Posts Tagged ‘Neil Must Die’

pubali

Bollywood gives no importance to writers, and the audience is all excited about the film actors, stars, songs from the film, the cinematic experience and even the director. But a writer, who is still considered the ‘First technical crew’ in cinemas, is the backbone of a film, who barely is given any credit. Pubali Chaudhuri, the winner of National Film Award for Best Hindi Film in 2008 for her first screenplay, Rock On! and Filmfare Award for Best Screenplay in 2014 for Kai Po Che talks to Kaberi Dutta Chatterjee, doubting if anyone will be excited
about reading her story

Within two years of graduating from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) Pubali Chaudhuri rocked the nation with her inimitable storyline and screenplay, Rock On! (2008), a year which was interspersed with popular films like Jodhaa Akbar and Singh Is King. Rock On went on to win seven Filmfare awards, four National awards and the cast was featured on the cover of the September 2008 issue of Rolling Stone (India). Its screenplay has also been added to the Academy Film Archive. Yet, Pubali is apprehensive of audience’s interest in storytellers. “Why interview me? Why would readers be interested in the storyteller?” was her first question when I approached her for an interview.

Q: Your career hit off right after your graduation from FTII with ‘Rock On!’, a film that rocked the country with a musical in 2008. What was the inspiration for such a wonderful storyline?

Pubali: Yes, I suppose I was lucky to have a theatrically released film that got noticed amongst a certain section of the audience within two years of my graduating from FTII. The director, Abhishek Kapoor, had approached me with the basic idea of a college band reuniting. I had a deep and personal connect with the concept as I spent my college years closely associated with Calcutta based rock bands, primarily with a band called Cactus. I saw the resurgence of independent music during the mid to late 90’s. So the ‘Rock On’s terrain was familiar turf for me.

Q: Your next, ‘Kai Po Che’, for which you won the Filmfare Award, was based on Chetan Bhagat’s book, 3 Mistakes of My Life. What was the course of action you had in mind when you adapted a popular novel for a film?

Pubali: Kai Po Che was a huge learning curve. At first read, it seemed, that Chetan had all the elements of a popular narrative in his book – cricket, friendship, Hindu- Muslim bonding, romance. However adaptation is a different beast altogether! You have to discover the basic story, which, though inspired from the book, is independent by nature.

Kai Po Che had two crucial differences from the original novel – for one, the book is told from one character, Govind’s, point of view (thus the title). We changed that to make it an omniscient telling of three friends. We also had decided on an alternate climax (in the book the three friends are trying to save Ali, the Muslim boy, from the Hindu mob and in the ensuing scuffle Omi gets killed). In the film we complicated this friendship tale by putting one of our protagonist’s on the side of the attackers. This had repercussions in the entire plotting and characterisation of the story to leading up to this film climax. Omi’s journey ( played by Amit Sadh ) was entirely the invention of the film.

Q: ‘Rock On! 2’ hit a legal battle and now is set to be released in November, 2016. Has the screenplay rights been granted solely to you, or also to Abhisekh Kapoor? Do you want to clarify anything to your fans in Canada about how you feel about sharing the screenplay credit?

Pubali: I don’t believe that screenwriters have fans, to begin with! Film writers work deep in the background of the film — we are the first ‘technicians’ to start work on a film. Much before the audience knows about a film, its star cast, director, the music or what has now become a latest fad – the box office collection numbers.

In any case, yes we (Abhisekh and I) arrived at a settlement regarding the legal dispute around the sequel of Rock On. It was decided to accord Abhishek Kapoor a shared story credit along with me, while I retain a solo screenplay credit for the film.

Q: Rock On!, Kai Po Che, Rock On! 2. All of your screenplays have been great success in the box office. So much that, you are almost making viewers sit up and take notice of screenplay and storywriters, who, in reality, are the spinal cords of any film. Why do you think storywriters in Bollywood get so little attention?

