Sundance Institute to groom and shape India’s filmwriting talent

  • Drishyam Sundance Screenwriters’ Lab 2015 participants Anay Tarnekar, Dnyanesh Zoting, Erik Jendresen, Sandhya Suri, Habib Faisal, Tenzing Sonam, Ritu Sarin, Kasi Lemmons, Srdan Golubovic, Geetu Mohandas, Atanu Mukherjee, Raj Rishi More, Rose Troche, Sridhar Raghavan, Sriram Raghavan

As ‘two staircase’ movies with kanjivaram-draped heroines overlooking the hero on the mandatory white piano made for trite remakes, that had producers laughing their way to the bank riding on item numbers and cheesy plots, cinegoers and filmmakers alike have long complained about lack of good, original scripts.

The Sundance Institute has partnered with Manish Mundra’s Drishyam Films in an attempt to end that by bringing the institute’s signature labs and mentorship programs, dedicated to developing new writing, to India.

Seven well-known screenwriters-filmmakers – Sriram Raghavan, Shridhar Raghavan, Srdan Golubovic (Circles), Erik Jendresen (Band of Brothers), Rose Troche (The Safety of Objects, The L Word), Habib Faisal (Ishaqzaade, Daawat-E-Ishq) and Kasi Lemmons (director of Eve’s Bayou, Talk To Me and actor in Silence of the Lambs) – came together for an inaugural master class in Mumbai to share their wisdom on the process of writing. Pleased with the master class’ success earlier this month, Paul Federbush, international director of the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program said: “This indicates the hunger for good work in India’s film fraternity. We already see the mood of the cinegoer shifting, and such initiatives can only help create content in keeping with the change.”

The master class was a curtain raiser to the ongoing edition of Drishyam Sundance Screenwriters’ Lab 2015, in Goa, for which seven projects were selected. These projects are Mulakoya by Liar’s Dice director Geetu Mohandas, Pirates by The Lunchbox chief assistant director Raj Rishi More, Unknown Faces by Atanu Mukherjee, The Sweet Requiem by Ritu Sarin Tenzing Sonam, The Monster by Dnyanesh Zoting and Sandhya Suri and Santosh and Anay Tarnekar’s untitled Tiger Project.

Former MAMI director Srinivasan Narayanan, who leads the Lab in India, called it “an opportunity for independent screenwriters to get specific feedback on scripts and move a step ahead in its journey to being made into a film”.

Eric Jendresen started the discussion by speaking about his own scriptwriting experience. Other panellists joined him in recounting how they choose stories, build characters and design a screenplay. Habib Faisal was of the opinion that Indians have a unique and interesting screenplay structure thanks to the ‘interval culture’. “We have an edge over other formats because here, audiences take a break to get their popcorn. So we have two-three act structures to play with: one before the interval, and one after it. I enjoy the thrill this provides of being able to build a three-act structure to a cliffhanger, leave the audience waiting, and then complete the story.”

Pointing to films like The Lunchbox and Court, Srdan Golubovic said Indian cinema is at an exciting and dynamic stage, which young writers can tap into. On his personal working style, he said: “I come from a place that’s difficult to live in, but inspiring for filmmakers, because there are so many stories to tell. I make films when I’m strongly moved by an issue or social phenomenon, but I try to transform that into a personal story my viewers will be able to relate to. Cinema is not about presenting social or political case studies, but about telling relatable, personal stories. I make films to provoke and raise questions, not to send a message.” He added: “A script is a happy marriage of poetry in content and mathematics in structure.”

Badlapur director Sriram Raghavan shared an anecdote about the time he narrated Johnny Gaddar‘s script to a filmmaker-friend. “He said: ‘The plot has no life, and life has no plot.’ I rewrote the script keeping this in mind, and the result is there for everyone to see.”

While Rose Troche compared a good script to a delicious meal a writer offers to an actor, Golubovic broke it down into two basic components: precise structuring and intuition. “It’s more important to know what your characters don’t say than what they do,” he said, stressing on the importance of subtexts. Troche called the industry gender-biased and encouraged women screenwriters/directors to be confident about their work without swaying to suggestions by male technicians.

While agreeing with her, Eric Jendresen, however, cautioned, “The best way to protect your script is to not be protective of it.”

About the Sundance Institute

Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, the Sundance Institute is a nonprofit organisation that provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, and new media to create and thrive. The Institute’s signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs, dedicated to developing new work, take place throughout the year, both in the US and internationally. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences to artists in igniting new ideas, discovering original voices, and building a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported such projects as Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station, Sin Nombre,The Invisible War, The Square, Dirty Wars, Spring Awakening, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Fun Home.

About Drishyam Films

Drishyam Films, founded and promoted by Manish Mundra, is a company actively working towards building a platform for new and unique voices of Indian independent cinema. The company is focused on creating global content with rich Indian flavours. The journey started with the film Ankhon Dekhi by Rajat Kapoor. The film was one of the best-reviewed films in India in 2014 and was critically acclaimed for its simplicity, philosophy, ensemble cast and acting. The success of Ankhon Dekhi was followed by Umrika directed by Prashant Nair, which
premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2015 and went on to win the Audience Award in the World Dramatic Competition section. Soon after, Dhanak, by Nagesh Kukunoor premiered in the Generation Kplus at Berlinale 2015 and won the Grand Jury prize, as well as, a special mention from the children’s jury. The upcoming projects include an Indo-French co-production Masaan by Neeraj Ghaywan, Waiting by Anu Menon and X-The Film, an experimental collaborative feature directed by 11 Indian filmmakers.

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