the Finish Line Script Competition (2016).

Says Banerjie: “I’m very excited that the script has done so well in the top international competitions. It’s a huge validation for the screenplay and my writing skills.” Adite Banerjie is a journalist turned fiction writer. She has written three novels which have been published by Harlequin/Harper Collins India and all her books have been featured on the top 100 Amazon.in bestseller lists. She can be contacted via her portal www.aditebanerjie.com

~ Team SWA

Comedy Films Today (By Kundan Shah)

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If I say Agreement 123 (Atomic Energy Agreement with the US) reflects the comedies made today in our country, you will call me mad. Where is the connection? But it has. Well, we are in the process of being Americanised. That’s a general term to signify consumerism apart from other serious repercussions depending upon your world view. However, the fundamental tenet of a consumerist culture is that everything is a product. And the function of any product (film) is to serve only its basic need – in today’s case it is entertainment. Now, there is nothing wrong with entertainment. There never has been. To entertain in itself is a great art. And yet “to entertain” in today’s times, there is a difference – there is no aesthetics involved. So, no qualms in making films based on videos, rip-offs, lift-offs, etc, etc. Aptly today’s films are called popcorn movies. Eat the popcorn and throw the cardboard box away. See the movie and forget about it once you’re out of the hall.

Besides, these indianised remakes of foreign films reflect no value, no relation to our culture and no mirror to our fast developing consumerist society or to its rural counterpart which has been excluded in our so called Indian economic renaissance. These films and their entertainment exist in a limbo, in a vacuum where you don’t see any glimpse of the reality we live in. You said reality? What has reality got to do with entertainment? With films? Man, films cost lots of money. As a producer aptly puts it: “I pay entertainment tax, so my movies must fundamentally entertain.”

In Hollywood, there is an unspoken dictum: “No film should have the mental age of more than ten years.” So, the birth of popcorn movies. We call ourselves Bollywood. How can we be any different? We lament the fact that there is no more a Hrishikesh Mukherjee amongst us. When will we get another classic comic sequence played between Mehmood and Om Prakash in “Pyar Kiye Jaa” or that frothy unforgettable  romantic tease played between Dilip Kumar and Vyjantimala in “Paigham”. And what about “Teen Bahuraniyan” which came from nowhere and regaled us with its take on middle-class morality. It is difficult to judge which of the two Prithviraj Kapoor’s performance is better: in that lavish and bombastic “Mughal-E-Azam” or this simpleton of a movie.

Comedies have the longest shelf life. Believe me, this is more true than the Einsteinian equation of E=MC square. Let’s take the earliest era – the silent films. What has survived are not the adventure and sword buckling dramas of Douglas Fairbanks, etc but even two-reelers of Chaplin, Buster Keaten and many others which regale us even today and make us wonder at amazing syncopation and unbelievable comic choreography some of their sequences achieved. They remain sublime, unsurpassed and impossible to film today. Why can’t we attempt to achieve their excellence? What is missing? What has been lost? The answer is simple – innocence.

To cross new horizons, to discover unchartered territories, you’ve to take chances, take risks, most important “to experiment”. And the daringness of being a failure. Our budgets, multiplex ticket prices and the star prices rule it out. So do the vanity vans. I am so out of touch that I got a shock of life when I was informed that even in DD serials, vanity vans are provided for almost every actor. That’s an amazing progress! So what for the fact that most of the television work today is making soaps with an unending variety of swish pans ever invented in the lexicon of the film language.         

To prove the point about shelf life twice over. How many more films do you remember which were contemporaries of “Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi”, “Padosan”, “Pyar Kiye Jaa”, “Teen Bahuraniyan”, “Chalte-Chalte”, etc, etc? Please don’t treat this to be an academic question. Off the cuff, you mention these very films again and again in daily conversations. While their contemporaries, probably bigger hits and winner of Filmfare awards are forgotten and have already met their nemesis. Please…please…please…. for heaven’s sake don’t jump the gun and conclude that the Filmfare Award winning films have zero shelf life! That’s unfair! So what if Oscar Academy never gave one to Chaplin till he was in his seventies.

I am diverting so much that I am forgetting what this article is all about. But does it matter? Are we destined to get the comedies we’re getting? No, please let’s leave the destiny and fate to their better usage in Shakespeare’s plays. We’ve brought it upon ourselves. I don’t mean the ills are only within our film industry. We’re, after all, a small part of the McDonald culture sweeping us today. And yet, some semblance of churning is taking place. The smaller films can probably learn to dare…to dare more and even experiment. The task is Sisyphean. But let’s begin rolling the stone to top of the mountain. The worst is that it will roll back once we reach on top. Even that may not be sufficient. But let’s roll back that other stone called Agreement 123 which may choke us to death. And once we roll that stone back, many more stones need to be rolled back before the phoenix can rise. I am a pessimist. Tell me, how not to be one.

