There's a scene in the Golmaal Again trailer where Ajay Devgn is lamenting falling for a girl much younger in age, to which his friend played by Arshad Warsi says – "Har ladki apne honewale mein father figure dhoondti hai. Figure uske paas hai, father tu hai!" Even before the film opens to the public this Friday, you know this line will be met with uproarious laughter at single screens across the country. And that's what writers Sajid-Farhad live for. "We want to hear the claps and the whistles in Gaiety Galaxy and Chandan (cinema) and give the same experience to the audience as we have had!" says Sajid.
Sajid and Farhad when teamed with Rohit Shetty, make for quite a formidable team – they've never given a flop. The writer duo has just given a massive box office success with David Dhawan's Judwaa 2. Over the years, they have created a specific brand of humour that can be easily identified. The movies are less of plot and more a series of punch lines and gags. The delivery is loud and slapstick. Expect to find characters with speech impediments. And there's usually a catch phrase that stays with viewers. For example, Aata Majhi Satakli from Singham or "Don't underestimate the power of the common man" from Chennai Express.
The latter also serves as an explanation to those who belittle their cinema. They take pride in writing movies that connect with the common man, even if critics may think otherwise. Here they tell us about their bond with the audience, the tricks to writing a Rs 100 crore film and why they can never write anything other than comedy.
Rohit Shetty has said it took him 7 years to crack the script of Golmaal Again. Why did it take so long?
Farhad: The right script took the time, it can sometimes happen within 7 days, and sometimes takes 7 years. If we get the right script, then we can start working on Golmaal 5 tomorrow!
Golmaal has a huge cast and I believe you narrate the script to all of them together. Give me a sense of what happens in the narrations.
Sajid: Mahaul banta tha waha! The actors are 18 but eventually it'd be almost 70 people who'd be listening to the narration because the extras and crew members would join in as well.
Farhad: It's like a stand up act. This routine began in Golmaal 3, which demanded the mimicry and voice modulation. We felt like if we gave a straight narration then there'll be no impact. Sun & Sand Hotel (in Mumbai) is where the narrations would happen in front of the entire crew! For example, when we were shooting Singham, the first day of shoot was the climax – the confrontation of Ajay Devgn and Prakash Raj. So the entire crew had gotten a narration and everyone knew the level at which the others would be acting.
Sajid: Telling a story is easy, but in a film, there are only so many plot lines, so the characters are what make a film memorable. If the cop is a hit in Singham, then you don't need anything else in your film. If people are convinced and enjoy watching these charters then you're sorted.
Sajid, you've said, 'Picture dekhne ke baad paise vasool hona chahiye'. When you are writing do you constantly think of whether this line will get claps or whistles?
Farhad: It depends on the story. If there's the scope of having 2-3 showdowns between the hero and the villain, then we play it to the gallery. We want to see people's reactions in Gaiety Galaxy and Chandan cinema.
Sajid: Action and comedy are they only two genres where you get the audience's reaction right there in the theatre. But I also feel very sad as a writer. When you write comedy, critics pan you, you're not considered for awards. People take comedy very lightly, when it's serious business.
How do you retain the connect with the common man?
Sajid: I hang out with the 18-23 year olds in our colony, I speak to them, understand what's happening and how they behave, talk etc. This is the only way to keep yourself updated. You have to keep talking to people otherwise you'll get stuck in a rut.
Farhad: We have even written the line: "Don't underestimate the power of a common man." If there's a demand in the script where we can include the theme of the common man in some way, we try to do it. In an out-and-out comedy film, if we discuss the problems of a common man then that will go for a toss. There needs to be the layering like Raju Hirani's films.
Do you often know which actor is going to deliver your lines? If yes, do you customise for them?
Sajid: It's very important to not show an actor's limitations to the audience, and play to their strengths. At the same time, the actor has to follow what's written because that's the right way to make a film!
Farhad: We have also got Tabu in Golmaal Again and the general reaction has been – how does she fit into this franchise? But we have to keep in mind her image and play to her strengths. She can't be doing a double somersault suddenly! The lines we give to Johnny Lever, we can't give to Tabu.
What happens if the joke doesn't land?
Farhad: We usually give the narration of the scene and make an attempt to get the actors to that pitch. It is then up to the actor if they want to take it to the next level or not.
Sajid: When we write some lines and tell people around us, their reactions are our only yardstick since we cannot guarantee laughs from the lakhs of people watching the film. Every joke doesn't land, yes. But we hope that since our sensibility matches with the audiences, we hope they will also enjoy our jokes.
Films like Judwaa, Golmaal and All The Best are not very high on plot. Do you'll come up with a bunch of jokes and then use them as and when you find a suitable situation in a film or write new jokes according to the situation?
Farhad: If we support the story on a series of the jokes, then that film will be the biggest flop. Today I'm getting a lot of messages after the success of Judwaa 2 saying that it was a good idea to not put too much of a story in it. The audience that comes to watch Judwaa 2 will be of a certain mindset and they have seen the trailer so they know what to expect. They wanted the masti and mazaak, so the series of gags worked in that film.
Sajid: Screenplay is the most important and we use the situation to write the lines. Since every situation is new, the jokes also have to be new otherwise they'll fall flat.
You have said that you'll never write an adult comedy because it's not something a family can watch together. But in Judwaa 2 there were lines where an old woman was called a khataara gaadi. Do you feel you need to be more responsible towards lines like this?
Sajid: When a film targets a family audience, it will earn more than 100 crores. If the film caters to a niche audience like only the youth or only urban centres, it won't make as much money.
Have you'll ever attempted to write a story that is not a comedy?
Farhad: Singham was the one film we have written that cannot be called a comedy. That film gave us some respect in terms of writers, otherwise it's easy to be typecast into a zone in this industry. We have written some other scripts that are not in the comedy genre but we can't make a film like Gangs Of Wasseypur.
Sajid: Whatever we make, it will be a commercial masala film.