Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bollywood or Bust!

By Anant Mathur (April 27, 2010)

Many millions of young men and women travel thousands of miles to the glamorous world of Bollywood, eager to make it in the film industry. A few are successful, but most find disappointment and leave their dream behind to pursue something else.

So what is it that makes the successful ones so different?

There are 5 things you must have if you want to be successful in Bollywood:

5)    Money
4)    Connections
3)    Luck
2)    Luck
1)    Luck

Bollywood is one place where money talks, proudly! If you have the cash you can be anything you want (actor, director, producer, writer, etc.). A few Crores is all you need to get your first film on the floors, the distributors are so desperate they’ll release anything. The story is not important.

Since most people who arrive in Mumbai are not loaded, it is extremely helpful to have connections in Bollywood. If you don’t, well it’s not the end of the world; it just means your journey will be more difficult.

If you have connections use them wisely, if you’re striving to be an actor, settle for small parts, they’ll lead to bigger ones. If you want to be a technician work in any and everything it doesn’t matter how bad a film is at least you’re getting your name out there which will generate more work for you.

For those who have no connections, well the first thing is to get connected. The best way to go about this is to meet people. Make connections with media people, producers, distributors, anyone involved in films, no matter how small, do odd jobs to get your foot in the door. Once the foot is in the door, make every effort to get noticed.

Luck! Luck! Luck!
The most important ingredient you need to be successful in Bollywood is not talent but luck it is so important that it occupies the top 3 spots of the 5 things you need to be successful. Being in the right place at the right time is very important, as is the ability to convince film people that you’re worth the risk. And if your luck stands and your film is a potential money maker, no matter how little the profit, you will find you have a permanent place in the glamorous world of Bollywood.

Singh is Kinng and Welcome are two of the most successful films in recent years, both are horrible films (and both are lifted from Hollywood films), but they did tremendous business at the box office, why? The answer to this question is... You guessed it: Luck! L
uck! Luck!

© Anant Mathur. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Actors Say A Lot Of Things, But When The Story Is No Good...

By Anant Mathur (April 16, 2010)

"HOUSE FULL" boards are rarely seen at cinema halls these days, I think it’s only fair to dissect the situation and figure out why?

Many actors say that they read the script of a film and then decide which film they want to be a part of. The script is paramount! But all that is bull, only 2 or 3 actors are able to do that, the rest need to make money so they can pay next months bills. The majority of actors will work on any film as long as they’re paid for it. It doesn’t matter if it’s lead actors or character actors. Recently, it was reported that Arshad Warsi wasn’t happy with the script of Golmaal 3 and didn’t want to be a part of film, but when the producers threw 3 crores at him and he changed his mind. Well, right there is the reason I don’t want to watch this film, because obviously the story is going to be lousy and the only reason the actors seem to be a part of it is because they’re being offered big bucks.

Obviously, the only reason they’re making sequels in India is to make money, producers have finally figured out that people who supported them in the first film will be curious and turn up for the sequel, so who cares about the story, right! Well that’s not the point of sequels, at least not entirely. Yes they can make you money, but only make them if there’s enough good material for another story. When you watch a trilogy like Back to the Future, Matrix or Lord of the Rings, the thing that stands out the most is that the stories got better or more entertaining with each sequel. But some films can’t have sequels, so there’s no point in making them. Why cheat the public just for a few more buck, sooner or later they’ll figure it out and stop coming to see your films and it will be disastrous for producers in the long run when the public knows they can’t be trusted. This is what’s happening with Yashraj Films (more on that later).

With the media the way it is today, actors use and abuse the media and vice versa. So it’s become very difficult to comprehend if what they’re saying is true or false. Well, here’s a way to determine just that. Most articles we read today are part of a publicity stunt which occurs a few days or weeks before the release of a film. So if an actor is in the news just a few days before the release of a film, as hard as it may be to believe, its part of the publicity for their film. The only time an actor really says anything they mean these days is if there is no film release in the near future.

