Syd Field frowns at Dibakar Banerjee

Originally published here in passion for cinema.com

Warning: Spoilers for Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Slumdog Millionaire, Johnny Gaddaar, A Wednesday, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

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ACT ONE

The first 10 minutes:

None of my friends liked OLLO.
A: Whats this yaar? A guy steals. Then he again steals. And steals. Movie over.
Me: what else do you want?
A: Ek mazaa nahee aya. There is no specific story.
Me: What should have happened? There are lots of hit movies about a thief stealing a rusted crucible or a paper pin.
A: Nothing really happens in this movie.

Why would everyone feel like that? Here is a movie where novelty is dripping like sugar from gulab jamun and no one is satisfied with the story. But isn’t there a story? The middleclass aspirations. Backstabbing. Media hysteria. A subtle love story. Multiple cons. A prison escape. And another. Then why doesn’t it feel like a fulfilling story? Are there any elements missing for a satisfying story?

Plot point 1:

And then I listened to an interview by Dibakar Banerjee in which he had talked about people telling him that there is no story. He talks about the compulsive desire of the current audience to have ‘emotional orgasms’ every 5 minutes. That left me confused.
Because I didn’t feel that there is a deficiency of ‘orgasms’ in this movie. May be they are ‘intellectual orgasms’ rather than emotional. But they are there. The dramatic events. The unexpected turns. The ’smiling and walking away’ cons. The ’stiff upper lip’ love story.
Then what is lacking?
I think it’s the structure.
First of all let me tell you I am not a big fan of the ‘measuring tape approach’ of scriptwriting. But the bitter (and exhilarating) experience of scriptwriting has taught me that though you don’t have to worship the script gurus, certain intuition about at least the structure is necessary. Provided you are writing in the commercial format where you are left with the task of satisfying a crowd. If you are aiming to become the next Tarkovsky this doesn’t concern you. Be a free bird.

ACT TWO

If one breaks down the sequences or rather ’story elements’ in OLLO, it would be some what like this.

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• Lucky in jail (This movie may end bad. So lower your expectations)
• Adolescence-stepmother- girl- stealing starts (heart or bike?)
• Meets Gogi- issue with ministers son (future strain with Gogi visible)
• Meets the girl
• Steals another car- music system- snapshots of good time with Gogi
• Car antics with girl (Surprise! Girl likes him)
• Goes to minister son’s house (we now know Gogi is going to be an enemy)
• Dolly fails with Lucky
• Gogi taunts Bengali-The chair incident- taunts Lucky (Lucky and Gogi are enemies)
• Arrest- father refuses to give bail- Lucky understands who betrayed him-escapes
• Lucky steals a laptop
• Meets vet. doctor in a plane
• Special officer threatens Gogi
• Eating at home with the girl (OK OK now they are an item)- the reporter on TV
• Meets Bengali again- takes him under his wings
• Restaurant dream- doctor (we know this is not going to work out, why don’t he?)
• Attempt at reporter’s house
• Ideas for the dog- success with the reporter (but now doctor knows)
• Too much heat- goes for a tour with girl- meets brother- proposes- invites father (the girl will stand with him whatever he is and his family won’t)
• Suggests Bengali for the restaurant credit (he is foolish though he is clever)
• Putting dolly in her place (I too have respectability)
• Good times with the vet. doctor
• Bad times with vet doctor (I told you)
• Lucky upset and steals back everything (you can say Lucky became eccentric after losing hope of a middle class respectability- but for me he showed a lack in consistency of character ie shrewdness and survival instincts)
• Gogi warns (we know the end of the movie is near)
• Bengali out
• Meets the girl (I know, I know. This may be the last meeting)
• Caught
• The media frenzy (pot shots at the channels)
• The escape
• The end

So what’s the one line of the movie?
A thief disillusioned with criminality tries to wriggle into a middle class respectability by stealing and fails.
Two problems here.
• It is interpretation. Not story. Its theme. Not plot.
• If it is so, movie ends when he has been betrayed again. The rest of it is unnecessary dragging extension.

The subplots/ side stories:

What if we break down the story in terms of story elements and avoid interpretations?
Before we go on lets rule out another thing. Is it that the method would be wrong? Is a good linear interpretation (theme) enough for a satisfying story? Is this breaking into story elements going to make a jumble of events in any movie?

I am going to break down three movies (in a much shorter manner) I have seen the last one month.

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Three street smart kids growing in the slums together. A girl gets separated. The two boys survive in the vicissitudes of life but the protagonist (one of the boys) still searching for the girl. Meets her again but now the enemy is his own brother. Comes back again in search of her. She is a mistress of a don and his brother a goon now. Loves each other but loses her again. To get to her participates in KBC. All the twists and turns in his life helps him to answer and advance. The host has ego hassles and he makes sure he ends up in jail. Manages to convince the police, comes back and wins. At the same time brother changes his mind as he is touched by the protagonist’s love and doggedness and boy gets the girl.

The linear story is there. (It’s an ordinary story. But when you write it this way and see the movie you realise that it was a great screenplay)

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Some one plants bomb in police station. He claims that he has planted similar bombs all over the city. He wants three terrorists freed from the jail. Otherwise he will detonate the bombs. The police work efficiently but they are no match for him. They tranfer the terrorists but the terrorists are killed instead of being rescued. Protagonist is a ‘common man’ who wants an end to the bloodshed of ‘common men.’ police chief gets to him but lets him go.

Hmm. The story goes like a bullet from a barrel. And more important no events lie outside the story arc.

Tying up the side stories:

An attention to structure does pay a divident.
Why does some movies fizzle out in the end without a major climactic peak? Because the final plot point is not established properly. Ex: Cheeni kum.

