For an artform that is heavily dependent on writers, cinema, especially Hindi cinema, has produced some of the weirdest writer characters. The journey to success is often a montage sequence, and the chronic doubt and dismay of writers a vague hazy background. This is not to say that writer’s are a profession solely mis-represented. Ayushmann Khurrana’s character as an erotic writer in Meri Pyaari Bindu, Guru Dutt as the languishing poet with a tricky relationship with fame in Pyaasa, even Konkona Sen Sharma’s anguish and exhilaration of being a writer on her own in Wake Up Sid are excellent portraits.
Here, however, are some of the most weird, most bland, most questionable depictions of the writer-figure on screen.
Amitabh Bachchan as Booker’s Prize-winning memoirist, Baghban (2003)
Bachchan’s character leaves his manuscript — his boo-hoo memoir of being melodramatically mistreated by his children — at a cafe. The enterprising kids who come upon it get it published by “London’s New Wave Publication House”, with an advance of 10 lakhs. So far, so believable?
Cut-to 5 second text overlay through which he becomes a best-selling author — selling out the first print, with a high demand for the second print — who wins the “Booker’s Prize”, never mind it is actually a book in Hindi with a Romanized script. An entire generation of parents emotionally manipulated their children, threatening a tell-all “Booker’s Prize” winning memoir. It was mass hysteric parent propaganda at its most melodramatic.
Sanjay Dutt as Booker Prize-winning novelist in Shabd
This time we have a serious writer — a writer with a writer’s conviction, “Mein likhne ke liye nahin likta. Jeene ke liye likhta hoon.” Dutt plays Shaukat Vashisht, whose first book Mindscape won him a Booker Prize. We are told this at the very beginning in distorted, shaky frames. There’s an overlay with a flute of wine for no apparent reason. His second book is panned because it seems “false”. So he orchestrates an affair his wife is having as the central plot of his novel. But when it turns out to be true he goes mad, ending up in a hospital for schizophrenia.
His idea of ideating is addressing his character, a woman, as if she was a mysterious person running away from him in couture gowns in virgin locations, with letters raining on the screen. His idea of writing is being an a+ asshole to everyone around him, sitting in a plush bungalow with a wall-sized portrait of Aishwarya Rai who plays his wife.
Sidharth Malhotra as Novelist/Alleged Murderer in Ittefaq
Malhotra plays the dashing and famous author, who has lived and loved in England, but is accused of murder in Mumbai. He is innocent, maybe. Like the Bollywood cliche of the writer, he is affluent, jet-setting, and on the day of the launch of his third book is witness to two murders.
The book is about a rape survivor. His wife, also his publisher, leaked the name of the real rape survivor which led to the survivor’s suicide. The contorting ways in which a writer gets his plot is so silly, that anything that happens after feels just as silly, if not more.
Arjun Rampal as a Screenwriter in Roy
Rampal plays a rockstar writer-director, with a fedora perched on his head, and a cigarette dangling between his fingers. He mostly stares into the horizon or into his scotch, while his typewriter lies untapped. It would make a believable writer sketch, if he wasn’t so damn bougie.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as Shayra in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil
She’s a globe-trotting shayra, poetess, who is not taken seriously because she’s too beautiful. If it’s hard to empathize with her, she also has Ranbir Kapoor as her hook-up-boy, necking furiously in expensive cafes in Vienna. It’s not that mascara and mushayra don’t go together. It is that her shayri sounds like a predictable collection of beautiful Urdu words meaning predictable, beautiful things.
Sanjay Dutt as a “Laakhon Ka Mehboob Shayar” in Saajan
If Saajan was an ethnography of a writer, you would think writers are self-sacrificing losers. Dutt is a famous poet but writes under a pen-name, Sagar. He wants his feelings and not his identity to be popular. What’s more, all the profits go to an orphanage. His brother, a Salman Khan lothario, falls in love with a girl who is in love with Sagar, and writes him creepy/romantic fan-mail. If Dutt didn’t have that morally questionable mullet here would have been the perfect writer — who is seen speaking of writing more than actually writing.
Saif Ali Khan as a Writer in Happy Ending
Khan plays Yudi, the commitment-phobic playboy, described as a “thoughtful jerk” by his many exes. He is a writer but when asked if he has layers he replies, “Mere andar koi depth-vepth nahin hai.” His one successful book was 5 years ago. He is struggling financially and creatively. So far, so relatable — a writer who might have peaked too soon.
But his character is so bland, been-there-done-that that the makers, Raj & DK, cook up an alter ego Yogi — a potbellied glutton who gives him a reality check. But this is worse, it’s annoying. What will it take to make a writer seem like a writer on screen?
Alia as a Journalist in Kalank
It’s your first day at work. You’re a Dharma Productions journalist. You’re wearing Manish Malhotra ghararas, holding onto a velvet pad to take notes. You travel by horse carriage. You are looking for stories in the poorest, but perfectly manicured areas of the city. You fall in love with your first interviewee. It’s called immersive journalism. A Pritam song plays. The piece you write gets rejected anyway, because of a jealous editor/husband.