Pubali: Well to be honest, none of my films would compete with the 100 crore (and counting) box-office club. What they certainly have is a certain memorability. And that makes the entire struggle, both creative and professional, worth the while for a writer.

As a creative professional you want people to remember your work, even if they don’t know how exactly you contributed to it. I doubt that any audience member remembers box office collection numbers… what they do remember is really the story, the performances, the entire cinematic experience. Yet, the working environs for screenwriters still remain a challenge in the industry – our Intellectual Property rights as writers are not recognised, we are yet to start a system whereby we can receive royalties, and perhaps what is the most hurtful, is that too often, screenwriters do not get the recognition and the respect that they deserve from the directors and producers.

It’s a complicated issue. Apart from plain business reasons, there is also this warped understanding of the ‘auteur’ theory of film making — the director as the ‘author’ of the film. Films are considered a director’s medium. However, while every other department, like Cinematography, Editing, Sound or Production Design is devoted to translate the ‘director’s vision’, a screenwriter creates part of that directorial vision as the blueprint maker. Unless the writer and director relationship is driven by genuine trust and respect, there will always be the pitfall of exploiting and overshadowing the writer’s contribution to feed the ‘me’ complex of directors!

Q: When you wake up every morning, do you get bitten by the bug of writing a new storyline, or reading a good book which can get you a good storyline?

Pubali: Are you crazy ?! I like quoting Thomas Mann on this and its one of the few things that makes me feel like a writer. Mann once said that the only thing differentiating writers from others is that writing is hard for writers! So instead of some brilliant flash of inspiration what I am battling with almost on a daily basis is the anxiety of writing — fighting procrastination, fighting self doubt and feelings of inadequacy. It’s very much a neurotic process for me… the only thing is that by now I am somewhat familiar with the contours of my neurosis. But yes, I enjoy reading and watching good films. And besides, those are some of the best excuses to get away from doing the real writing!

Q: Your success stories really do not fit into the ‘Bollywood bubble’ storylines, although of late the Hindi Film industry has been producing great original stories. What kind of a trend do you see in storylines that would hit the box-office button in Bollywood?

Pubali: I am far too much of a recluse and misfit in the film industry to comment on ‘trends’. My limited understanding tells me that studios and producers are all hell bent on larger than life movies — star cast, franchises, comic book heroes — whatever is the easiest way to the wallet of the ticket buying audience. As a writer and film maker, I am interested in something to touch my audience’s hearts and minds with.

Having said that, there have been films like Badlapur, Court, Fandry (these two being Marathi films though ) Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Piku, Masaan or a Titli that do not tread the oft-beaten path of formulaic story telling. Even then, the ones without a star cast in the above mentioned list might not meet trade pundits’ approval based on the revenue they earned. So it really all depends on our audience — where they spend their money, what they find entertaining, what kind of films really touch them, beyond the loud noise of the marketing machinery telling them what to watch.

Q: Can we get an insight into your thoughts of your next venture?

Pubali: At this stage of my career, I am really keen on getting to tell my original stories on the floor. I have just completed the first draft of a script, which is set in a college campus. Currently I am developing the screenplay of one of my original stories, which a director is interested in — but its too early in the day to call it a ‘venture’ really. As a writer, I have to follow Lord Krishna’s advice — I must keep on working (writing) without expectations of any results!

Q: Since we had seen an excellent round-up of characters in Rock On, and it closed up very well, leaving no loose strands, I am curious to know what is ‘Rock On!2’ all about? How did you think of opening up an almost closed storyline?

Pubali: That’s really for me to know and you to find out once the film is released! As such you are right in observing that we had neatly tied up all the strands in the original film. Undoubtedly it was one of my biggest challenges to re-start the story with the same characters – but those characters are like real life people for me given the amount of time I have spent with them in the solitude of my room, right from when I started writing Rock On in 2006 — to the 10 years it will complete by the time the sequel releases (Inshallah) ! And if they are living in my head, perhaps they will come alive on the screen as well?

