“Anyone can play with words, but it’s the situation in the story – that is where a strong dialogue comes in and makes maximum impact”— Salim KhanSometime back I had gone to interview scriptwriter Salim Khan in his plush Bandra apartment. He began by reflecting on the state of film writers.
He counted the number of blockbusters he had written in partnership with Javed Akhtar and said, "Gyarah filmein lagatar hit di thi humnein. Agar Hollywood mein hotey to apna island hota, flat mein na rah rahe hotey."
It was said in good humour, but it conveyed the message that in this star-crazy industry, writers are yet to get their due. This time he spoke about the possible reasons why writers of this generation are losing their grip.
Some dialogues attain iconic stature and are handed down generations through their use in daily conversations. You (and Javed Akhtar) have written many of them. What makes a dialogue memorable?
The ‘situation’ is the most important aspect. Anyone can play with words but it’s the situation in the story – when the characters are on the edge or a confrontation is going on – where a strong dialogue comes in and makes maximum impact.
People watched silent films initially which means that dialogues alone cannot make or break a film.
As screenwriters we (Javed Akhtar and I) always focused on strong storylines and dramatic scenes. But strong dialogues took the scenes to another level. Like the line Main aaj bhi phenke hue paise nahi uthata (Deewar).
Some line that was! It’s said that you and Javed saab brought in the concept of punchlines. Sholay had punchlines even for minor characters like Kaalia and Sambha. Was that planned?
It’s unbelievable! People tell me Salim saab, kya dialogue likha hai aapne! Holi kab hai? Or Poore pachas hajaar! I laugh at them. Do you really think these are exceptional dialogues?
We actually wrote wonderful dialogues in Sholay like Jaante ho duniya ka sabse bada bojh kya hota hai? Boodhe baap ke kandhe pe jawan bete ka janaza. But people praise us for Kitne aadmi the? And Chal Dhanno, aaj Basanti ki izzat ka sawal hai. (Laughs) Aaj bhi meri samajh mei nahi aati ye baat…
Which was the first film you wrote dialogues for?
Do Bhai (1965) directed by Brij Sadanah and a film called Adhikar around the same time. In fact, in Adhikar, Pran played the role of Banney Khan Bhopali. Later in Sholay we wrote a similar role for Jagdeep as Soorma Bhopali. Sholay worked and everyone remembers Soorma Bhopali but Pran’s role was forgotten.
Your last film with Javed Akhtar was Mr India. You wrote some interesting films after that too. But the trademark dialogues were missing…
The times were changing. But do you remember Naam? It was a very successful film, in fact it re-established Sanjay Dutt. There was another film I wrote called Falaq; it was a sensitive film and had beautiful dialogues. But it didn’t work so people don’t remember it.
I wrote Akayla for Amitabh Bachchan but at that time his downfall as a lead protagonist had started. But when I saw Aamir Khan’s Dhoom 3, I noticed that the entire twist of two identical brothers was taken directly from Akayla.
Then, the dialogues of Kabzaa were very strong. I wrote Patthar ke Phool for my son Salman. But like I said, powerful dialogues alone cannot make a film memorable. There are too many other aspects.
You started writing in the late ’60s and continued till the ’90s. Cinema and its language had changed by then. How did it affect your writing?
In that era (the ’50s and ’60s), people accepted theatrical dialogues. Loud dialogues were the norm. We tried to change it in the ’70s. Then later, that changed too.
Double-meaning dialogues came, dialogues mei gaaliyaan tak dene lage and they justified it by saying that this is what happens in real life. I ask them, there are so many things that happen in real life, toh kya sab screen par dikha dein?
As screenwriters, we should draw a line. In my entire career I’ve never written a scene or dialogue that you can’t watch with your family.
You seem angry with the quality of screenwriting these days...
Earlier the focus was mainly on literature. That has totally gone from our films now. I think it’s because most writers don’t read these days. The content mostly comes from Western cinema.
In our time, writers used to read a lot. They would exchange books. I was a regular at Victoria Library in Mahim (Mumbai) and loved reading. It reflected in our writing.
It’s said that Salman Khan brought back the old trend of punchlines in dialogues. Do you help in writing dialogues for him?
Yes, he calls me sometimes from his shoots and asks if I can suggest some good lines. In fact, I’ve written a few dialogues for him in a few films, including Dabangg. He is conscious of the fact that people expect good dialogues from him and he has a keen eye for dialogues. Usse pata hai ki woh kis mahaul mei paida hua hai.
– Yasser Usman is a TV journalist and the author of the recently published Rajesh Khanna – The Untold Story of India’s First Superstar
From HT Brunch, December 14
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