Today, long dialogues don’t work, but punchlines do: Rajat Aroraa"A storyteller writes a story. One story. So as a screenplay writer, I write one story. But dialogue writing is different. I write several stories at once. Each character has her or his own story to tell. And the way s/he can tell that story is by saying something, through dialogues – through me. I feel so powerful while writing dialogues, unlike writing screenplays, when I am very vulnerable.
Language is any dialogue writer’s best friend. So keeping pace with its evolution is important; in fact, it’s mandatory for survival. The words, the tone, the syntax, have all transformed significantly over the years. If we as a society have evolved, our relationships have as well, and it’s only natural that our films and their dialogues reflect that evolution.
There are many purists who object to the use of slang in films. They want the Hindi to be chaste. Many miss the liberal use of Urdu, not just in the lyrics but also in the dialogues. I personally think Urdu is a beautiful language. It makes saying the most mundane everyday thing seem lyrical and poetic, full of emotion. But this doesn’t mean we can abuse the language in films either.
Imagine this for a moment: if Basanti were to talk like Umrao Jaan. That would have been a disaster, wouldn’t it? She would still have been memorable, but possibly for all the wrong reasons. Force fitting words in a character’s mouth, just because it sounds smart or shows your command over the language, is the biggest mistake a dialogue writer can make.
Every language, every dialect, every bit of slang, every import of a foreign word can hit the bullseye if used well. If misused, even the most poetic words can stick out like a sore thumb. Also, how boring would it be if film after film, year after year, our characters spoke the same way?
As Jonathan Lethem said, "It’s certain that this world’s large enough and interesting enough to take a different approach each time you sit down to write about it." I try and let my characters enjoy this diversity. In the same vein, I take utmost care to ensure that I don’t sound repetitive, that my characters don’t start talking like each other. So I let them take the lead. I let them decide how they choose to speak.
In The Dirty Picture, Silk can be loud and boastful and say, Filmen sirf teen cheezon se chalti hain – entertainment, entertainment, entertainment and get away with it.
A Sultan Mirza in Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai just needs to say Dua mein yaad rakhna to make the necessary impact. The mentor-protégé pair of Bluffmaster was very contemporary in their choice of idioms and metaphors because they were also grooving to rap music.
On the other hand, the mentor-protégé pair of Once upon a Time in Mumbaai was very stylised and dramatic in keeping with their background and the backdrop.
Back in the day, the audience had different tastes, different hobbies, different requirements for entertainment, different attention spans. They remembered things differently. A shot was held long enough for our hero to have a long exchange with his lady love, pause, get a reaction from her, then give a reaction to that, and then pause again, before the shot was cut. The audience loved it.
But times have changed. I can’t say for better or for worse. But they have. So, instead of being judgmental about it, we should accept that audience taste has evolved. Or changed, at the very least! Today if you use the same principles of filmmaking that existed in the old days, you are sure to fail.
Devdas is a great example of how successful filmmakers have catered to the audience’s changing tastes. KL Saigal speaks significantly differently as Devdas from the way Dilip Kumar did in another decade. Shah Rukh Khan in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas did not resemble either of them. But all three films had a loyal audience, reflecting the times in which they were made.
In the present age of simultaneous browsing on various platforms, multitasking even on social networks, a writer has very little time to say what he wants to and still be remembered.
Long drawn dialogues can’t do that, punchlines do. I never let myself forget that we live in the age of Twitter. I have to connect with my audience, make them cry, laugh, seduce them, all in 140 characters or less! "
Rajat Aroraa is the dialogue writer for films such as The Dirty Picture, Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai and Kick
From HT Brunch, December 14
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