This interview was published in The South Asian News on January 29, 2016 when Kaberi was the Editor of the newspaper.

(Kaberi D. Chatterjee is a novelist/ journalist and author of Neil Must Die and several other books)

cellphone
I’m glad someone (and someone HUGE, and I’m flattered) who thinks like me. (Link below)
I don’t still use a cellphone. When I go to India, where there are almost no landlines, then I just have to carry one, but I keep it silent and away from me most of the times.
But my son and me, sitting on this very lonely part of the planet, (Canada) believe in staying away from the internet (which is still not a recognized word in the dictionary… see there is a red line under it) and cellphones for most part of our time. I like to watch stale TV series, watch an old movie, or read a book, do yoga, meditate, cook, redesign my home, sometimes just stand in the balcony and watch the life lolling by, watch the sunset, as if that’s the last day I’d be living on earth.
And I’d like to remind you I am not a very social person, neither is my son. We cannot chatter on the phone for hours, but I do focus on relationship building when I see a potential.
Why am I writing on first person basis, and talking about myself? Firstly I believe I am talking on behalf of a lot of people who think like me, but may not be able to be proud of their thoughts or be able to express it like the way they want. Secondly, it’s an audacity to write solely about oneself, and I like to have audacity. And thirdly, most importantly, it’s my blog.
I agree wholeheartedly with Werner Herzog in the interview below in the cellphone issue. And I also think that human beings will resist being wholly usurped by technology, on their own. They will build their own resistance when they’ll feel enslaved.
Hence, Elon Musk’s idea of colonizing Mars is something I don’t agree with. Colonize your own home first, there is still ample opportunity without disturbing the environment.
I think the idea of using technology to making our work easier and safer is greatly appreciated. (I do own a household robot to do my floors, for instance and I’d love to own self-driving car, since I don’t like driving and would like a technology chaffuer), but I greatly shun the use of cell phones when you have other means of communicating. It’s like technology is enslaving you slowly and you don’t realize it. It’s putting chains on your hands and you cannot even go to the bathroom without carrying it. I don’t own a cellphone, because I don’t want to be available all the time for the world.
“Where are you?” is the first question anyone asks you whenever they call. “Where were you?” if you don’t answer their cellphone. It’s not a concern in their voice. It’s their egos reprimanding you for not taking their calls. Telling you that they are important and you should take their calls the moment you see their names flashing.
Moreover, relationships make or break with cellphones. How long you’ve taken to take your friends’ call decides how strong the relationship is or isn’t and so on.
And I dislike what they offer you in the name of a cellphone: information you can do without, news that only depresses you and you can do nothing about, mundane gossip around the world, constant beeps…disturbing my chain of thoughts. I mean why? What have I done to deserve this? I have my own work. Writing thoughts like these, for example. Cooking. Educating myself. Reading all those books that I have to. Watching all those grand movies I intend to. That I want to personally review in my mind, or that which will help me re-establish my opinion about life in general. I look forward to thoughts which have not been thought.
Thinking. Relationship building. Focusing on my finance and future. Planning a life for my family after my death. All this takes time. How can you have any more time for such mundane stuff after finishing all these chores?
Technology cannot be all consuming and break my thought bubble all the time. I am not committed to be available to my family members all the time. Because I have to live with myself, first and last of all.
I would definitely like to use the internet. But at my leisure. When I have free time. To recharge my knowledge cell. Read up something new, like the one I shared below. To write and share my ideas. To share thoughts. To build my entrepreneurship ideas. Since it’s man who build technology to make things easier for him, I would like to use it, not the other way around.

(Durga Puja and Mahalaya play a great part in building up the emotions in Neil Must Die. For all those who feel Durga Puja close to their hearts may want to read this extract)

durga

Book 5

CHAPTER 4

The Homecoming, MahaSaptami, October 16 1996

The litanies of the Mahalaya were tearing through the speakers throughout Rajdhani Express, pouring generously on the passengers, filling them up to the brim. They were all coming home. As Goddess Durga had already come into the lives and hearts of Bengal, so were they. Returning into the hearts of their own families. From various corners of the globe the Bengalis were returning home.

