The Magic of Cinema

Interview by Preity Athwal

Vipul K. Rawal

Vipul K. Rawal, an ex-navy personnel-turned-scriptwriter, is the unsung hero who wrote the script of acclaimed Bollywood movies - Iqbal and Rustom.

Art, theatre and movies are gaining traction worldwide as ambassadors of cultural exchange and instruments of foreign policy to enhance bilateral as well as multilateral relations. As such; India recently hosted the first-ever BRICS Film Festival, which gave a platform to people from the film industries of member countries and provided them an opportunity to explore areas of mutual interest, cultural exchange and cooperation.

Vipul K. Rawal, the celebrated scriptwriter, talks to Diplomatist Editor Preity Athwal about the ‘Magic of Cinema’, importance of cultural diplomacy and the recently concluded BRICS Film Festival. Excerpts...

Please share your perspective on the contribution of Indian cinema in the country’s cultural heritage, and in improving India’s relations with the world.

Indian Cinema has always had a distinct identity of its own in the world. Our song and dance routines, our stories have been discussed at various film schools across the world. In the most far flung places such as Khazakstan or Turkmenistan, I have found people knowing about Raj Kapoor, Mithun Chakroborty, Amitabh Bachan and Shah Rukh Khan. The very fact that there is a street named after Mr. Yash Chopra in Switzerland is a proof of the fact that we have been noticed, if not made an impact.

Cinema builds bridges, transcends borders and most importantly entertains. Take us through the journey of Indian cinema.

Even before Dada Saheb Phalke made the first full length feature ‘Raja Harishchandra’, a Marathi silent movie ‘Shree Pundalik’ was released by Dadasaheb Torne. Since our culture is rich in mythology, the initial films were made on these subjects. From Literature rich states like Bengal and Tamil Nadu came stories based on their literature and folklore. Post partition, the stories reflected the trauma of an era bygone. The government too took an active interest in this field by forming ‘Film Divisions’, which at one time was the largest documentary maker in the world. The 40s also saw the emergence of IPTA formed by artists with communist leanings, and films were used as a medium to educate the masses. In the late 50s, a new wave of parallel cinema emerged from Bengal with directors such as Bimal Roy and Satyajit Ray. It was Ray’s films ‘The Apu Triology’ that put India on the map when it won all major awards in the international arena. This was also a time when commercial Hindi cinema started to become popular with directors like Chetan Anand, Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, among others. The modern Indian cinema started around the 60’s with Shammi Kapoor movies and then Rajesh Khanna. Of course, the 70s saw the emergence of the angry young man and a typhoon called Amitabh Bachan which changed the face of Hindi cinema forever.

Do you think the Film Festival can generate opportunities for film industries of BRICS nations?

That really depends upon what kind of film makers participate in these festivals. More than the generating of opportunities, if BRICS nations can form some sort of mechanism of easy permissions, cross subsidies, using the government facilities etc, that would be more beneficial.

Thanks to Bollywood movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Spain received 70,000 Indian tourists in 2013. The movie has now been included as a Case Study for a course on Marketing Management in Spain. Do you see movies as an effective medium to promote people-to-people linkages?

Definitely. As I mentioned earlier, I have come across people in the most unlikeliest of countries talking about Hindi Cinema.

Isn’t it time for Bollywood to collaborate on joint ventures?

There are a lot of foreign films being shot in India and when that is the case, the line producers are hired locally. The same thing applies if our films are shot abroad we hire local line producers from there. So we have been doing joint ventures for a long time.

From conceptualisation of the idea to meeting the producer, to filming and post-production – what is the involvement of the writer like?

Film making is a director’s medium. Hence, once the script is locked, the writer should have no say in the film making process unless his advice is specifically asked for. Of course, he can give suggestions, but the final call has to be that of the director.

Which are your favourite movies?

Sholay, Shawshank Redemption, Usual Suspects, Pretty Woman, Enemy at the Gates, Munnabhai Series, 3 Idiots, Khosla ka Ghosla and many more.

How did the writing bug bite you?

I had a habit of writing short stories since I was a child. Also, I am a voracious reader and I have been reading since I was very young. The knowledge I had polished while reading extensively gave me the ability to create plots and stories at the drop of a hat, which ultimately led me to my profession.

Were you confident of Rustom receiving such an overwhelming response?

Yes. The moment I wrote the first draft, I knew I had a winner.

Allow me to ask this – when exactly do you realise that the script is ready?

When there is no scope for improvement in any scene.

Do you keep the audience in mind when you are writing?

NEVER. It would be a cardinal mistake to assume the taste of the audience.

What are you working on next?

I have a few scripts ready. I have shortlisted my next film which I will direct myself. The producers and actors are onboard and if things go as planned, will start shooting by the end of this year.

In an industry where writers are not the best paid, can you afford to be choosy?

If you are confident about the product and if you have something original, you can name your price. I for one have never had this problem as I have always got my price. Even during RUSTOM’s case, I was in negotiations with three big production houses, and it was ultimately my decision to go with Neeraj Pandey’s company. All production houses are desperate for good stories. In fact, this is an exciting time to be a writer provided you can write original and entertaining stuff.

Several Bollywood movies have been shot in Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa. With advancement in infrastructure, could India hope for the same?

Frankly, NO. It is getting more and more difficult to shoot in India. Even if you have permission to shoot on the streets of Mumbai or any other big city, some or the other government official will come and extort money from you. The permissions that we have to take from various departments are a big nuisance. The police, fire brigade, the Municipality, the traffic police, the local corporator’s lackeys all come to harass you and create hurdles. In contrast, I have shot in England and Switzerland, where once you have the permission, there are absolutely no hassles. Hence, more and more film makers prefer to shoot abroad. We need to change our mentality first in order to expect the same level of smoothness.

‘The Story is King’ is an often cited line when it comes to films; are there any set rules as to what may or may not be translated onto the screen?

Creativity can never be limited. Having said that; one man’s creativity could easily offend another man’s sensibilities. Creativity is a subjective word and each person’s definition of creativity differs. There are various instances of our censor board playing the moral police and have asked to delete scenes for the flimsiest reason. However, since cinema is a mass medium, the endeavour should be that the story should be liked by the majority of people and not a niche audience.

Last but not least; what is your advice to the aspiring screenwriters?

Most screenwriters have an aspiration to change the world by their stories. My advice is to leave all that aside and concentrate only on writing stories that are entertaining. Albeit, if your story is entertaining and it does something good for society, think of it as a bonus, but under any circumstances DO NOT TAKE YOURSELF SERIOUSLY; JUST TAKE YOUR WORK SERIOUSLY.

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