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Why does the ’solution by Rab’ by which Taani starts loving Suri remains unsatisfying in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi? I think it creates a problem in structure or rather tries to cover up a problem in structure. That solution causes a jump in the plot. It’s like ‘one fine morning Taani started loving Suri’. From the beginning of the movie we know that this is their love story. But the writer takes a major chunk of screen time in establishing Taani-Raj love story at the expense of theirs. So when the real stuff comes up its over before it has begun. (consider the screen time between the first meeting and really (acknowledging) falling in love in Dil wale dulhaniya le jayenge and Hum dil de chuke sanam). My personal opinion is that either Taani-Raj love story should have been established much faster or both the love stories should have developed in parellel.
Why does some movies drag? Because they prolong an inevitable and foreseeable plot point or twist. Some times the issues with structure is inherent in some themes and plots. Ex: numerous ghost/slasher movies. The stuff like ‘they go into the jungle and die one by one’.
Some times it happens even with the best of intentions and cleverest of executions.

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Take Johnny Gaddar. We know this is going to end badly the moment Vikram throws his friend out of the train. And when the character played by Dharmendra is killed, we know that other friends are going to follow him to the grave. The rest of the movie is about how it happens. Consider that instead of 6 people the gang had 10 people or may be 3 people. It doesn’t change things much except the finer details. The moment Vikram makes a step in that direction the movie comes to a stand still. The events become mechanical and they don’t have any emotional investment to put on the table. This will remain a deterrant for attempting this kind of genres.

Final plot point:

Lets have another try at OLLE including all story elements. And lets try to stay away from interpretations.

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A lovable thief is born (?influenced by his experiences as an adolescent). He bonds with a god father. Breaks up and gets cheated by his god father. He becomes a headache for the police. A girl still manages to love him. He is again cheated by a respectable doctor. He is arrested because a friend betrays him. The media sensationalises him and he becomes some kind of a hero. He escapes in the end.

Am I imagining it? I cannot see a satisfying linear progression.

ACT THREE

Take the first part where Lucky’s adolescence and entry into his vocation is shown. There are lot of elements and things happening. But what would happen if we simply remove that section of the movie?(despite that part being a real gem). Would it really matter? It sets the context for showing his family’s distancing themselves from him later on. But does it really contribute to the story in any way?(other than some interpretations that you can make?)

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Coming to Gogi bhai. The relation with Gogi arcs very fast from good to bad, ending in the first prison escape. But it becomes a sort of a curse in disguise. What had to happen in that relationship has happened already. So he becomes just a brick in the wall in the second half. Some thing to be shown in between but that would never fall down. Of course he causes Lucky’s second capture. But that second betrayal doesn’t appear as a culmination of a process. Its more like a light is being switched on. Because Gogi is threatened at multiple times by the special officer. Gogi has already shown once that he would not hesitate to hand Lucky over. So it doesn’t constitute a specific new plot point. Just the repetition of a process. Though in part precipitated by Lucky’s recklessness after being cheated by vet.doctor the link is weak. So what I am trying to say is that Gogi becomes inconsequential in the second half after investing so much screen time and interest in the first half.

Same with the vet.doctor. There is no connection between him(the second half) and Gogi bhai (the first half). I can interpret that Lucky’s experience with Gogi led to chasing the restaurant proposal but it will remain an interpretation but not a direct story progression. And at the end of his relationship with the doctor he is caught by the police. But due to Gogi. And also due to Gogi’s relation with Bengali. Here a story element from first half bypasses the vetenary doctor to make a connection. Obviously stranding the story of the doctor. One may object saying that the reason Bengali betrayed him in the end is that he tasted blood as the partner of the restaurant. and that the story has a linear progression. But again Gogi is the one who is really arranging his capture and he has done it alone earlier also. Making the role of Bengali weak in the last betrayal.

The thefts. The movie gives good and bad examples of integration. You get a good example of integration where they steal a second Mercedes after they discard their first one which had ended up dry (!) . The theft is a part of how they get into the ‘Gogi club.’ The theft at the reporter’s house gives an occasion for vet. doc to know the truth about Lucky. But what about the music system and laptop from the restaurant? May be helped to show that he is increasingly becoming a head ache to the police.

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The love story. I realise that the hero in a Hindi film needs to have a heroine whether it matters to the story or not. So I keep mum.

Coming to the media frenzy in the end. The writer takes great pains to dissect it, exhibit it and laugh at it. But it appears like an add on at the end, out of context. Suddenly the movie gets interested about the media and throws away all other threads. Threads like what happens with the girl. I am not complaining that ‘movie didn’t show Lucky getting back for the betrayals’. It would have been downright silly. But so many threads are kept hanging when writer becomes preoccupied with examining the media.

Basically what I am trying to say is that in OLLO the elements appear like individual ponds but not a continuous river.
One can say that if you break down like this, most of the movies will appear disjointed. Or that OLLO still did good business.
Or that Dibakar Banerjee intentionally did it this way. To show that our life is a sum of random events. Or that he wanted to evoke a certain mood rather than audience getting involved with the mundane drama.
May be. But what concerned me was whether it is possible to pick out some concrete aspects of any given story which can predict it will be satisfying to the audience or not.
May be there are no rules to this. Every thing depends on some random elements. Like how tasty your popcorn is and how much oxygen saturated your theatre is.

2 thoughts on “Syd Field frowns at Dibakar Banerjee

  1. Pingback: Developing a concept « Who wrote my screenplay?

  2. Pingback: Reviewing screenplays: the way of the east and the west « Who wrote my screenplay?

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