It was Saptami, the first day of the Durga pujas, and Neil was returning home. For the first time in two years. For the first time after Tuli’s death.

The Mahalaya was piercing through his lungs. His heart. His whole existence. Why did they have to sell the album in cassettes? It was as though the entire world had conspired against him to let him know something. That he couldn’t escape. To let him know that he was coming home, and that was the truth.

He felt uneasy. And was tempted to walk up to the train attendant and ask him to switch off the music. But he couldn’t trust himself. He didn’t know whether he would hit the man if the attendant refused. He shivered a little. He didn’t know whether that was from the excess air-conditioning or anything else. His mind was going numb.

He closed his eyes. He wished he could close his ears. He decided to bear the painful music. He decided to think about Cathy.

Her eyes were brimming with tears when he kissed her, bidding her goodbye at the airport. She held his hand and said, “I love you.” He wished he could say the same. He simply nodded.

She said, “Just give me a ring. And I’ll arrange for everything. I’m waiting for your call…” she trailed off. Her voice had cracked.

Neil felt sad for her. Sad that she was feeling so sad. He held her and hugged her close. He knew all he had to say was, “I’m coming,” at that moment. But he felt tongue-tied. He simply held her. He wanted to see her happy. Cathy looked up and searched his eyes, as if trying to fathom his confusion. He smiled to hide them. But she knew. She smiled back and held his hand tight, “Don’t rush things,” she said. “I’ll be a friend always.”

And then she turned and left. She turned back before entering the security check and waved at him, smiling. Neil too waved back. And smiled. He felt two emotions. A lump in his throat and a sense of relief. He never knew why.

He got up from the seat and walked out for a smoke. He wanted to think of Cathy and not of the place he was going to. He should have been on a plane to Stockholm and not on a train to Calcutta. He pushed the swing door of the compartment, stepped outside and lit a smoke. He had to go home someday or the other. He had to return and face his past. Good. He could think better. He opened the door of the train. Dusk sped by. Dim lights afar flashed erratically indicating that electricity had reached those villages. Before that, of course, lay acres of barren land, aman paddy having just been harvested.

He looked at the sky. He felt a sense of claustrophobia. Previously the sky was always his source of freedom. Now it seemed, ever since Tuli was up there, he had no escape.

Neil took a puff. He asked himself for the umpteenth time. Why was he always escaping? Why couldn’t he anchor somewhere? Who was he? What was his identity? He was already 24 and had not started life yet. Oh yes. He’s a criminal. How could he forget that? Now with that track-record it will be difficult to get a job either. He wasn’t qualified enough. The only option he had was to go back and join Hassan. Join Juhi. Perhaps even marry her. That was the only way out. Or get a job through her. Then of course, he’d have to marry her. He felt uneasy. Sick. Claustrophobic. Felt as if someone was throttling him. He simply had to try for a visa. He had to go to Stockholm. That was his only option.

He threw the cigarette on the speeding tracks and went inside.  He looked at the happy faces. The happy families who were all going back home on holidays. They’d meet their relatives and all would be so happy. He sat down. When did he last feel happy? He didn’t remember. What was happiness? Was he searching for happiness, or searching for an escape from it?

He didn’t have an answer. His eyes stung with self-pity. He decided to sleep. He decided never to wake up…

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Review of Neil Must Die

The book is a work of fiction but you find a certain sense of connect to the protagonists. The conflict plays out in your mind and you can easily relate it to epic romance sagas, where the love is sacrificed for the sake of love.

The girl turned to him. Her face was stern, her black eyes cold against her whitish features. Then she burst into a smile and turned away to look out of the window.

On second thoughts she plopped her heavy rucksack on Neil’s legs. “I’m Cathy.”

