Field takes his expertise on the road

Scriptwriting master class brings Hollywood brand to Mumbai

Indian filmmakers and television professionals gathered in Mumbai at the beginning of January to get a taste of Hollywood's approach to scriptwriting at a two-day shindig billed as a first for the country.

Hollywood screenwriting expert Syd Field, author of landmark books including "Screenplay" and a faculty member at USC's Master of Professional Writing Program, jetted in to talk to a broad audience of industryites about the craft.

The master class, organized by Mumbai-based film, TV and animation banner UTV, was attended by some of the best of Indian cinema and television talent.

The invitation-only workshop aimed to "fill a crucial need in the Indian film industry to refine the art of screenwriting, an area that has been long neglected here," UTV CEO Ronnie Screwvala said.

Field's workshop took invitees through various aspects of screenwriting that were enlivened with Hollywood examples including classics like "Citizen Kane" to more contemporary hits such as "The Bourne Supremacy" and "Basic Instinct."

Veteran filmmaker Ramesh Sippy, whose credits include "Sholay" (Embers), said it was great to "refresh my understanding of the basics and also learn how international cinema is evolving so fast."

Sippy pointed to the new trend in nonlinear storytelling exemplified by films like "Babel." "I'd love to experiment with this style in Indian cinema today," Sippy said.

One of Indian filmdom's most successful upcoming directors, Farhan Akhtar ("Don"), son of renowned Indian lyricist-poet Javed Akhtar, felt that the workshop was "quite basic if you've read Field's books, but then it is always great to have a live experience.

"However, I also think that the standard rules of screenwriting followed in Hollywood don't always apply in other film cultures," he said.

Field reminded attendees that rules can be broken "if it works." Said Field: "After all, India is like no other country in the world. You have ancient scriptures like the Vedas and the Gita offering so much unparalleled wisdom."

"Rang De Basanti" screenwriter Kamlesh Pandey, a 20-year advertising veteran with numerous hit Hindi films to his credit, opined: "According to Indian philosophy, everything is 'maya' or illusion."

Said Pandey: "If Hindi films appear so distant from reality from a Western perspective, that's because, somewhere in our subconscious, we probably know that what appears to be reality is also an illusion!"

Uday Singh, CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment India, said: "I came to understand how a producer should assess a screenplay, and this was very rewarding. Indian cinema is at a very exciting time, and the fact that the spotlight is now on screenwriting will have a tremendous impact."

Singh's division is currently producing its first Indian film, "Saawariya" (Beloved), under the watchful eye of director Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

And it wasn't just producers and directors who were all ears.

Aspiring actress and former model Yana Gupta said: "I am (just) starting out and only get offered stereotypical roles. But having learned how screenwriting works, I can now appreciate an inspiring screenplay if it comes my way."

UTV also organized an exclusive 10-day workshop with a handful of professionals, some of them developing upcoming UTV-produced projects. "That's a totally hands-on session where participants should walk out with at least the first 30 pages of a screenplay," Screwvala said.

Attendees were left with no doubt that screenwriters often get sidelined during the creative process.

But while Field admits this has been a problem, he thinks the situation is changing.

"Do not be attached to the fruits of your labor," Field said, quoting from the Gita scriptures.