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Kundan Shah (October 19, 1947 – October 7, 2017)

(SWA Archives)

Concept and Function of ‘Foil’ in Comedies (By Kundan Shah)

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The thumb rule for making people laugh in a comedy is that somebody has to be a butt of the joke. In real life situations, when you pull a fast one on someone or what is popularly called leg pulling, that he or she becomes the butt of the joke and everyone has a laugh at his/her expense.  Instead of having pity for the victim, we take pleasure in deriding him. That’s cruel. Well, comedy is cruel.

How does this translate into movies? No one likes to be a butt of the joke in real life – but in films, one is forced to be – otherwise, there is no humour. That’s why there’s a general misunderstanding and a mistaken belief in the actors when they’ve to play the role of a “butt” i.e. they don’t want to look like a fool or a fall guy. On the contrary, it requires great art or perhaps greater art to play the role of a fall guy. The actor playing the role of a fall guy is the “foil” whose sole function is to set off or enhance the other actor by contrast and also willingly becoming the butt of his jokes, pranks or mischiefs. An example will put it in perspective.

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Take the classic sequence of a horror film story-narration between Mehmood and Om Prakash in “Pyar Kiye Jaa”. Om Prakash is obviously playing “the foil” to Mehmood and it’s his par excellence performance that enlivens Mehmood’s brilliant story narration. Om Prakash’s role is absolutely passive (with no dialogues to speak of!) but his graded and orchastrated petrified reactions build to a crescendo and the sequence ends with a topper when a casual calling of a third party off-frame frightens the blue lights out of them. There’s a fantastic give and take between the two which enhances their roles.  More Om Prakash gets frightened i.e. bigger and better the fall guy he enacts, juicier the scene. The story goes that when Mehmood got a film award for his performance in this film, not only he gave full due to his “foil” Om Prakash on the stage but went and touched his feet in the audience. A comic actor always realises the contribution to his own performance by his co-actor and is humble about it.

Well, not always. Manier times people under estimate the importance and function of “the foil” with a disastrous result that the whole comic sequence falls on its face. Take another film “Dostana” directed by the veteran Raj Khosla. Salim-Javed, the script writers, lifted a scene from the film “Paigham” and placed it between Amitabh Bachchan and Zeenat Aman who’re whiling away time at an airport field. They’re in love but just out of curiosity, she asks him whether he ever had any other girl friend in his life or some one he had fallen in love with. This sets Mr Bachchan off into building a casual encounter with a girl (Mina) into a majestic romantic Romeo and Juliet love tale. The idea is to make Zeenat Aman jealous to her teeth and how well she would enact to be the “the foil” with her mounting chagrin. Well…..? With due respect, Zeenat Aman fails to be a perfect “foil” which makes the scene into a long drawn out affair and probably affecting Mr Bachchan’s performance, too. (It also looks that Mr Bachchan enacted the role too confidently and in a calculated way instead of a casual and spontaneous approach taken by Dilip Kumar in “Paigham”. Maybe Mr Bachchan wanted to contrast his approach from the thespian but sorry to say it doesn’t work here.) In contrast, the “Paigham” scene sparkles and remains in your memory for years with Vyjantimala playing a perfect foil. It also helps in delivering probably one of the better comic moments in the thespian’s life.

A small note about the directorial technique in executing the same scene in both the films – both have two-shot without any close-ups as the reactions of one are important while the other enacts. “Dostana” has two different 180* axis two-shot, each favouring one of the actors and as such has many cuts. Unfortunately, it has many continuity jumps which, too, couldn’t save the scene. While “Paigham”  has frontal two-shot equally favouring both the actors and the scene is so engrossing that many cuts from the same axis to same axis without much image change are not noticed, or probably, forgiven.     

The same lapse in “foil” results in an unsatisfying scene in the film “Hum” with Mr Bachchan delivering the drunken repeat and repeat and repeat scene of “Gandi naali ke kidde…” speech or soliloquy or whatever you wish to call it.  Who is the “butt” of the joke here? The “butt” or the “foil” had to have a rising irritating curve of listening to the same thing again and again and, probably, should’ve attempted to walk out every time with Mr Bachchan stopping him and promising to narrate something different but ending up narrating the same thing! Is it then the scriptwriter’s fault? But believe me, probably a correct “foil” would’ve contributed and made the magic of the scene come alive.

No where the concept of “foil” becomes more obvious than when the enactment of scenes is between two actors. Marx Brothers’ films are replete with long comic sequences constructed between Groucho and Chico Marx. Groucho is always the fall guy and what a brilliant fall guy he is! In fact, in every comedy, each scene may have its own fall guy and, that too, sometimes in minor roles but their casting becomes crucial for the above reasons. They may end up ruining or enhancing the performances of your main protagonist/s.

