It is 10am on a Sunday morning and around 30 students are seated around tables listening intently to a professor who, for reasons unknown, has drawn a diagram of a pipe-smoking skeleton on the board behind. “This is not just any skeleton. This is a bad skeleton,” he begins to explain. “This is what your first draft will look like. There’s a lot missing – flesh, muscles, tissues, nerves. That will come later, after constant rewriting.”
As you can tell already, this is no ordinary classroom. The professor is Satyanshu Singh – a writer, poet, lyricist and director who won the National Award for his short film Tamaash and contributed to protagonist Rohan’s poems in Vikramaditya Motwane’s cult-favourite Udaan. The classroom – a spacious basement work hub - is the office of comedy content giants, All India Bakchod. The subject on hand: The Fundamentals of Scriptwriting.
The students are aspiring storytellers. Madhusudan Kalantri, a 27-year-old businessman who deals with footwear distribution drove down from Nashik, after having seen the announcement on AIB’s social media. As a film buff and aspiring writer, he wanted to learn how film scripts are written. Most of these students currently study unrelated subjects like engineering and commerce.
Sangeeta Naik, who was easily the most inquisitive student at the workshop, teaches undergraduate courses in college. Some students are even currently working in the industry, albeit doing other things. What brought these bunch of mostly 20 and 30-somethings together was their common passion for cinema and their dream of someday becoming good screenwriters.
According to Singh, there are several stages of film writing – ideation, character development, research, story building, structuring, writing the first draft, and rewriting. Over 8 hours and with the use of blockbuster films such as Rang De Basanti, Queen, The Matrix, Titanic and Lagaan among others as reference points, he proceeded to expound upon how a film writer could ideate in order to write a movie, appreciated by the masses and the critics.
Singh, an MBBS from AFMC - Pune, gave up his job as a doctor in the army and came to Mumbai. Now he writes six days a week and teaches on the seventh. “People don’t consider cinema something that can be taught. And film studies are expensive and limited to major cities,” he informs me. He earlier taught undergradute film courses in National College and few other institutions but has since given that up to focus on conducting more extensive film studies.
Last year, AIB conducted a writers’ residency training programme called ‘First Draft’ with Singh as the mentor. Over 6 months, 10 aspiring writers from all over India studied, wrote scripts and interacted with industry professionals. The course had no fee. The outstation students were put up in Mumbai and the expenses were borne by AIB. All participants even received a Rs 25,000 stipend every month.
At the end of the course, 7 out of the 10 writers started writing for AIB. They are now working on a feature film and 3 shows. One of the shows – The Ministry – was picked up by Amazon Prime Video.
Now, as an offshoot to First Draft, AIB is conducting one-day workshops that deal with different aspects of scriptwriting. The next edition on February 5 is titled Story Building: A Screenwriting Workshop on Plotting and will be more advanced. The First Draft workshops will also soon travel to cities like Bengaluru, Pune and Delhi.