Sriram Raghavan and Shridhar Raghavan, in an exclusive session on FC Front Row, spoke about their distinct processes of writing. While one brother likes to wake up early in the morning and write, another is more comfortable doing most of his writing at night. The filmmakers and screenwriters also touch upon how they tackle creating flawed characters in the times of social media scrutiny, and the importance of writers understanding acting.
Anupama Chopra: Shridhar, I believe, you are very disciplined. You wake up at 5 am and you write. Can you talk about your process a little more? What are you writing – is it just about anything, or is there a specific script that you stay with for a long time?
Shridhar Raghavan: I like to write everyday. I like to spend three hours a day writing. I write anything, I might write a poem. Sometimes, I even design a board game. It’s just that I like to be creatively occupied for three hours a day. It’s normally writing because there’s a lot of work I have taken, or there is a spec script that I am working on, or there is a short story I feel like writing, not for publication though. I just enjoy the process of writing.
So I write in the morning, before the city wakes up and starts buzzing with phone calls and meetings. You can get 3-4 hours of solid work done, and then you do meetings, you relax, you chill, you watch a movie, you’ve still earned the day. It’s not that I’ve always worked in the morning, honestly, it’s something I started when I used to work with Rajkumar Santoshi. He’s like a vampire – he surfaces at dusk and he’d work through the night. It was completely fine, but then I had kids, and then I had to figure out how to reorient life a little bit. I match the guy I’m working with.
But in my own time, especially since the last 2-3 years, I find working in the mornings to be brilliant. This holds true while watching movies. Both of us – I think I can say this for Sriram too – love to watch the morning show. I like to go to a theatre at 10 in the morning. It’s not because of my childhood thing because I used to bunk school and that’s become a genetic programming or anything, I just love the empty theatres, the quiet, the non-popcorn crowd, the couple of romancers in the corners who don’t bother you, and you watch the movie and you can pretend you own a theatre. And the day is still yours.
But Sriram is quite the opposite. Shridhar described your writing process as the ‘Kamasutra of scriptwriting’. Apparently, you try every approach aage se, peechhe se, upar se, neeche se. Can you tell us more about this?
Sriram Raghavan: I am a late night person. I do freewriting in the night. I note down a whole set of ideas. Some of them will stick till the morning when you’re having a cup of chai, so you know that this works and this doesn’t. I haven’t done too many movies so this process may not for every movie, I guess, but there’s a process every scriptwriter would follow if you have the basic story already. For example, in Badlapur, I had the basic story – the beginning, middle and end – then I just had to play with the structure and find the best way I could tell the story, as compared to the source material.
So you try many approaches, it’s great fun. Sometimes, there are more than two or three good or better versions. I try and test it out on a lot of people, actually.
Shridhar: Anybody can come up to him and tell him [about the story] at any point. And if it’s a question he finds valid, he will start from scratch. It’s superb to watch actually. It’s like Sisyphus in motion: “The stone has come down, now I am going to take it all up again.” And he does it with sheer pleasure. It is never a moment of drudgery. It’s like, if you find a bug in this program, someone will pay you money for it – he’s like one of those guys. If somebody finds a bug in the script, he is more than happy to tackle it. He loves feedback, he constantly does more and more drafts. It sometimes gets frustrating too.
He had a terrific script, Happy Birthday, which I will not get into the details of, because that’s his material, but I wish he had done it 5-7 years ago, whenever it was supposed to happen. But just because the climax was getting slightly stuck, he would hold on. So sometimes, really good stuff gets held back because you manage to pass the elephant and the tail is something which is bothering you. He is a perfectionist, even though he might not describe himself that way. And it’s great, his body of work shows it.
Shridhar, you said that you often advise writers to do a 5-6 day acting workshop. Why do you think it’s important for writers to understand acting?
Shridhar: I think what the writer does on the page and the actor does on the stage is exactly the same. I think what happens is, if you are writing, say a film like Sholay, you have to become those characters. A limitation a lot of writers face is that we are all cocooned inside ourselves, we wind up having a single perspective through the whole thing. Also, we are very anxious, we’re nervous that other people will judge us. Even for something like a narration, many writers see it like, “How can they ask us to narrate? They should just read.” But the truth is, oral tradition is where all of us came from. It’s a part of our culture and it’s a part of us. So, I think if we do a short term acting course, a 4-5 days sort of thing or a one week sort of thing, I think it’ll really open you up as a person and make you less nervous, less insecure, a better narrator, team person and collaborator. I don’t want to go anywhere near a real-life stage, but I think role-play is important, it really helps.
When you understand how an actor approaches a character, it really helps you as a writer to, even when you’re writing a script, a table reading, they need not be the actors who are actually playing it, you get a bunch of actors to come in and just read your material out and you realize, “Good God, it’s horrible!” It’s like a great thing to hear it as opposed to just write it.
AC: Both of you create characters who are flawed and morally compromised. As you are writing, are you worried that this character might get a lot of flak on social media? ‘Can I make this person this flawed?’ – are there these concerns or do you write what organically fits right for the character?
Shridhar: In my case, it’s organic, because I write how a 13-year old approaches writing. I try to not overthink stuff, I try and freewrite.
Sriram: Everybody will write organically. You can’t start thinking about these things even before you have something on the page. But after that there will be a line or a certain action which may raise shackles, so you have to decide whether this is something vital or is it something avoidable. Now this is a very tricky thing. Naturally, the producer would be like, ‘let’s not have any trouble’ or ‘let’s just keep this thing.’ So, it’s a case-specific thing. But I don’t think one will censor oneself while they are writing.
Shridhar: Sriram is a writer-director, so he’s primarily writing for himself. When I am writing for other people, there are a lot of filters which are coming in. So if there’s an issue in what I am writing, they are not going to resist an opportunity to tell me that. So, I’m going to find out at some point or the other, that “Oh! This is wrong, we can’t go ahead with this.” And it’s cool. The moment I realize this bothers somebody, I’m willing to debate and discuss it. And if it’s genuinely an issue, I’m obviously more than happy to remove it, but sometimes you just say, “One second, this character is meant to be like this. They are that person. That doesn’t mean that we’re propagating that.”