The concept of “foil” should not be mixed up with comedy duos such as Jay & Viru in “Sholay”, Munna and Circuit in “Munnabhai Series” or many, many more such pairings of actors on which the films or series of films are based. What we’re talking about here is chemistry between their characters to create comic ambience. Of course, there are exceptions. No where the concept of “foil” as well as “character chemistry” is more brought to life together in one pair than in Laurel and Hardy film series. They’re perfect “foil” to each other and their chemistry itself can give rise to a comedy scene. Imagine Laurel and Hardy on a bus-stop and your mind can get so excited with permutations and combinations of things that can happen or can go wrong. In no time, your imagination can create a laugh riot.

To conclude: For comedy to be or not to be – don’t be a fool and cast a Hamlet when he’s not required. Just a clown would do – like Falstaff or Oliver Hardy or Groucho Marx or Mr Om Prakash who know that they also serve (and exceptionally, too!) and who are willing to be  such brilliant fools or fall guys on the screen.

Kundan-Shah

Kundan Shah (October 19, 1947 – October 7, 2017)

 

(SWA Archives)

Role of A Director in Comedy Films (By Kundan Shah)

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Charlie Chaplin had once said: “Comedy is a long shot, tragedy a close-up.”

What does a long shot mean? Simply put, a long shot is just a recorder of the action taking place in front of the camera. And frankly, comedy film technique reduces itself to this simple formula. What happens in front of the camera is far, far more important than what
happens behind it. Then, is it fair to conclude that the comedy belongs to the actors and
actors alone? Honestly speaking, yes.

You can be the greatest director on the earth but you can be reduced to a helpless wimp if you don’t have the right actors to execute your stuff. How often we’ve heard: “Ah, but you’re a great director! You can manage it.” That is, manage to make the actors deliver the comedy. The stark truth is that you can’t. Your actors fail, you fail. You want the proof? Take one of the greatest comic directors on the earth (Charles Chaplin). Take one of the greatest actors on the earth (Marlon Brando). And one of the chic actresses of all times (Sophia Loren). A great film? No, a dud. The film – the last of Chaplin’s films: A Countess From Hongkong. The fault doesn’t lie with Sophia Loren – she has given brilliant comic performances in many Italian bedroom farces. Not even Chaplin’s. The culprit is Brando. Some actors just can’t execute comedy. Even in his earlier comic film “Guys & Dolls”, Brando failed miserably while Frank Sinatra, in a minor part, walked away with the laurels.

When you talk of the comedy films you’ve enjoyed, the scenes which broke you into
repeated laughters, what you talk about most is the actors and the content (gags, etc) of
the scenes. But never its director. Off hand, did you know that the four-time Oscar
winning director Frank Capra, in the earlier part of his career, directed many of the shorts
of Henry Langdon? Or who are the directors of Marx Brothers films? Or of Laurel &
Hardy films? Closer home: Who directed the evergreen Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi? Or
Padosan? Or Pyar Kiye Jaa? Answer: Blank, blank, blank. Unless you’re a movie or a
quiz freak, you wouldn’t know the names of its directors. Frankly, you’re not supposed
to.

So what does a director do in a comedy? Just a Mise-en- Scene and a shot division? Well,
honestly he can’t even do a Mise-en- Scene and he should not attempt to without the
actors because the comedy lies precisely in its execution. So, he’s further reduced to a
helpless observer on the sets where the comedy is brought alive by the movement of the
actors (with his active participation and suggestions, of course) and then a shot division is
so simple that even a clapper boy can attempt it. So, what is his contribution? A lot – a
lot that is invisible which goes in the making of a successful comedy.

Let’s begin with the script. Even if it’s an adaptation of a stage play or an original, there’s
always a scope for an improvement. The comic chemistries of its characters and the
situations can be improved ad addendum. There’s nothing like a perfect comedy script. It
can always keep getting better and better on paper – like old wine and whisky. Let’s take
the script of “Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi”. It would be utterly wrong to say that the comic
genius of Kishore Kumar and the casting of just three brothers together worked for the
film. Then the sequel “Badhti Ka Naam Dadhi” should’ve been equally successful. What
worked wonderfully in CKNG is the contribution of the invisibles from the
scriptwriter/director in defining the attitude of the three brothers to women and love.
That’s the central thread on which the whole film hangs and the comic permutations and combinations which this attitude allows to define the characters of the three brothers and
their interactions in various comic scenes. Besides, a director knows what his actors excel
in and what they can execute and likewise he shapes the script accordingly. Anup Kumar
is so endearing in this film that he almost succeeds in stealing away the show from
Kishore Kumar. And what a brilliant characterization is his! Another great thing about
the script of CKNG which almost no other comedy film in Hindi has ever achieved – not
only it has great songs but almost every song is comically conceived. It has been a dream
of so many of us directors to achieve the magic of these songs in our films – even to the
extent of copying the same situations!

