- Punam Mohandas
- 18 March 2019
Apna Time Aa Gaya!
SWA Exclusive interview with screenwriter Vijay Maurya
Chatting with Vijay Maurya, the mighty pen behind the runaway success of ‘Gully Boy,’ is refreshingly natural, with no airs and graces. He has an accomplished body of work behind him but somehow, it is ‘Gully Boy’ that has established him firmly in the limelight. I ask him if he feels that “apna time aa gaya” finally and he laughs: “I hope so.”
The response to 'Gully Boy' has been phenomenal. “Mere boyfriend se gulu gulu karegi toh dhoptungi na usko.” This one-liner has become the total scene-stealer of the movie! When you penned it, did it strike you that this would stand out in such an overwhelming manner? How did you manage to get all the nuances so right?
“Well honestly, I didn’t,” says Vijay candidly. “I was just enjoying the script, the characters and the situations so much as I began working on ‘Gully Boy’ that the thoughts just flowed. Safeena was one of my favourite characters. Her spunk and attitude penned by Zoya brought my pen alive...”
What was your brief from Zoya Akhtar and did you have to do any special research/homework on this film?
“Homework… well, I have grown up in Bombay (Mumbai) and have spent large parts of my life interacting with and studying the people I see and meet on a daily basis. I am also an actor and I love studying characters. So largely, growing up and acting have been my biggest homework,” he laughs. “Apart from this, I did have to put in some study for the younger characters in the film - Murad and his gang and most importantly, the rappers. They come from a different world and have a dictionary of their own.”
How nervous were you collaborating with a virtual khaandaan of writers – the Akhtars – on this project?
“Very, very nervous!” he exclaims. “It was overwhelming when I got a call from Zoya to work on a part of the script. I was told that this was to be judged by Javed Sahab. Of course I love writing, but to be judged by the greatest (writer) Hindi cinema has seen... that is the most difficult test! And then when I heard back from Zoya that he was okay with my writing, I was even more nervous,” he laughs again.
In a recent interview, you have stated that you took inputs from actual rappers as to the way they interact with each other in daily life and also, that Ranveer Singh contributed some lines too. Clearly, you are a writer with little or no ego hassles, who believes a film is a team job and improvisation is fine. Could you share some more inside details about these improvisations?
“At the end of the day, nothing is bigger than the film and it shouldn't be!” Vijay says emphatically. “A film is only as great as all the people who contribute to it and make it their own and I honestly can't have any ego hassles when I am being helped to improve my craft after all! I spent time with them (MC Altaf, Emiway Bantai, Rahul Piske and Kunal Kaambhari) to fine tune the updated lingo, characteristics and their attitude towards life. They helped a lot with theirs as well as Murad's lines in the film and also helped me build a dictionary of current slang/ phrases that I was able to use in the dialogues,” he states matter-of-factly.
What do you feel is the biggest difference between developing the story and screenplay from the initial stage, or coming in later as the dialogue writer?
“Every director has their own style of working and I am comfortable with all forms. I enjoy what every script brings to the table whether I help work the development of the story and screenplay, or help bring the characters alive with dialogues. They all come with their set of challenges that make every job interesting,” he says.
You have also written a hugely successful children’s film, ‘Chillar Party’ that won the National award. How did you get the inspiration for this idea and how different is writing a film for children compared to adults?
“For ‘Chillar Party’, I came on board after the story and basic screenplay flow had been developed by Nitesh Tiwari. Nitesh along with Vikas had a clear vision of what they wanted in the film and I worked with them on the screenplay, so what you see finally is a collaborative effort. With films based on children, the challenge is to be able to go down to their level of understanding and speak with them, not speak down to them as an adult. We are in their world and exploring their issues. It is a very delicate and important job to do this with care or they would feel alienated. Again, I really like the kids’ mindset and the way they explore their as well as our worlds; there is so much learning from them and so much fun to be had. Children’s films are a stress buster,” he says simply.
You write for Marathi films as well - are there any style differences to be kept in mind between Marathi cinema and mainstream Bollywood?
