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interview

More than Just Talk

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Kamal Haasan on scriptwriting and the charm of historical fiction

Kamal Haasan on scriptwriting and the charm of historical fiction

Q Does fiction bring out a cityscape better than documentary?

History is fiction according to the unsung. Our own Indian history is embedded in our mythology. You cannot accept it as the whole truth but it contains the genetic material for it. Fiction makes you retain and remember truth with a fondness that sterile documentation can never manage.

Q What triggered this screenwriting workshop?

A It is only in a script or a tale where the author begins with a particular inciting event, not life. This idea is 25 years in the making. After talking a lot in groups and forums about nurturing young Indian screenwriters, I realised I was just another ‘talker’ amongst many. I decided to redeem myself at least in my eyes. I had started an Internet club for professional writers some time ago, called Aksharabhyaasi, but the model did not work. I kept at it, and finally assembled a strong team of faculty members who were capable, friendly and willing.

Q Do you see revenue potential in this endeavour?

A When Caiaphas sat on judgment against Christ, no one could have envisaged a Vatican in the very Rome that crucified him. At the same time, none of the groups ever got to live the lives that Popes live as their proxies. There might be revenue, but they are not going to flow right away into my coffers. It will eventually happen in a software-hungry industry like television.

Q You have dedicated this project to your friend Ananthu, who you have often described as your mentor in writing. He was the sounding board for many of your scripts. Is there value in such interactions while writing a screenplay?

A Ananthu is a long story. It deserves a separate interview. How he taught me screenwriting is not easily formulated. It is like asking the child how it learns the language from its mother. The stages are so seamless and not at all obvious. As for sounding boards, speaking to your peers or even somebody with common sense is a must. I am not sure about script doctors, though. They definitely are not the cure, nor do they practice preventive medicine. ‘Script Doctor’ is a pseudonym for a professional writer who hates to be called either a teacher or a ghost. If it isn’t sick don’t fix it. If you aren’t sick don’t visit the doctor—unless he is your friend.

Q Your advice to the aspiring writers in your workshop…

A No advice. I am one of the grapplers too. There are many ways to write a good script. The moment a teacher says this is the only way, he is suspect. Pontificating does not work well in a rational group.

RS Prasanna is a filmmaker