Neil said “Ouch!” and then lifted the bag to keep it on the narrow shelf running above the seats. “What do you carry? Bricks? To hit all Indian men?” he said after brushing his hands off imaginary dirt, the way one does after a job well done.

He sat down beside her and took out a packet of chewing gums from his pocket.

“Friends?” he said and extended one strip to her.

“Not so fast.” She took the packet, tore out one and put it in her mouth.

She chewed on it and contorted her mouth. “Yikes, it’s horrible!”

“Hey, this is from your lands.” Neil popped one into his mouth.

Cathy turned to him, “Where are you off to?”

“Pulga. I love treks.”

“Oh my God!” gasped Cathy.

“What happened?”

“Aren’t there any more trek routes out there? I want to change my route.”

Neil grinned wickedly. “Somebody up there loves me!” he hummed and laughed aloud.

Cathy smirked lightly. She extended her legs underneath the seat in front of her and leant back. “Okay, for the time being, can you leave me alone?”

“Oh sure,” said Neil and smiled.

“Good,” said Cathy and closed her eyes.

Neil leant back and began tunelessly humming the movie song that was being played in the bus.

His voice reached an octave when Cathy opened her eyes. “Okay, okay, we’ll talk.”

Neil stopped singing. “Oh, really?”

“Anything to make you stop singing.”

“ Oh! Sorry. Did I disturb you?”

“No, no, of course not. You were just a note worse than the bus engine.”

“Ha! Ha! You’re joking!”

“Joking?” Cathy turned to him, “I’m serious.  You’re good. It’s just that I can’t take such wonderful music.”

“Where are you from?” Neil cut in.

She looked away. “None of your business.” She looked out of the window and said, “Sweden.”

“You speak English very well.”

“I am an American. My husband is working for a Swedish company.”

“Your husband…?” Neil turned to her looking sorrowful.

“Oh, yes! Big and kicking! He’s Swedish, you know and his hobby is bull-fighting.”

“Oh mah Gawd!” Neil jumped an imaginary inch away. Then remembering something he said, “Bull-fighting is from Spain, isn’t it?”

“So what? It’s contagious. Now every country in Europe is picking it up.”

Neil fell silent. Then turned to her and said, “You’re not lying, are you? I mean… you don’t look married…”

She quickly groped around her handbag and took out a photograph from inside it. She handed it to him, “Isn’t he cute?”

A grotesque pair of eyes beneath a bushy, threatening set of eyebrows, a big nose and a large mouth set in a wide-jawed face with crew-cut hair, stared at him. Neil took the snap and quickly gave it back to Cathy.

“Yeah!” he smiled pathetically and raised his eyebrows.

“That’s not my husband. That’s my boyfriend,” said Cathy. “Here’s my husband.”

She handed him a lesser intimidating photograph. The man seemed to be a soberly dressed professor in his early thirties, complete with glasses and a thin moustache. He handed back the photo.

“You are an interesting character.”

Cathy smiled pleasingly and nodded her head.

“And what are they doing now? Shopping together for you?” he asked smilingly.

Cathy smiled, “I’ve ditched my boyfriend before coming to India.”

“Oh, good! So your husband won, right?”

Cathy turned to him. “Enough talking about me. Now tell me about yourself. Where are you from?”

“Me?” Neil turned slightly defensive. “I am from Calcutta.”

“Bengali?”

He nodded.

“You speak English very well, too,” she smiled.

A very discreetly camouflaged anger seeped out from his next words.

“We’ve had two hundred years of formal training, you see!”

“Two hundred…?” Cathy initially looked perplexed. Then understanding the meaning of his words, she smiled sympathetically. “You’re still angry with the British?” She knew the Indian history slightly. India had been under a painful British colonization for over 200 years until it was freed very recently.

Neil turned away and somberly nodded his head in the negative. Then smiled and looked at her, “If it wasn’t for them, we would have still been in the dark ages.”