Vijay disagrees. “Filmmaking is largely the same across languages and geography. I really think you only need to be honest to the genre of the film and the demands of the script and everything else falls in place.”
I ask him what according to him is the essential quality to be a good dialogue writer and he replies tongue-in-cheek:
“I may not be the best person to answer this as I am still learning!”
I rephrase the question and ask: what is the first thing you look for in a script and then in individual scenes, while writing dialogues?
“What I do know that has helped me is my keen sense of observation. I am always looking to learn from every individual I come across in life. For a particular script, what is most important is the director's vision. I try to get into the director's shoes/mind/heart and see the world of the script from her/his perspective. I also direct, so that helps me visualise a scene when I write. I essentially try and bring about the world as a whole and then go back to the individual scenes to see how I can bring greater nuances to a character's thought process and go over the script again, following the same process for each character, living each of their lives individually,” he says earnestly.
Speaking of which, writer, director, actor – you wear all hats with seeming ease and appear to enjoy each ‘role’ too. Which do you find the most challenging?
“I love all the 'roles' that I play, and if I had to choose what I enjoy the most, I wouldn't be able to. In fact, each of these roles have helped me develop skills for the other. I am still nervous every time I face the camera or go on stage, or when I am called to work on a script as a writer or a director. I think all of them are challenging in their own way...” he muses.
Does it sometimes get frustrating when, as an actor, you are directed by someone else or when you have to say a dialogue that the writer in you does not believe in?
“As an actor, I am a director's actor most times, of course, when I am writing and I know I am playing the role, I try to give myself the best lines,” he says naughtily. “If I am given something I may not believe in, but the director has conviction in it, I will always go with the director's vision. Being a director myself, I understand the process the director has gone through and it is to be respected,” he says rather firmly.
As a writer, do you conceive the character keeping a certain actor in mind?
“We don’t always have the luxury to keep that in mind, although if I am given that option, I would love to! It most definitely helps developing a character as you are aware of the pros and cons of an actor and how best he can play the given role,” he says conclusively.
How did you develop this wonderful knack for writing dialogue for Mumbai-based characters, like the ones in ‘Tumhari Sulu’ and ‘Gully Boy’ and what would you advise a dialogue writer who is not too familiar with a particular milieu and setting?
“Like I said, my biggest teacher has been life and my experiences. I have learnt to keenly observe and learn from the people I meet, interact with or even come across. I would just say - look around you and learn.”
Do you feel being a ‘screenwriter’ and ‘dialogue writer’ are two very distinct jobs, or would you say that there should be no such difference and a writer should be able to write either?
“A screenwriter is also a dialogue writer; you can’t write a screenplay without at least the working dialogues!” Vijay avers. “To be able to bring the characters to life, dialogues are essential. Largely, the screenwriter has the ability to be able to say what the character has in mind. Largely world over, screenwriters also pen the dialogues, but in our country, dialogues have become a skilled job. The thing with our country is that we have a varied set of people, languages, communities and characteristics and our films portray this. Our audience also enjoys films in a very different way; the cinematic experience is large and important to them. They want to take back entertainment apart from everything else the film has to offer. This becomes an important role therefore, as a dialogue writer, we to be able to give the audience the experience as well as entertainment, so maybe that's why our roles have come about this way,” he sums up succinctly.
What do you feel about the changing approach of Hindi film dialogue especially with regard to the use of abusive language?
“This is challenging, honestly,” says Vijay reflectively. “As normal people, some abusive language does filter into our conversations. To be able to take this away sometimes also takes away from characters. Then again, I don’t think it imperative to use (abusive) language when it isn't necessary. The younger generation is exposed to our films in a very large way and I do think we should be responsible where we can.”
Could you tell us something about your next writing project?
“There are a few (mainstream) projects that I am working on, plus, I will be playing a meaty role in Soonie Taraporewala’s next venture on ballet dancing. Soonie wrote ‘Salaam Bombay’ and ‘Namesake’ so writing dialogues for her film is a great and proud thing for me!” he signs off excitedly.