How Do You Write About Erectile Dysfunction Without Using The Term? Shubh Mangal Saavdhan Writer Explains

Writer Hitesh Kewalya on using a limp biscuit and other analogies to make a family film on erectile dysfunction
How Do You Write About Erectile Dysfunction Without Using The Term? Shubh Mangal Saavdhan Writer Explains

Director RS Prasanna's Hindi debut may be a remake of his 2013 Tamil film, Kalyana Samayal Saadham, 'but only in spirit' says the writer of Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar-starrer Shubh Mangal Saavdhan – Hitesh Kewalya. On hearing the 10-minute narration, Kewalya recalls how excited he was to write a film about an issue that is almost never addressed in Hindi movies. "I was enamored by the challenge of not mentioning the words 'erectile dysfunction' and yet creating a story conveying the idea in a way that the entire family could enjoy and understand the film," says Kewalya.

You've written an entire film about erectile dysfunction and managed to get away with not using the term even once. Was that conscious?

Yes, it was a very conscious decision. It was more like a responsibility that was given to me when we had discussed the film. We just had to make a film which families can sit and watch together. We wanted to make something that everyone can enjoy and yet get our point across because it's a very important point we're making.

Was it fun to come up with all the other analogies you've used to talk about the issue – the limp biscuit, the Ali Baba joke?

The first thought that struck me when I sat down to write the story was the poetry I could write to allude to sex. What the daughter's reaction would be when her mother describes her wedding night. Being uncomfortable about explicitly talking about sex, the mother decides to use an analogy of Ali Baba and 40 chor while telling her daughter that you should have sex only after marriage and only with the husband. Once I cracked Ali Baba, the others started coming to me. After we created the correct environment, and understood our boundaries and limitations within the script, the characters came alive. Sometimes these limitations really helped me in trying to find the right metaphors.

As a writer I would love to get into a space that is difficult. They help push you to think in a zone where normally one wouldn't go. Ali Baba happened purely based on the association my brain made while writing the scene.

It took me days to crack the biscuit metaphor! Here the limitation of not being able to spell out the real issue comes into play and it helped me to come up with something that is sensitive as well as memorable.

It was great to see a film where even the supporting characters were written with such nuance. The mother reciting erotic poetry, the father who keeps asking own daughter to run away, a tauji who keeps kissing people at a wedding – where did you find these characters?

As they say – don't make a writer your enemy because you might end up becoming a character! All these characters – I've lived with them, grown up with them. I had lived a middle class life in Delhi and all those characters are inspired by real life. Sometimes there are minor quirks, habits and nuances about different people that catch your attention and when you're writing, it comes flooding into your mind.

"Most of the actors managed to bring something really good to their characters which has only added to the film and they ended up making me look good!" says Hitesh Kewalya (centre)

Was there any improvisation by the actors?

Many times! That's the importance of having such brilliant actors. Suddenly they would come up with these quirks and manner of speaking that would enhance the character. In the laptop scene when the Skype call is taking place, and Seemaji (Pahwa) says "Aaye haye, kitne saare log hain!" Now that's actually not a joke, but because it was a spontaneous and relatable dialogue, it clicked!

My job as a writer is to provide a world, a milieu in which the characters exist. Once the actors understand their character and the world of the film, its for them to improvise and act as they think their character would. My job as a writer on set is just to make sure that the scene is not deviating from what it needs to convey because of the improvisations. It's more about steering the scene in the right direction. Most of the actors managed to bring something really good to their characters which has only added to the film and they ended up making me look good!

The film has received great reviews and there's been special appreciation for your sparkling dialogues in particular. The only criticism was about the end – Jimmy Sheirgill's cameo, and the hero hanging from the cable car. What are your thoughts? 

I have read all the criticism and frankly I would not change a thing. Writing is such an organic process which happens over a period of many months and you start living the characters and the plot lines. There are many quirky things in the first half but they worked well. I can't abandon that quirk suddenly in the second half. As a writer, the kind of world I had set up in the first half, I've stayed true to that.

As far as the end is concerned, the cable car jump was more about the reporter and what he was saying. I wanted to say that a man is also a part of this patriarchal society. If we suddenly expect him to change, it won't happen in a day. The visual came to my mind of a man hanging between two different perspectives – one, that is the traditional, patriarchal thought and the other is the modern perspective that includes gender equality. Now he is trying to make an effort to jump to the other side, but the society we are living in currently is hanging somewhere in between. He needs the help of the other gender to cross over, but it will happen gradually. It was more of a visual manifestation of my idea that made me want that jump. It was more of a metaphor rather than a heroic thing.

Which was the toughest scene to write and why? 

Every scene was difficult. Once the problem has been set up, the story needs to move forward and it can't move forward without mentioning the issue or giving a reference to it. The toughest thing for me was to create a mood for it. We had to create a boundary and stay within it. Sur pakadna sabse mushkil tha iska!

I would really credit Himanshu Sharma (co-producer) for helping me out. Our discussions helped me sketch out a lot of things. For instance, in the scene with the bear, I was initially resistant about including it but Himanshu insisted I write it and that is really when I caught the sur of the script. I've seen the film with the audience also a couple of times and it's this scene where the audience starts laughing and once this laughter kicks in, then it's a snowballing effect.

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