Correct casting is so crucial in a comedy. Imagine “Chupke Chupke” without Om Prakash
and the whole film would collapse. He is the comic cement which binds the whole film.
The director is well aware of this fact and goes to a great extent to make the casting as
creative as possible. Example of an off-beat casting is Harindranath Chattopadhyay in
“Tere Ghar Ke Samne. Or of Arshad Warsi as Circuit in Munnabhai series. And could
there have been a more perfect example of an off-beat casting than Kishore Sahu as
Wahida Rehman’s husband in “Guide”? (Not a comedy.) Or of the director Mahesh Kaul
as Sir BB Verma in “Kaagaz Ke Phool”? (Once again not a comedy.) And against the
concept of perfect casting, the comedy can surprise everyone by using the concept of
perfect anti-casting. Example: Agha, Ramesh Deo and Rajendranath as the three brothers
in “Teen Bahuraniyan”. To conclude, as actors only can deliver a comedy, the casting is
80% of the direction. Unfortunately, direction has many other aspects which are all
individually 80%.

Though no comedy is possible without actors, it is also true that no great comedy is
possible without a talented director. Left to themselves, actors can make a mess of a
scene as they never have the whole (the complete scene, plot, theme, screenplay, etc) in
mind. As a general rule, all actors are highly narcissistic – so they all would try to pull the
scene to each one’s advantage. It is the director’s invisible contribution which
orchestrates their roles, their chemistries, their timings, their syncopation of
complimentary actions. It is his job to bring out the best hidden subtleties in an actor and
his strengths. The more he makes the actor feel in charge and that he is the creator, more
successful he will be in his job.

To conclude, however great a director’s vision, it is the actors who give life and flesh to it. So, here’s a toast to great comedy: LET’S WRITE GREAT SCRIPTS, CAST KNOWN AND UNKNOWN COMIC ACTORS AND TRUST A TALENTED DIRECTOR WHO KNOWS WHAT THE COMEDY IS ALL ABOUT.

Titbits:
1. Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi: Director – Satyen Bose
2. Padosan: Director – Jyoti Swaroop, Dialogue & Screenplay – Rajendra Krishan
3. Sadhu Aur Saitan: Director – A. Bhimsingh, Screenplay – A. Bhimsingh, Dialogue – Rajendra Krishan
4. Teen Bahuraniyan: Directors – S. S. Balan, S. S. Vasan, Writers – K. Balachandar (Story), Kishore Sahu
5. Pyaar Kiye Jaa: Director – C. V. Sridhar, Writer – N. S. Bedi (Dialogues), Chitralaya Gopu (Story)
6. Night at the Opera (Marx Brothers): Director – Sam Wood
7. Duck Soup (Marx Brothers): Director – Leo McCarey
8. A Day at the Races (Marx Brothers): Director – Sam Wood
9. Animal Crackers (Marx Brothers): Director – Victor Heerman

 

Kundan-Shah

Kundan Shah (October 19, 1947 – October 7, 2017)

(From SWA archives)

 

Rest In Peace, Kundan Shah!

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Kundan Shah (October 19, 1947 – October 7, 2017)

Acclaimed writer-director Kundan Shah passed away on October 7th 2017, in Mumbai. Shah got a massive heart attack in his sleep at 5 am on Saturday morning. The filmmaker, who had a great command over the genre of satire and black comedy , was 70.

Kundan Shah was an alumni of the prestigious Film and Television Insitute of India, Pune. He was most famous for the black comedy, one of the biggest cult classic movies of all time, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983) which also won him the National Film Award – Indira Gandhi Award for Best First Film of a Director. His other major films include Kabhi Haa Kabhi Naa (1994) and Kya Kehna (2000); while he also directed famous television shows like Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi (1984), Nukkad (1986) and Wagle Ki Duniya (1988). His last film ‘P se PM Tak’ released in 2014.

Shah always showed a great support and an active endorsement for the Screenwriters Association and its goals. He was a regular at the Association’s major events and gatherings during which SWA members would catch him up for intense, as well as candid, discussions about cinema and comedy.

We at SWA, deeply mourn the demise of Shri Kundan Shah and pray for his soul to rest in peace.

Click here for an article from our archives, written exclusively for SWA website by Kundan Shah in 2012. The following is a video interview of Kundan Shah, conducted by Gayatri Gauri –