Actors need to take their craft seriously and not just look at publicity. If their work is good they will be remembered. No one forgets Tom Hanks after his film has been retired from the screen because he gives a sincere performance and the story is good. That doesn’t mean there’s no publicity involved in his films, but there’s a right and wrong way of doing things and at the moment Bollywood is more in the wrong than the right.

There was a time when a Yash Raj Film was one of the most anticipated films of the year. Then they began mass producing and the story took a back seat to the number of films they could churn out. Soon after, the audience realized this and stopped watching their films. In the last 5 years, since the mass production began, all of the following Yash Raj films have flopped: Pyaar Impossible, Rocket Singh - Salesman of the Year, Dil Bole Hadippa, Roadside Romeo, Bachna Ae Haseeno, Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic, Tashan, Aaja Nachle, Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Kabul Express and Ta Ra Rum Pum. This is the reality of cinema today. The audience isn’t stupid. With the advent of the internet and sites like YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook and imdb, the public is far more aware of what’s out there. This knowledge changes the way they think.

Hollywood films are far superior to Bollywood films any day. Bollywood is still about 30 years behind in terms of story and technique. They’re just now getting into techniques which were used in Hollywood 30 years ago. The problem is that the Indian audience has by now seen at least a few Hollywood films and they find it very easy to figure out the Formulaic Hindi films. Even today, a Hollywood film with a 1 star rating is far superior to Bollywood films which receive 4 stars. The screenplay is the biggest difference. For some reason, Indian’s can’t get out of the Indian mentality; we live in a world that’s vastly different from 30 years ago. It's not just about clothes and style we're different mentally.

The biggest problem in India with writers is they consider Syd Field a script writing guru. Syd Field, who has NEVER written a film script in his life, is being taken seriously because he is from the west (a white guy) and feels the 3-Act Structure is how films should be made. Note to all Indians, not all white guys are gods. He is totally a scam artist, I don’t care how many books he has written on screenplay writing, he has no idea what he’s talking about. The easiest films to figure out are the 3-Act Structures:
   Act 1: Setup (of the location and characters)
   Act 2: Confrontation (with an obstacle)
   Act 3: Resolution (culminating in a climax and a dénouement).

You know exactly what to expect and when it will happen because there are only three types of things that will happen in this story at certain intervals. Indian films are based on this 3-Act Structure, that's what makes them so predictable. I like to call it the Boy Meets Girl (Act 1), Boy Loses Girl (Act 2), Boy Gets Girl Back and They Live Happily Ever After (Act 3) structure.

A 3-Act Structure gets writers obsessing on plot, when character should be driving the story. It gives a false sense of security. It makes screenwriting structuring an exercise in mechanics and stifles creativity. It's based on the entirely spurious assumption that you can impose structural constraints on your story from the outside. It rests its authority on the howlingly wrong interpretation of Aristotle's theory that there's a beginning, a middle and end in every story, not three acts.

Any advice on how to write a screenplay should offer something that helps writers break out from the tyranny of iron-clad templates. The 3-Act Structure looks decidedly tired and old-fashioned, guidance on screenwriting structure needs to get real and stop pedaling the patented formulas and regurgitating material from the so-called 'definitive' bibles.

For writers who want to create something more exciting than the usual Bollywood lackluster, there seems little point in following tips designed to suit every scriptwriter.

Inglourious Basterds is not a 3 act structure, neither is Ben-Hur and thousands of other films. A film should be structured as per the films’ demand. You can’t decide on a 3-Act Structure before you start writing, this is why screenplays today are so horrible. Some stories work as two acts, some as five, so it’s totally dependent on the narrative of the story, not on any formula, how you write a screenplay.

The worst thing you can do when screenwriting is to choose what kind of structure you want to use before you've got a solid idea of what your story needs.

