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Sanjay Chhel on the status of screenwriters

Courtesy: IndiaFM

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Writer-lyricist-director Sanjay Chhel likes to create fantasies by writing about all the good things in life. His one-liners in Shaadi Se Pehle were well received by the audience. He has been doing some interesting work since more than a decade now with films like Rangeela, Daud, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustaani, Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya and many more to his credits. Still he feels that a writer doesn't get his due credit in the Hindi film industry and puts forth his concerns on the plight and status of screenwriters.

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First of all, congratulations on your work in Shaadi Se Pehle! Tell us how you started out. 

I have a background in Gujarati theatre? I have done Gujarati plays and short stories. After that I became assistant director. I have done serials and talk shows. Gradually I started writing films. My first film was Pehla Nasha by Ashutosh Gowariker. I have written Yes Boss and the tele-series Nukkad. Then I got Rangeela because of Aamir and Neeraj (Vora). Then I became a director with Khoobsurat. It did very well. Unfortunately my second directorial venture Kya Dil Ne Kaha did not work. After that I was looking for a good project as a director but didn't really like any of the projects. I wrote films like Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya, Kyon Ki and Shaadi Se Pehle.

What was it like to work with Subhash Ghai?
It was quite difficult because Subhash Ghai has a sense of drama. His sense of comedy is quite different. I wrote the entire screenplay and dialogues based on his vision. Satish Kaushik as a director has faith in me. We have worked together on television for the musical countdown show Philips Top 10. Satish understands my humor. More than me making him laugh, he makes me laugh. His sense of humor is very good since he has been a comedy actor. He really supported me. I feel secure that he will not tamper with the script. He also gives me a lot of freedom. Whenever there is freedom, there is love. Normally a lot of directors cut my punch lines because they feel that the scene is not working. Satish is always faithful to my dialogues and so the film has a certain flavor. Subhash Ghai is very motivating. He used to SMS early morning saying that he wanted to see the scene. After we completed writing the entire script, we had a couple of narrations. This was the first time in my 10-year old career that I had a bound script, which had readings.

You have worked with Subhash Ghai and even Ram Gopal Varma in Rangeela. Which directors do you like working with the most?
The question is about who enjoys working with me. I am also a director, with strong likes and dislikes. I don't think I can work with everybody. Aziz Mirza did three films with me, Ramu did three films with me and I'm writing Satish Kaushik's next film as well as David's next film. So all these directors are very comfortable with me. I feel I am like the mirror image of a director. Aziz Mirza was the first director who gave me a big film (Yes Boss). He is a fatherly figure to me. I am too comfortable with him. Shah Rukh Khan and Aziz Mirza have given me a lot of confidence. But I think I enjoy more when I direct for myself. I have complete control over the vision. Agar script bigadni hi hai, to main hi bigadoon! (laughs)

Seeing your past work, it looks like you are only interested in comedy. Do you want to try a different genre?
People in the industry brand you. Khoobsurat was a romantic comedy which had family value. Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani was a political satire. It didn't do too well but it was a different kind of film. Halo won the National Award for the best children's film. Though it was a funny film, it was also very emotional. Kyon Ki too was a very emotional film. In real life, I don't think I am a very funny person. I don't think I write good comedies but I am very smart with my one-liners. I am a 'feel good' writer. No matter what I do, my films are always about nice human beings. All my films may not be big hits but they are all about nice people. I never write about people on the wrong side. The movies are a very strong medium. If you write about negative character, you somehow endorse them. I try to generate goodness.

Where do you get your inspiration from?
I am surrounded by a lot of bad people. I have seen bad things in society. I resist all the bad things that happen to me. By writing such kind of films, there is an element of fantasy. When some one does not have a great life, they fantasize about a good life.

So these are all your fantasies?
In a way, all filmmakers want to create a fantasy.

Script writers in Hollywood get a lot of recognition. Do you think that those in Bollywood have got their due recognition?
I think I have been very lucky to have made my name. Others like Neeraj Vora, Abbas Tyrewalla and Anees Bazmee have succeeded. We have some kind of name and get good money.

But still the recognition is not as much as the recognition that is given to others associated with the film...
There are two strong reasons for it. Indian directors have a direct competition with film writers. There are 200 promos on air. The writers name is no where. Secondly, the reviewers in the media always target the writers. They will never say that the film is bad because of the photography or sound but will always blame writers. The writers realize if the stars are faltering. Some of them are limited in their talent. Just like in any household, the mother is the biggest sufferer. Everyone says that the mother is the best etc. Yet she is the biggest sufferer. Similarly, everyone says that the script is the backbone of the project. Yet the script writer is the biggest sufferer. The script writer is treated the same way a mother is treated in any household.

Has it ever happened with you that you have written a particular screenplay and it looks completely different in the final product?
It has happened a lot of times. Writing a film is not an individual art. It's like playing an orchestra. You have to understand the director, the stars requirement, distributor's pressure and other pressures. There is also pressure from the music companies. There are so many people who work on the film. The script which is actually written is way different from what you see onscreen. There are about 7-8 stages involved till its final interpretation. Nobody plans to make a flop film. Yet along the way, it gets spoilt. A script in which 5-10 crores are invested becomes bad because so many people are involved in it. There are so many changes made. Yet, in the credit it's our name which figures. So we have to take the blame. I have no regrets. I understand that this is the nature of my job. You can't do anything about it. You can't disown your failure.

