National award for best film, best acting, best background score, best cinematography- and also India’s official entry to the Oscars… I thought that it would be tough for this Malayalam film to keep up to my expectations… Also after hearing the story line- the struggle of an old perfume seller and wife trying to raise ‘legitimate’ and ‘Halaal’ (allowed by religion) money for doing Hajj pilgrimage- my initial reaction was- ‘is there enough story for making a film here?’ Guess I am too spoilt by a very complex concept of screenplay.
But after watching the film, I realised that however desperately I want to, I would not be able to write such a film. I would be too plagued by doubts. Shouldn’t there be more plot elements? Shouldn’t there be more plot progression? Is the story moving really well enough? Can’t the audience guess what is coming? In the process (of mine), what gets butchered is simplicity and relatability. And this movie was a lesson for me that if you have a human situation which connects well with the audience, you don’t need a complex plot to keep the audience engaged. Adaminte Makan Abu is a film where most can guess the inevitable outcome of the protagonist’s struggles before hand. But the lyrical rendering of it still makes the movie very endearing. There are so many scenes in the movie which would have ended up as cliches in the hands of a lesser film maker (help offers from different strangers, the meeting with an old enemy, the ease with which the rich practices religion etc). But in every instance, the writer-director comes up with a dialogue, a situation or something else which connects.
I liked the mystical tone of the whole story (even though I felt that the conversations between Abu and the ‘Ustad’ went a little overboard). The visuals really helped to consolidate the ambience of the movie. It also gives a certain timeless feeling to the whole story.
I sincerely hope that it makes some head way at the Oscars. But at the same time I have a feeling that it is not the kind of film the Oscar crowd is going to be particularly mad about.
Script writing theories are a big cottage industry in itself. I have often wondered why writers accept it when someone says that the first major turning point of your story should happen in around 30 pages or that the hero should reach his obstacle in so and so page but no such rules exist for a novelist or a short story writer (at least no widely accepted rules like that in script writing). Probably reasons are the much more fixed nature of the commercial screenplay with duration clocking around 2-2.5 hours, the fact that the visual elements are much more definable and dividable (you don’t have to deal with a character thinking to himself for 5 pages) and also the strict ‘hit or miss’ nature of the results in terms of financial returns.
I have written an entire article on a film based on the structure format of Syd Field. It was not out of any devotion to him but to just mix with a creative product (whose major undoing was a lack of adherence to structural rules) a format of the extreme opposite. When I think about whatever little screenplay related books I have read, I realise that whatever I have read was not completely useless to me. It gives you a certain orientation if you don’t take those theories a little too literally. The scriptwriting gurus do help to focus your attention on certain creative aspects of the craft.
My major issue with the ‘formulas’ has been that most of the assumptions are arbitrary. And all these assumptions are retrospective. Continue reading
Finally when I caught up with UKKP, it proved to be a worthwhile experience. Ideally, behind-the-scene stories of a film should remain behind the screen only. Also judging a film should not be influenced by a concession for the limitations of the film makers. But UKKP is one of those films where knowing the back story can make a lot of difference. With this film, I learned an important lesson. No film stands in isolation of the physical realities of its making. Be it a big budget studio project or an indie project, the logistical realities will heavily influence the story and theme. In UKKP, this issue takes a much more radical realisation; thats all. Continue reading