Another problem is the lack of characterization in Indian films. Shahrukh Khan has been portrayed as the same character in all his films since Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge there is no difference. That’s because when an Indian screenwriter writes they keep Shahrukh, Salman, Akshay, etc. in mind, they know what their personalities are like and base the character on that. This is absolutely
the wrong way of characterizing. The way a character behaves should come from the mind of the writer not the personality of the star. It’s the actors’ job to portray a character which is different from whom they are, but sadly it's not the case with over 90% of Bollywood actors.

Every time I watch Swades I feel it was written for Aamir Khan, Shahrukh is simply trying to ape him. Since Swades was written and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, who also wrote and directed Lagaan - starring Aamir Khan, it’s not difficult to fathom that he probably had Aamir in mind when he wrote it. Next time you watch Swades think of how Aamir would have played it. This will show you how characterization in done in India.

How you create your character is probably the single most important aspect of screenwriting. Indian screenwriters should start with that, and shape their narrative around the demands of the character. Not the other way around.

The primary reason a Hindi film flops is the story is no good. No superstar or ace director can save a bad story. A good story can have bad acting and direction and still become a hit, but not the other way around. If things are to change in Hindi films, writers need to stop using the predictable 3-Act Structure and concentrate on characterization and story.

© Anant Mathur. All Rights Reserved.

Give Credit Where Credit Is Due!

By Anant Mathur (April 16, 2010)

Filmmakers and people associated with films are often asked: “Who has the toughest task in making a feature film?”

Well, depending on whom you ask you will receive different answers. A director will say his is the toughest task, a writer will say that without his creative vision there is no film, and an actor will say that without him the story can’t communicate with the audience so his is the toughest part because they have to act out the correct emotions and get into the skin of a character.

But none of these are actually true. The toughest task in filmmaking is, in fact, the producer’s role. The producer is the one who finds the story or comes up with an idea for one; he hires the writer, the director, the crew and the actors. The toughest part of making a film is arranging the financing, and guess what, that’s also the producer’s headache. And if he selects the wrong writer or director, the film doesn’t work (this is a problem with many Bollywood films) and flops big time.

Most directors will tell you that they have the toughest task, but directing is arguably the easiest part of filmmaking. Unless you’re making something like Star Wars, Terminator or The Matrix, a director’s job is simple: get the actors to do what the script says. Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge was written and directed by Aditya Chopra. He also wrote Veer-Zaara, but his father (Yash Chopra) directed it, now the stories of both these films are quite similar to an extent and their genre is the same. So it makes no difference if Yash Chopra directs it, if Aditya Chopra does or if you give it to a newcomer. It’s a very easy story to direct anyone could have done it. In Hollywood, most TV shows
(eg. M.A.S.H., Baywatch, Friends, 24) and several movies series (eg. Original Star Wars Trilogy, Superman, X-Men and Alien series, etc.) have had different directors directing each episode or film, but you can't tell it's a different director because the screenplay is done well and the director knows exactly what to do.

Let’s take another example, Karan Johar wrote and directed Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and
Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. He also wrote Kal Ho Naa Ho which was directed by Nikhil Advani (a newcomer). Watching the film, you can see that it’s a Karan Johar film in terms of the plot, style and how everything unfolds, but it’s not directed by him, and you don’t really notice that it’s not directed by him. So here we can see that it’s the writer’s work we see on screen not the director's. Karan recently directed My Name is Khan which was not written by him (probably because he’s not comfortable writing something like that) but he received praises for directing a different genre successfully, well of course he did it successfully - all the work was done for him by the writer. Even if someone else directed it, there wouldn’t have been much difference in the way the story was told, because if a writer has done what they’re suppose to it makes the director’s task very easy, especially if you’re working with well established actors like Karan Johar and the Chopras do.

Most Indian directors can’t handle directing newcomers - that’s why the likes of Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra stay away from them, they have no idea about film direction they’re only in this business because of their fathers. Do you really think Aditya or Karan would have had the same success if they were struggling artists and not their father’s sons?