Tell us some particular incident where this happened with you.
In Shaadi Se Pehle, I was not convinced about the climax. I thought that the second half should have been funnier. But Subhash ji felt that it should be more emotional. So I had to respect his power, judgment and experience. I can't do anything. A lot of times I write good lines and David Dhawan cuts them. As a director he does not find it funny. That's why I have become a director. Firstly, so that I can get my name on the poster. And secondly, because if anybody has to screw the script, it should be me!

You directed Khoobsurat which was a hit. However, when you directed Kya Dil Ne Kaha after that, it did not live up to people's expectations. Why do you think so?
The music of Kya Dil Ne Kaha was a hit and so the film recovered the cost. However, I did not get much recognition as a director. I was not able to generate a successful kind of a project. So I decided that unless I was not convinced about the script, project, star cast and the producer, I would not direct the film. I would continue to write films in the meantime. I wanted to direct films which would give me a name and also do well, commercially. I've had experiences wherein I have not believed in something but still gone ahead and done it. And it has not done well. So because of being cautious, I didn't direct any films. But there is a project in the pipeline. I think I should be lucky this time.

Tell us something about that film.
I did Shaadi Se Pehle with Akshaye. He liked my writing. I think he trusts me and so he said lets do a romantic comedy. The film will be announced soon.

Will you be writing the lyrics as well?
So far, whatever work I have done as a lyricist has been appreciated. I have written songs like Nikamma, Mohabbat Hai Mirchi, Bindaas and Aye Shivani. I don't want to be branded as a lyricist, like Rakhi Sawant is for item numbers. I am not very desperate about writing lyrics. When I make my film I will write lyrics.

What do you enjoy most from among script writing, direction and lyrics?
I enjoy writing dialogues the most. I don't like writing the screenplay and stories because it is very taxing. I'm very comfortable with writing scenes and dialogues. I also enjoy directing films. It gives me complete satisfaction. A director is in command and sees his vision on celluloid.

Daud was a very well made film. Yet, it didn't do well. Why do you think so?
It sounds very clichÉd but Daud was way ahead of its time. If it was released today, it would have been a super hit. I think it was the first black comedy. Today, if you see it, you will understand how many layers its working on. Ram Gopal Varma did a terrific job. I think the audience was expecting action from the film. The film was promoted as a sex oriented naughty kind of film. And it actually wasn't like that. It is very important for the audience to have the right perception of the film. The same thing happened with Shaadi Se Pehle. People thought that it is a sex comedy featuring Mallika Sherawat. So the family audience was not very keen on watching the film. However, it did its business because of word of mouth. When I have the creative control of the film, I make sure that the perception of the film is correct. It should not be ambiguous. Khoobsurat had an action hero like Sanjay Dutt. But the posters and songs conveyed that it was a very clean and simple family entertainer. If I would have named the film Bardaasht or Raftar, the distributors would have been happy. However, it was not such a film. I think the titles of Daud and Shaadi Se Pehle worked against them.

What do you think makes a film a hit?
If I knew what makes a film a hit, I would have become a hit director.

Are there any mantras you follow?
For a Hindi commercial film, one needs to have a feel good subject. There has to be a correct dose of romance and music. The songs should be inherent. Also, the film should not be long and boring. If the film makes the people smile and also shed a few tears, then it works for sure.

So there should be drama in the film?
There should be a slight emotional touch. Indian society is very epic oriented. We have had Hanuman as the comedian whereas Ram was the hero. We have had the Ramayan and Mahabharat since centuries. So the Indian audiences want their films as a complete Gujarati thali with all the ingredients! But it has to be feel good. That's why all of Yash Chopra and Sanjay Leela Bhansali's films work. They have the complete package.

You're working on Deepak Tijori's next film. Tell us something about that.
I had just come out of college when he offered me Pehla Nasha, directed by Ashutosh Gowariker. He was senior to me. I have been close to him since the last 15 years. I am writing this film just for Deepak. I admire him a lot. He is trying to make a film on a bigger scale with a bigger star cast. It will be something completely different from Tom, Dick and Harry. He will get into a different league with this film.

Tell us about your forthcoming projects.
Like I said I am planning to direct a film starring Akshaye Khanna. I am currently in negotiations with T-Series. It is too early to talk about it now. I will announce it in a month's time. Then, I am writing David Dhawan's Partner. It stars Salman and Govinda and will be a complete dhamaal. It's a comedy and I am enjoying every moment of it. I am also writing Satish Kaushik's next film. It's a very ambitious project along the lines of Moulin Rouge. I'm sure we will make a better film that Shaadi Se Pehle. It is still untitled.

Sanjay Chhel Filmography

1. Kyon Ki (2005)
2. Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya? (2005)
3. Jo Bole So Nihaal (2005)
4. Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (2000)
5. Khoobsurat (1999)
6. Daud (1997)
7. Yes Boss (1997)
8. Rangeela (1995)
9. Philips Top 10 - TV Series
10. Pehla Nasha (1993)

1. Shaadi Se Pehle (2006)
2. Krishna Cottage (2004)
3. Chura Liyaa Hai Tumne (2003)
4. One 2 Ka 4 (2001)
5. Kahin Pyaar Na Ho Jaaye (2000)
6. Khoobsurat
7. Kachche Dhaage (1999)
8. Love You Hamesha (unreleased)
9. Paltan (1997) TV Series
10. Naya Nukkad (1993) - TV Series

1. Kyaa Dil Ne Kahaa (2002)
2. Khoobsurat (1999)

1. Kyon Ki (2005)
2. Khamosh... Khauff Ki Raat (2005)
3. Krishna Cottage (2004)
4. Ishq Hai Tumse (2004)
5. Wrong Number (2003)
6. Chura Liyaa Hai Tumne (2003)
7. Kyaa Dil Ne Kahaa (2002).

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