Breathing life into Rocket Singh
For someone who was not at all inclined towards movies, Jaideep Sahni (left) has definitely made a fine career in them. Sahni has been lying low for a bit, since he has been in the media spotlight for the last two years.
The man who scripted movies like Khosla ka Ghosla and Chak De! India is busy with the much-awaited Rocket Singh - Salesman of the Year, which stars the flavour of the season, Ranbir Kapoor. Rocket Singh also sees Sahni team up with Shimit Amin. "Working with Shimit is always great," says Sahni.
In nearly all the movies he has scripted, there's a strong inclination towards showcasing middle-class and small-town India. And even Rocket Singh tells the extraordinary tale of an ordinary salesman. "I just bring characters to life which people can relate to and don't think of them as people from outer space," he says.
Sahni admits that he came to the industry as a "tourist" and has stayed on longer than he had intended to do. That is because of the kind of people he has met, people who believed in him and made him a part of their movies.
In the last 10 years or so, Sahni has been a computer engineer and IT consultant, he has dabbled in advertising and has also written lyrics for Shubha Mudgal and indipop band Euphoria. Curiosity drives him to newer things, a fact which does show in his movies - for instance, characters like Bunty and Babli are curious about what their next con jobs will yield.
Image: Jaideep Sahni, Ranbir Kapoor and Shimit Amin
Impact of Chak De! India
An acquaintance once told him that Ram Gopal Varma was scouting for a new writer, and Sahni went to meet him. He had no particular idea, but he wanted to write, and Varma liked his enthusiasm.
Chak De! made Sahni an instant celebrity. Before he came along, script writers were seen as back-room staff, people who never came to the forefront. Unless the movie was truly pathbreaking the writers remained anonymous.
Sahni changed this paradigm. Such was the impact of Chak De! that everyone wanted to know who wrote the movie's script. And another movie, the small-budget Khosla ka Ghosla, also caught the fancy of many.
Sahni says these movies would never have clicked if the people he worked with were on a different wavelength. While the industry has never been short of talented writers, he says, it is only now that people are taking note of good scripts. "Script is what people look at these days. Of course, you need stars to sell those characters, but without a script, it's nothing."
Image: A scene from Chak De! India
'A few years ago, you wouldn't have found any takers for Anurag's cinema'
The new wave in Hindi cinema, which has been talked about a lot, has given Sahni enormous satisfaction. He feels that it is unfair on writers if people expect them to write revolutionary stuff each time they do a script.
"Sometimes you get it right, while on other occasions, the idea sounds fantastic in your head but the execution is a different story altogether," he explains. He feels that production houses like Yash Raj treat writers with the utmost respect and give them the freedom to express their art. There is, he says, hardly any interference.
After having worked with Ram Gopal Varma in Jungle, and with Yash Raj Films for many movies, Sahni says he is encouraged by the body of work the industry has been churning out.
"Look at Anurag Kashyap. A few years ago, you wouldn't have found any takers for such cinema. But what an immensely talented writer and director he is," says Sahni, enthusiastically.
Apart from Kashyap, he sees Vishal Bhardwaj as a brilliant writer. "These people have the [self-] belief to write movies which they believe in."
He counts Gulzar, Salim-Javed, Abbas Tyrewala, Raju Hirani among his favourite writers in the industry.
Image: Anurag Kashyap
A songwriter too!
Even though the audience might find the story too audacious or offbeat, Sahni says that, as a writer, one has to be convinced of the story one wants to tell.
For Sahni, storytelling can be as basic as the tales our grandmothers used to share with us. He does not believe in any formal training in script writing.
Writing song lyrics is another aspect of film writing which Sahni does for fun. He says it is an ideal stress-buster for him, while he is in the middle of writing a script.
He has no intention, however, of becoming a full-time lyricist, even though he has penned the lyrics for movies such as Dil Bole Hadippa, Bluffmaster, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and Johnny Gaddar.
Sahni grew up in Delhi, far from the world of movies. He was more interested in books. More than films, he says, it was ads that fascinated him. No wonder he ended up working in advertising for over five years. He says that advertising was fun but was kind of restricting in terms of expressing his thoughts. "I learnt a lot but was just curious to try out other stuff," he says.
Image: Priyanka Chopra and Abhishek Bachchan from Bluffmaster. Neil Nitin Mukesh from Johnny Gaddar
No magic formula for a great script
Before he moved to Bombay, he admits that he had seen only about 30 films, though movies like Chashme Baddoor and Katha did leave a mark on his mind.
He studied computer engineering in Karnataka and even worked with NIIT. As always, he felt the urge to move on and try something new. Does he expect, then, to try his hand at direction as well?
"No, not at the moment," he says, before adding, "Unless I don't find a director who can portray what I have written." So far, he says, he has been lucky to find directors who "get" what he wants to say.
Sahni has no magic formula for a great script. First, he selects the subject, then come the characters, and then he starts forming a story. He rarely writes scripts with any particular actor in mind, because he feels that it would be doing an injustice to the character if the writer already had an actor in mind.
He is excited about Rocket Singh, and hopes that a lot of people will be able to relate to it. So far, in the movies he has written, Sahni has managed to get audiences to do just that. Let's see if he repeats the trick with Rocket Singh as well!
Image: A scene from Rocket Singh