“Ha! Ha!” smiled Cathy teasingly. “So you do admit defeat?”

Neil suddenly turned away and turned serious. “Can we change the topic?” There was a distinct volcano in his voice.  A blurred picture of a young man rolling down the stairs of his house, blood getting smeared on the steps and two victorious policemen marching down after the body with revolvers, shaped and vanished from his mind’s eye… It perhaps happened when Neil was very young. Or perhaps he overheard his elders talking about it until the impression formed in colored pictures inside his mind’s eye. He didn’t know. He never wanted to find out.

They both fell silent for a while.

Then she spoke. “Who do you have in your family?”

Neil sighed slightly and looked at her, “My wife and seven children.”

“WHAT…?!!” Cathy gasped!

Neil looked sorrowful and said, “Yeah, not planned, you see, accidents.”

“You’re joking,” Cathy said in a definite tone.

“Yes,” Neil smiled, “the wife part.”

“Wha…! You…” Cathy burst out smiling. “You’re impossible! How did you survive so long? Nobody beat you up?”

“Nope.” Neil shook his head sincerely.

“Okay. So you’re not interested in talking about yourself, right?”

Neil suddenly held her head and turned it towards the window. “See the mountains? We’re way off them. We’ve just started to climb. We have two more hours to go.”

He paused. Cathy turned to him. He smiled. “I’ll not be able to escape.”

She fell silent.

The bus was beginning to climb up-hill. The creamy roads through an ascending landscape with foothills all around green fields now began to look portentous. Mountains soon crammed up nearer on one side, while on the other side the green fields and landscape began to fall further and further down. River Parvati moved along, sometimes becoming a ribbon thrown down into the deep valley, sometimes a cool, swirling entertainer, jumping around their pathway.  Their climb had begun. The bus roared its engine louder and began taking not-so-friendly turns at completely unprepared-for bends.

Cathy closed her eyes. It was obvious she decided not to ask him any more personal details.

Neil sensed that. He loomed over her and said, “With eyes closed you look beautiful.”

She opened them and flinched away, “Do you mind?” She seemed to like that phrase very much.

“No I don’t,” Neil said. “Anything to keep you awake.”

“But it looked like you didn’t want to speak?”

“I am speaking.”

“I mean … about yourself.”

“Okay.” Neil sighed. “What do you want to know?”

“It’s okay. I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable.”

“I am very comfortable with you,” he snuggled an inch closer.

“Hello…!” scolded Cathy.

He grinned. Then became a shade serious and said, “What do you want to know?”

“What do you do, for instance?”

“Me?” He pondered. “I ruin money.” He laughed and then waved his hand, “Sorry!”

He turned somber for a while. He tried to frame his answer. A first-class college graduate running away from sickening jobs he didn’t want to do? A computer-buffer?

Or a criminal with a track record of assisting in a murder and slipping through the fingers of law abetted by an influential mafia person?!

“I escape.” He framed the answer and looked very happy with himself for doing so. He turned a smiling face to Cathy.

She looked nauseated. And turned away.

“Okay, I’ll be honest with you.” He decided to edit some of his track records. “I am a graduate looking for a job.”

Cathy sighed. At last she managed a sensible answer from him. She nodded and asked off-handed, as if to keep the conversation going, “What do you specialize in?”

Neil sensed it. He turned grave. “Girls.”

She looked at him stoically for a moment. Then asked, “Just the anatomy or an Ischemic heart too?”

Neil kept looking doleful. “Anatomy. I have yet to come across an Ischemic heart.” He leant back and whisking a warm spice to his voice he added, “I’d love to.”

She nodded, “Oh, yeah.” She half-asked the question. She turned away and then half-turned. “You know, you should go a little slow on your specialized objects’ nerves. You seem to be picking on them too much.” She waved her hand in the air, “Just a friendly advice.”

Neil jumped up and extended his hand, “Caught you. So we’re friends?”

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