An A grade movie, in my opinion, should have the following elements:

a) Stronger characters, especially for women: Are you tired of seeing women on screen acting as if it is still 1820 instead of 2019? It is not their fault; it is most definitely the fault of the writer. Why do men and women only talk of love, sex and marriage, as if there is nothing else to do in life? If I have my way I would change the way characters are portrayed in movies. Most of the time the female character is either a stupid ‘miss goody two shoes’ or an evil vamp (if a woman is bold and assertive, she is a ‘bad woman’ in Bollywood’s parlance). Not just females, even the male characters (macho knight in shining armor, bad guy/stalker, loving brother, abusive and narrow minded conservative father unsupportive of his daughter’s ambitions, etc.) are almost always stereotypical and one dimensional. Very few movies indeed from recent times have featured strong female characters (Raazi, Sui Dhaaga, Andhadhun etc., come to mind) otherwise women have been traditionally (and still are) given the roles of either the ‘weak, helpless, flawless and pure as milk, weeping heroine’ or the ‘conniving, scheming, bitchy vamp doing an item number or two.’ I want to write female characters that have both black and white shades; in other words they should be strong and grey. Strong as in they have the ability to take decisions without always resorting to ask for help from men, and grey in the sense that she has all the typical human flaws too. In fact, I think even the male characters need a brush up.

My tryst with Bollywood has just begun and I have met quite a few ‘characters’ along the way. One was a real patronizing jerk who not only ‘corrected’ me as being ‘aspiring script writer’ instead of ‘script writer’ but also tried to get free content writing work out of me in the guise of offering me ‘work’ with a parting shot: “I am giving you WORK, that is enough; lots of people struggle in Mumbai to find work.” In other words, in his world I am a ‘struggler’. I actually requested him to offer me screenwriting work (an offer that he rejected) which, if he had accepted, I would have gladly done for free because being new to the industry, I got to build my portfolio right? However, after being a content writer with a considerable portfolio under my belt I don’t see why I should work for someone for free, especially someone who does not even respect me. I also don’t like the word ‘aspiring’; a coach told me once that people who write the word ‘aspiring’ in their job title seldom become what they ‘aspire’ to be. Law of attraction coaches always told me this (I used to think they were nuts): you have to believe that you are already what you want to be, even if you are not, in order to become what you want to be. In other words, even if you are in a journey, believe that you have already reached your destination. Sounds paradoxical, does not it? But that is the way the universe works: you get what you believe.    

Another character I met was someone who wanted to make a movie that would appeal to villagers. My concepts are quite urbane for him, he told me. So, we were definitely not made for each other. His issue was with one particular concept that I had: about an old woman falling for a younger man and in the process cheating on her husband. While he acknowledges that it is normal for such things to happen, he also said that the Indian audience is not mature enough to accept such themes and motifs; he said that he would have accepted the concept if the old lady was single and lonely and married the guy in the end. Marriage is indeed a sacrosanct affair in India which absolves you of all of your previous ‘sins’ (people in India don’t pay decent rates to content writers but readily splurge billions on marriage), including even rape and adultery. I don’t know about you, but I find the current audience quite mature and I don’t think I am “God enough” to judge the collective mindset of 1.3 billion population.  

A third character, a director I met, was indeed an intelligent, chilled and funny guy. I had great time working with him (I liked his movie, except a few parts) and the only thing that came in our way was a clash of beliefs or rather I should say, creative misunderstanding. The protagonist of his new story is a lady character who is high on sexual energy but according to him that is a ‘problem’ or ‘disease’ she is unaware of. I could never configure her ‘disease’ as a ‘problem’; quite frankly, I know for a fact that Indian men would kill for a partner who is hyper-sexual (that is why substandard web series like ‘Four Shots’ or ‘Gandi Baat’ get to run in our country). Anyways, he asked me to write the story from my point of view. Instead of portraying her as an apologetic woman, I made her someone who is sexually free and bold (yes, I made her a little ‘sluttish’; in his words, a ‘bad girl’). And therein began the problem. In the mind of this guy I had made his character, the chief protagonist at that, a ‘bad girl’; he said that she is no longer someone who people, in particular the female audience, would sympathize with, while emphasizing at the same time repeatedly that the girl is not a ‘bad girl’; rather, she is just  a ‘nice’ girl with a ‘problem’ of being high on sexual energy.  I could never figure out how being high on sex is a ‘problem’ and being sluttish is ‘bad’? Nowhere in the story I even so much as mentioned that she is a ‘bad’ girl. What do you think? Also, according to statistics women watch more porn than men so again his argument about the inability of female audience in sympathizing with the character did not make any sense to me. And no, he never called me again.

