Saturday, 23 May 2009

"Scriptwalla is not a workshop. It's a movement" - Ben Rekhi

By Devansh Patel
We all have thoughts floating in our head. Feelings, sentiments, emotions, theories, observations.... all of them floating in our mind. Some obvious to the mind's eye. Others not so obvious. Because some of them are abstract, unsaid, and exist more as an essence than as solid thoughts. A great writer is able to summon all these thoughts, coax and pry them out of the hidden and uncharted recesses of his mind, cajole them into taking a tangible shape, and then express them on paper in the form of words. Express them as words so lucidly and soulfully, that their essence is not lost even when what he writes is translated. Kamlesh Pandey from Bollywood and Ben Rekhi from Hollywood are two such great writers. Both together have started a ten week workshop called to be held at Whistling Woods International from June 2, and by the end of the workshop, fifteen writers will come out with a hundred and twenty page bound script which they'll be able to sell to producers. How about that? A platform for all budding screen writers to showcase their hidden talent. Bollywood Hungama's London correspondent and UK's Harrow Observer columnist gets to know both the talented personalities as they get talking about their mission, movement and mad passion for writing.

How did the thought of Scriptwalla came about?
Kamlesh: I get phone calls everyday from aspiring writers who want to either assist me or want to know about the art of script writing. While I'm working I don't have time to teach people. In Hollywood there are screen writing workshops taking place everywhere. We call ourselves the biggest film industry in the world and yet do not have a single screen writing workshop. So I always wanted to share my experience and expertise with new writers because the advantage I couldn't get, I wanted them to achieve that. I have been a visiting faculty in Whistling Woods International and did meet Ben Rekhi last year on a project we are doing together. He is from Hollywood and has been writing various scripts in Mumbai since eight months. We both sat and had a lot of talking to do about the kind of scripts being written here. Our thoughts matched, East met the West and Scriptwalla started.

Ben: In my time out here while I was working, I realised that there is not a lot of organisation and discipline for screen writing. I met Kamlesh Pandey last year in December as we both were working on a graphic novel that we are turning into a film and through our conversation we realised that we had the same mission or a goal in mind. Scriptwalla came out of that.

Are you then dissapointed with our script writers?
Kamlesh: Yes. I have been evaluating scripts for some production houses and have been so disappointed. It's not even one percent. You'll be lucky if you can get one script worth looking at for production. Simply because the whole art of story telling is missing somewhere. Many writers are so self indulgent that they forget that the film is ultimately for its audience. It is not a short story or a poetry. It's a business and a whole lot of money is riding on it.

How will Scriptwalla benefit the writers?
Kamlesh: Fifteen students will be selected who will come up with a one line idea and over two and a half months of the workshop, they'll leave with a one hundred and twenty page screenplay which they can show around as work sample or sell it to a producer. We have also planned a screenplay contest where we are going to get someone from Hollywood who will be here in a months time to announce it. The winners of that competition will have a chance to go into film production.

What's the fee structure?
Kamlesh: The fee structure for the entire ten week workshop is going to be Rs 50,000 and we are looking at a complete houseful. The good thing is that it's not a one off attempt. Every ten weeks there will be a new batch coming in and will keep on continuing like that. We are going to invite established writers once in a while to address the students so they get motivated.

Any scripts in the last two to three years worth mentioning?
Kamlesh: In the last two to three years I've loved the script of both the Munnabhai series. Honestly speaking, I am not really impressed with the remake scripts being written. It doesn't show that you are a good writer but a good thief. Having said that, Mr India 2 is not a remake but a sequel and it takes off from where the first one ends. I have to be a bit biased here but I do like Rang De Basanti. Ghajini was not bad as a script even though it belonged to some old fashioned seventies cinema writing.

People of India don't know who Ben Rekhi is. Please introduce yourself.
Ben: I was born and raised in California. I've done a few feature films in the U.S and right now I'm based in Mumbai since eight months working on various projects here. I've directed a film for Bobby Bedi , did a hit music video for an American artist out here and did some re-writing on a major Bollywood film along with dialogues. In Hollywood he has worked with George Clooney, Julia Roberts, the producers of Collateral and Godzilla and a lot of other well known names.

What do you personally want to achieve through Scriptwalla?
Ben: My main interest is to tap into the Indian market and come out with some interesting scripts. Since last couple of years, I've learnt that the film scripts are falling flat and it needs some good quality homework. At the same time, I also want to bring some of Hollywood sensibilities to Bollywood. Through this workshop we are trying to achieve the same. The whole idea is to write a great script because only after you write well, you'll be able to make a great film. Scriptwalla for me is a movement and not a workshop where people organise themselves, present themselves professionally and write great stories.

What's your definition of a great script?
Ben: A great script is something that moves you in one way or the other. Stories are as old as our civilisation. There are certain structures to screen writing and once you know the rules you can break the rules too. But a great script is in our DNA.

Any Bollywood films and writers you've been impressed with?
Ben: I love the seventies style of Bollywood. Coolie is a brilliant film well written. But in the recent times I like the work of Anurag Kashyap. I loved Dev D style of writing. Dibakar Banerji is another Francis Ford Coppola in the making. He has got the sense of cinema that elevates to international audiences. Mani Ratnam comes next in my list and then RGV who tries to break new grounds as well.

Any message for the budding, aspiring writers who'd want to join Scriptwalla?
Kamlesh: Anybody who thinks they can write, here is a chance of a lifetime. Here in ten weeks, you will be able to learn the basic art of screen writing. Thanks to Whistling Woods International who've offered us their own classroom to conduct this workshop. Some of their students too may join the workshop. What makes Scriptwalla different from others is that unlike other courses which concentrate on editing, cinematography, writing, sound, etc, Scriptwalla will only focus on writing.

Ben: Writing is a passion. If you feel it, if you have a story to tell, you have to discipline yourself to sit down and do it. Writing is not about thinking of ideas, it is about sitting in your chair and just write, write and write. Even if you don't fit in our workshop and competition, please feel free to contact us as we want to bridge the gap between writers and production companies

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