How to write a film in 2017

The times have changed. You don’t just write a script, find a producer, sign actors and start shooting. Indian filmmakers of 2017 must remember to do something else first. They have to hire who I like to call an Offence Detective. This person’s job is to engage in eagle-eyed analysis of your material to ascertain if it has the potential to offend the important and the powerful. This detective will run, for example, your film’s title through an extensive database of casteist, religious slurs, and should your title even be found rhyming with any slur, you will have to come up with a different one. Director Sanal Kumar Sasidhara could have greatly benefitted from this exercise. His upcoming, Sexy Durga, has now been retitled Sxxx Durga, following the censor board taking offence. Sanal’s film is about a woman named Durga, and the title’s an allusion to how society sexualises its female members. He must have been rather proud of the title, but what he didn’t take into account (which our Offence Detective would have) is that Durga is also the name of a goddess, and while you can sexualise women in films, you can’t insinuate that of deities, not unless you want devotees to descend on you with the sort of wrath that will even make their queen, Durga, envious.

And then, you’re free to write your story… for a while. But after you have poured your heart and soul into the story, the Offence Detective will return once again, this time to scan your script for any perceived insults against religion, any portrayal of Western ideas like live-in relationships, any likely approval of homosexuality… you get the idea. As this Offence Detective is also in-charge of getting you a censor certificate that will bring family audiences, he will be disapproving of scenes that show women drinking or abusing. Violence and gore, of course, aren’t really problems, as long as you don’t defile any religious items.

Oh, and he will also greatly emphasise the importance of steering clear of any discussion over government policies. Your detective has, after all, been keeping a close watch on the Mersal controversy. It doesn’t matter that you’re writing a gritty story with true-to-life characters. It doesn’t matter that real people do have these conversations. If at all you absolutely have to discuss government policies, he will ask you to avoid every hint of criticism. He will instead tell you to go all out in praise. Show two characters falling in love over a shared love for demonetisation. Show a character suffering from clinical depression till his Aadhaar gets delivered and cheers him up. Show a blind shopkeeper regaining his eyesight after the implementation of GST.

Oh, and you better hope that your Offence Detective also knows a thing or two about plagiarism claims. Just before the release of a film, it’s quite likely that a stranger will step in with a lawsuit accusing you of having copied his story. It happened to Kaththi. It has happened to Kaala. While the court of law settles those disputes, it’s important for you to know that nothing is more damaging to your reputation as a filmmaker than accusations of plagiarism. So, when writing your story, think of something outlandish that nobody can likely have thought of. If you want some safe ideas, please check the last three sentences of the previous paragraph.

So, your story is finally given the green, and you have even managed to convince a producer? Great. Now, all you’ve got to do is use your detective to dig into the ancestral line of the producer. Who knows where all that money comes from? You don’t want the family line of the producer having a controversial member. For instance, they protested against Kaththi for being funded by a relative of the President of Sri Lanka. Since then, of course, the company has gone on to produce many films, including the upcoming sequel of Enthiran, but not before facing some testing times. So, get your detective to submit proof that all the family members of the producer have been spotless people. Go one step further and get all of them to sign an agreement assuring that they will always remain so.

What’s that? You’ve lost the passion for storytelling after all these crucial measures of caution? In that case, take a break from filmmaking till the situation gets better, if it ever does. Till then, what should you do, you ask. There’s a lucrative job, one that’s very important in our times. Heard of an Offence Detective?

This review was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

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