I would say this: people who compromise or sell themselves short generally suffer from a low self-esteem, lack of self-belief and self-worth.

b) Realistic or at least plausible storyline: How many times have you watched a movie and then cringed a little in the middle of it, whispering to yourself in low inaudible voice so that others don’t overhear you in the auditorium: ‘Hey, it can’t be like that. That’s impossible!’?  I will give you two examples: Andhadhun is a really well written thriller with a lot of twists but the difference between a movie like Pulp Fiction and Andhadhun is that: while twists make the former worthy of repeat watch, they prove to be the nemesis for the latter movie (you must have noticed how twists were overdone toward the end). It is like you are served biryani so spicy that you are unable to ingest it after a point of time. 

Or take Sanju for instance; it rarely happens that I get so emotional while watching a movie as I did while watching Sanju (my roommate was wondering if something was wrong with me; I was really feeling very low and drinking while watching it, as if it hit a personal chord with me); however what I found irritating was that there always one or the other superfluous justification for every flaw the main character had. Why cannot we stay objective and write about human flaws as they are, like they do in Hollywood? My intention is to write stories which are at least plausible even if not realistic (let us face it, if someone wants realism; they would rather watch news than cinema; cinema is supposed to provide you with entertainment, and a movie like Raazi proves that you can get both if the writer and director know what they are doing). 

c) Comedy that is situational or natural rather than slapstick and forced: Comedy should always come naturally in a screenplay. When you try to force it, it loses its flavor. Just like you cannot cook Maggi using spices meant for fried rice, you cannot force a comic situation in a screenplay if it does not fit in. I would say that comedy in Andhadun, Helicopter Eela (though at times overdone), Sui Dhaaga, Sanju, Stree, Gold, etc., are all situational and therefore seemed natural. Okay, now you want examples of forced comedy too? Well I don’t recall watching any movie with forced comic scenes in recent times but I think you can watch old Govinda movies or the Kapil Sharma shows if you really need examples.

d) More mature romance: Take Jalebi for instance; another well written movie, but the romance made it looked more like a teen love story than the love story of an adult; really that is the only part of the movie I found implausible and immature.  If we got to compete with Hollywood in the real sense of the term, cheesiness and melodrama has to go.

e) No shying away from highlighting real issues: Many a times a director is too afraid of political forces playing dirty (anyone remember the transition of Padmavati to Padmavat?) or censor board getting smart with its scissors (as in the case of Unfreedom) and this in turn curtails his creative freedom.  I would say that a movie should call a spade a spade, instead of calling it a ’flower’ just to please the moral police or censor board.  If our cinema has to grow, the Government needs to ensure that artistes are offered enough security so that they feel FREE to express themselves and not be cowed down by the ‘political powers that be.’  Also, I believe our audience has matured to such an extent that they watch more online videos and play more DVDs at home compared to the number of times they go to theater (believe me, Mumbai traffic is such that I find it better to book as many as four movies in same auditorium and stay the entire time in there, drinking coffee, so that I don’t have to waste time on traveling). As such, we don’t have to have a theatrical release for every movie we make; if the censor board does not approve of a movie, rather than cutting it to the extent that it loses its overall meaning, it is better to release it as a home DVD or YouTube/Netflix movie.

f) Horror should horrify, not make you laugh: We are not as good as Hollywood in terms of horror movies, which is why a movie like Conjuring or The Exorcist is yet to be made. Although Stree did a good job with an original storyline and fine comedy, it failed miserably at horror. The horror seemed to be straight from 80’s Ramsay Brothers movies which would always scream at the audience: ‘Hey I am a horror movie. Be scared of me!” Does the mature audience of 2018 really need that kind of warning even before the movie starts, I wonder.

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