Rensil D’silva on writing, Rang De Basanti and his upcoming directorial debut with Karan Johar
Posted by Vivek on June 20, 2009 | No Comments
Currently you are making a transition from being a writer to a director, at least in the world of Feature Films? It has been my experience that good directors in Mumbai are not always good writers, what’s the assurance that you will transition from being a great writer to a good director?
I always wanted to direct and write, to get a complete control over the storytelling process. Yes I’ve made a name for myself in Bollywood as a writer, but I never saw the two (direct and write) as a separate process. It is no fault of anyone, on the writer and director, there is one human being and there is loss in translation, doing both the jobs of the writer and the director. I do believe now after working with quite a few directors over the last ten years that directors who believe they can write is actually a huge problem with this industry and also a reason why a lot of our films are really badly written.
Talk to us about your earlier days in advertising and what was it that propelled you into the film business?
Quite frankly there are no “earlier days,” I am still in an ad agency and I run it. I am in charge of the creative duties. I have never left advertising and I don’t see the need to leave anything in today’s world of the net. It is a world where content is king, idea is the most important thing and duration of the idea or it’s medium is secondary, where the idea comes in a flash and then time is spent on developing the idea, I did not see the need to transition from one medium to another, when the process can be applied to both.
With a name like Rensil D’Silva, how did you make it in Bollywood?
God was good! I did get vibes in the earlier days to change my last name, but there are enough good people in the industry to combat those vibes. There were enough people to combat the myth of the typical Hindi movies of holding a bottle of liquor in one hand..and the like. I believe that all vibes disappear when you come face to face with the human being and you realize it is all in your head.
Let us talk about your directorial debut, to the extent you can, what motivated you to choose the subject that you did?
Really the story Karan had told me late one night was different from the one I had in mind for my directorial debut. Then I went off to London to write about a heist film, and all through the time I couldn’t but think about the story Karan had told me, and had also started writing a little on it, so then I got back and told Karan that I would be interested in writing the concept, so he told me great go for it. It is about how global events impact the lives of regular people so we had the canvass of global terrorism, what I wanted to say about that, the points on Islam, the Western world and then this very human story about love and betrayal, so I thought it interesting at both a macro level and also at an intimate level.
The one thing that you bring to the table are original scripts, as opposed to characterizations and inspirations from DVD’s, etc, speak a little about the state of the Indian film industry and whey are we seeing only a Rang De Basanti every few years, as opposed to it becoming a norm given that we have the aptitude, history and culture to do more original work?
It’s a vicious cycle quite frankly. The flip side is we are much better today than we have been in our history, with more educated people coming into the industry, there are more risks being taken, more creative work happening today in the industry than ever before. There are more writer directors coming in, audiences that are far more selective and pushing the filmmakers, cause the audience is always ahead of the curve. That being said, you can only write if people read. There are very few people who actually take the trouble to read a script, what will then result is people going to the closest DVD library, and ask a writer to write on that, now that might be an inspiration it might be a brief but that is generally what happens. I think the process will change, it is important not to give up, Rang De Basanti too met with it’s challenges, as it probably would have in the West, I think it is also a matter of faith that someone actually championed it, so a lot of factors, my stars were good that the script that I wrote actually made it to the screen. It is not easy..not sure if another writer would be able to do it again, not sure if I’d be able to do it again, it just happened with all the effort you put in along with a bit of good luck
Do you feel motivated now to write a regular Hollywood film, you know perhaps nothing to do with India, just on some global emotions? What about directing it?
Yeah..I’ve written it am planning to come over to the US and try and sell it. Yes, directing too, in fact I would not like to just write now, would be good to write and direct.
If you had one hour to live, would it be spent writing, directing or in the ad agency?
It would be spent writing.
Any advice to upcoming writers in Bollywood?
Don’t sell yourself short, although some days can be pretty discouraging, but don’t give up, public opinion changes and the industry changes and writers are key in all this, if you don’t have writers you will have to choose from blank pages. Though people offer you a lot of money to do remakes and DVD inspirations don’t give up on the topics or the issues that you really want to talk about, at least make a pact with yourself that despite whatever you will not give up.
You have also co written some films, right, as opposed to being the sole writer? What does it feel like on those projects? Are you as comfortable doing that?
I have never co written a subject, though the credits may have been shared. Directors like to attach their names to projects and I say this without rancor, without ego. If a director could write he would not hire me. I have never co written a film in my life. I may not have had the power to prevent the director from adding his name to the project, which is what people in Bollywood love to do, but have never co written. It is tough to co write unless you are two human beings of similar talent, similar make up, similar wave lengths and you both have to be writers. The process of giving inputs is not writing. Rarely do you see directors attaching their names to the cameraperson or some other credits, but as is commonly the case in Bollywood, if the director gives an input they feel they should attach their name to the writer. Which is also one of the reasons that I don’t want to write for too many directors, cause there is a certain dishonesty that is related to credits and I think it’s about time the writers also stood up against exploitation, like in the West you have to write 50plus% of the script to get the credit, or be a member of the WGA, whereas here anybody can get the credit cause there’s no check or universal standards by which one can figure out who wrote what.
As a viewer one has seen you write big movies with big stars, can one expect Rensil to write or direct a small budget film…like an Aamir?
Absolutely, in fact I’ve never thought of it that way, this is the first time…maybe you are right I’ve never thought of my carrier as one who has written big budget stuff. It’s the bigness of the idea, not the budget which motivates me.