On the other hand, directors like Rakesh Roshan, Raj Kanwar and Subhash Ghai have no qualms about directing newcomers because they know how to extract a performance from an actor. Rakesh Roshan and Subhash Ghai also have another advantage on directors, they themselves were actors so they know how actors are and how to get them motivated.

Actors who have done more than 1 film are very easy to direct, they know what’s expected of them and they don’t need to be told how to deliver a line as compared to a newcomer who has no clue about filmmaking. With newcomers, a director’s task is a little harder, but at the end of the day, that’s what their job is: to direct actors and shoot the best possible scene. When a newcomer doesn’t deliver it’s the director’s fault for not being able to get the right performance out of them and settling for what they’ve got.

Directors are given too much credit when it comes to filmmaking and that’s wrong in most cases. It should be the producer who receives the credit for getting a film made. Remember, it’s the producer who receives the best picture award not the director. The only time a director is more important is when he’s making a complicated sci-fi or action film, in that case, yes he’s the most important part of a film because he’s the only one who knows how to shoot these complex scenes.

A director has many people helping him: the writer, cinematographer, art director, editor, costume designer, assistant director, etc., so he’s not even responsible for most of the visual ideas on screen. It’s a fact that a badly directed film can be saved with good editing, but a badly produced film can’t be saved.

After the producer, the writer is probably the next most important person associated with a film. He can make or break your film. Without a good screenplay the director won’t be effective, no matter how good he is and the same goes for actors and the rest of the crew. If a story is not spellbinding it doesn’t matter who’s associated with the film, it won’t be successful.

We can argue till the end of time what part of filmmaking is the toughest, but in my experience of watching films and making them (producing, writing, directing, editing, etc.) I find the producer’s task to be toughest.

© Anant Mathur. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Why are Indian writers and critics so stupid?

By Anant Mathur (April 09, 2010)

I was reading a review on the film Jaane Kahan Se Aayi hai (starring Riteish Deshmukh and Jacqueline Fernandez) when a thought entered my head: Why are Indian writers and critics so stupid?

Don't these dumb idiots know life can't exist on Venus, even a 4 year old kid knows that! Grow up guys; there are planets outside our own solar system - why can't the girl be from one of those planets which can support life, instead of our solar system. Its little things like this which pisses off the audience for paying 250 Rs to see an idiotic film. At least get your science right! Do some research - it's not difficult - especially these days with Wikipedia and Google. Or here’s an idea… grow a brain?

It’s terrible to see actors like Riteish and Jacqueline work so hard and people not come to see the film because of idiotic concepts or lack of research. To waste talented actors in shit like Aladin and now Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hai is a shame.

I have seen many Hollywood films based on female aliens coming to earth and I can guarantee that this one doesn’t even come close to any of them. One that really stands out in my mind is the Hollywood comedy My Stepmother Is An Alien, a brilliant idea which is well executed.

Why doesn’t anyone question stupidity in Hindi films? How can a writer, director, producer and actor all think that a girl coming down from Venus is a possibility? Shouldn’t someone at some stage of production have said “wait guys, life can’t exist on Venus how about if the girl is from Planet X”. And why do all Hindi films have to be about a loser who become a hero by the climax rolls around, can’t he just be a normal guy having an off day or something.

I doubt Indian writers and critics have the brain power to comprehend what I’m talking about. So it will be a sad day if Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hai flops at the box office, but I will be the first to tell you, it won’t be a surprise.

If you would like to watch some really good Sci-Fi films about aliens, I highly recommend the following:
1) Forbidden Planet (1956)
2) It Came from Outer Space (1953)
3) I Married A Monster From Outer Space (1958)
4) The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
5) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
6) Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
7) The War of The Worlds (1953)
8) My Step Mother Is An Alien (1988)
9) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
10) Starman (1984)

© Anant Mathur. All Rights Reserved.