Sunday, 20 April 2008

SCRIPTING A BALANCE

Indians are crazy about him; so are the Germans. It’s Shah Rukh Khan we are talking about and noted German scriptwriter Kathrin Wilkes sounds excited: “There’s a huge fan base for Shah Rukh in Germany. People love him and his films”. Wilkes, who has written scripts for several films and television series in Germany and I thought to find few things about script writing from her.

“It’s the dance and colourful settings of the Bollywood films” that attract the German audience who are otherwise used to realistic moving images on small and big screen. Wilkes mentions Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who “revolutionised German movies though Fassbinder’s way of filming was more like shooting a theatre with wide angle”.

Considering what we get to see in Hindi commercial flicks, how realistic can a script be, I ask her. Wilkes admits that no script can be wholly realistic. The secret of scriptwriting is to strike a balance between what is normal and what is absurd. “It should be such so that the audience get actively engaged with the events and characters shown”.

I then probe a bit into her scriptwriting process. According to Wilkes: “The structure of a story need characters and problems. What a scriptwriter does is to spin the story around those characters and problems to achieve the maximum dramatic tension”. But can’t there be a script without tension and problem, I wonder. Wilkes replies in negative: “Even in case of a comedy, there is a tension and the fun elements revolve round them”.

To elaborate her point, Wilkes analyses number of films including the old Hindi flick Golmal (starring Amol Palekar and Utpal Dutt) where the tension was about moustache. However, the problems and the tensions “should be universal” so that everyone can relate to them. Though mentality of people vary from culture to culture, “core issues, say that of love, remain same everywhere”. The scriptwriter then “goes deep inside the character and shapes the personality to find things like how he / she looks at life – half glass full or half glass empty, the changes in the character’s attitude and other things”.

According to Wilkes: a scriptwriter must be a keen observer almost like an investigator. “Every minute details of characters or events in our surroundings count”. Add to that the “tenacity to re-write a script 20 times or more” as will be necessary to fine-tune it. The bottomline, according to Wilkes is patience. It could take three to four months to write scripts for television. While for films it could be even five years, she adds.

Referring to other necessities, she says, the scriptwriter should be aware of the settings – locale and period, and “dramatise it according to the genre of the film”. When asked about the possibility of losing track of the characters in lengthy television series, Wilkes admits it is “important to be consistent”. However, she “never saw anything like that happening on German or American television”. The American soaps, according to Wilkes, are “brilliantly scripted”.

Talking about German television Wilkes informs, the medium attracts lot of money, “unlike German films”. So there are hardly two or three films that Germany each year that are produced. “It’s not easy to get the funds for the films in Germany; most of the money comes from the government”. Possibly, the hardship gets reflected on the scriptwriters as well. “Most of them will need a second job if they are only to write for films. So, scriptwriters prefer television assignments”.

An interesting of German television audience preference is crime and investigative series, informs Wilkes. But, in those series, the problems are tackled head-on. “That’s unlike the escapism in Bollywood films”. Considering that, “it could be difficult for someone from Europe to write a script for Indian audience”. Still, Wilkes hopes to try it some day. As of now she will analyse 10 scripts that were sent to her from Film and Television Institute of India and talk to the participants at a workshop there about their work and provide her expertise on the ways to improve the scripts.