- Punam Mohandas
- 28 December 2017
Bihari Lalla is the new Bambaiyya Badshah!
Shreyas Jain, the star-writer of Dangal and Bareilly Ki Barfi speaks to SWA
Small-town dude comes to Bombay with stars in his eyes, wanders the city on double-decker buses by day, sleeps at the train station by night, but the stars in his eyes never fade. One day, his persistence is rewarded – he bursts onto the Bollywood scene and makes it big. Typical, cliched filmi story, but it all came together for Shreyas Jain. The stars are shining down on him – and how!
I ask him how it all fell into place. “I came to Bombay about 14-15 years ago. I had done some theatre acting in my home town, Jabalpur. I was never good at studies; I got into the cultural department of my school and college, mainly because if I was rehearsing, I didn’t need to attend classes! Then theatre happened and it made me so confident that I moved to Bombay. My parents had no money; I took two-and-a-half thousand rupees from them each month for the first three-four months. For the first couple of months I stayed with this gentleman named Sanjay Khanna, at his room at VT station that is meant for people from the cultural department of the Railways. He is no more today but I can say that he was like an elder brother to me. I would eat at the St George hospital canteen. I used to sit on the top of the double-decker buses and travel till the last stop – that is how I saw entire Bombay.”
Shreyas has done a lot of freelance jobs to get to where he is today. “Initially, I took a job with a production house. I joined them as a production assistant but I knew absolutely nothing about production – once, when I was sent out to buy some things, the EP actually threw some stuff on my face and said: ‘Don’t do such things again!’ and the production manager was like: ‘You’re such a fool.’ I didn’t know all this jhol; that if you are given Rs 1,000 to buy some items, you spend only Rs 800 but come back with a bill for Rs 1,800 and pocket the difference! I realized that this job wasn't meant for me and switched.”
Things began looking up for him once he became an AD. “There was an AIDS awareness campaign for BBC that I was working on once and they were stuck for the script, so I asked if I could have a shot. Then there were other corporate films. I wasn’t making much money but I was excited."
“In 2009, I joined Leo Burnett. Then I met Nitesh Tiwari and from there our association started. When I met him, I was doing voice-overs and he was working on the post for Chillar Party. He asked me to do one of the vice-overs. Then he got offered YRF’s Kill Dil and asked if I would work on it with him. Nitesh is like my brother; he’s family.”
Shreyas has not done any writing workshops, but he had experience in theatre. “I did a workshop with Ekjut, Nadira Babbar’s group, because I thought I might continue in theatre. But it did not really help me as a writer; writing started way before all of this, back when I was still in school.”
Plot, dialogues or characters – I wonder which one he would define as his strength as a writer and the answer comes almost before I’ve finished the question. “Dialogue writing is my strength. I also love developing characters; dialogue writing and character development go hand-in-hand. I was born in Bihar, brought up in Madhya Pradesh, spent 15-years in Bombay…there are characters everywhere!” and here he proceeds to give me some mimicry in Bihari and MP accents!
“There are quirks that everyone has and how you choose to enhance that is what’s key – building a character is very important for me and I would not randomly give a character a dialogue that does not suit his personality. I don’t write keeping in mind a big star but only a character. Because if the star says ‘no’ your script will fall flat, but if the character works it will sail through.” he says honestly.
Ask him what his weakness is and he laughs. “I don’t read and I see that as my weakness. I have a hyperactive brain with the attention span of a goldfish!”
I veer the conversation towards his recent two films that have been successful at the box office, both with completely differing genres…
- Speaking of Bareilly ki Barfi first, is it easier to write a comedy script?
“Not really; comedy is difficult, but I love it and so it comes naturally to me.”
- It seems like you were trying to portray some feminist message via Bitti.
“It’s not really a message; it’s more about showcasing what’s actually happening in India and the way the internet has penetrated the country so that all the small towns are changing. There are people like Bitti everywhere.”
- How much say do you - as a writer – have in the casting of a film?
“Not much. But for Bareilly Ki Barfi, we (Nitesh and I) really, really wanted RajKumar Rao so we convinced the producers for it."
- How hard is it to adapt an existing idea or book into a screenplay?
“I’ve never done that so I don’t know how it’s done. But if you take one thread from somewhere – which does help – and make an entire script from it, it’s as good as new.”
- In your scripts, does comedy come from the dialogues or from the enacted scene?
“What we make sure of is that we write everything. The script is in so much of detail – everything is written down. Comedy doesn’t come just from the dialogues, but also the situations.”
And now to come to the runaway hit of 2016 – Dangal. Since this is based on a real-life person, how much research went into the film?
“The amount of research that went into the story was crazy! Nitesh and Piyush Gupta had gone initially to meet the wrestler’s family. They recorded everything and when they came back, we sat and watched the DVD’s. A lot of research went into the family – how they speak, what they eat, where they live. We did tweak some stuff though, to say it in an entertaining yet believable way.”
- Did Aamir Khan offer his 'inputs' to the script?
“Not at all. When I first met Aamir Khan in Panchgani, I extended my hand to him (to shake) and he said: ‘Tu toh gale mil yaar, kya mast script likhi hai.’ The script is exactly as we wrote it.”
- As a writer, which is your favourite scene in the movie?
“Hmm. When Geeta (Fatima) calls to apologise and she cries when her father takes the phone. I have a very strict father, so I know how it feels. I started crying when I saw this scene in the film even though I am the writer; sometimes when you write, you don’t realise the full potential of a scene.”
- In hindsight, is there anything about this film you think you could have done better?
“Not really. When it comes to Dangal I think over a 1,000 people have given 200% to it. I can’t see any flaw. However, I’d be really interested to hear if people think there are any mistakes.”
- Was Dangal a sports film for you or more about the father-daughter relationship?
“For me, it was more about the relationship. Sports is an integral part of the film, but the relationship is what got me hooked on.”
Finally, I ask what he’s working on now. “I’m working alone on the next script as Nitesh is working with Nikhil on something right now. My script is a small-town rom-com.”
It’s been an eventful journey for him. What advice or guidance does he have for aspiring writers still trying to get a break in Bollywood?
“Just one thing which I think is really important. You always like to write what you like, or you think people will enjoy. But you’re writing for the masses. They go to a cinema hall to get entertained; they don’t want gyaan. Entertainment is very, very important. Write a good story; write the first ten scenes at least and then approach people, so they know how you have crafted the characters. Every scene should have a reason. Try to stay away from clichés or what has been done already – there has to be an element of freshness. And whenever you introduce a character, make sure its journey through the film is complete; don’t suddenly have it disappear,” he says earnestly.