Posted by Vivek on January 30, 2011 | 3 Comment


Long before the stars of star focused, Bollywood, enact the roles, long before the alleged captain of the ship, the director, puts the stars in motion, it is the writer, who in the semblance of solitude and without a focus on the stars attached, writes the basic story and creates the characters, that the director and actors put life into. Of course, Bollywood does not follow this model at all times, but then there are times when it goes by the basics.

Audiences may react differently to BLACK AND GUZAARISH, but the fact remains that few can decimate these films as frivolous. A lot of thought went in creating the story and the characters. A lot of that “lot of thought,” was that of the writer of these two films, Bhavani Iyer.

Bhavani, has done the complete circle of writing, in her young career. That of a copywriter, the editor of Stardust and the screenplay writer.

Here is the “consummate writer,” in her own words:

On your partnership and working with SLB, you have given two classics, Guzaarish and Black, clearly your creativity is at its best?

Some creative collaborations defy convention and explanation, and ours is one such. Sanjay and I are almost polar opposites of each other, we are at opposite ends of most spectra; right from the expressions of our craft – my obsessive need to underplay everything as opposed to his need to say the same with utmost flourish, to our creative inspirations – mine from classical literature and poetry and his from music, to our world-views and thinking – I am decidedly modern and he’s extremely traditional. But right from the first meeting, when I was a raw 24-year-old in whom he entrusted the writing of his next film following the much-feted ‘Devdas’ within hours of the meeting; Sanjay has always shown immense faith in me and that is always a wonderful setting for anyone to work in. Our energies work very well together, we are both exceedingly driven and we share a penchant for dark subjects (as much as the popular commercial format will allow!) and flawed characters. There is also a great deal of mutual respect which is the most important aspect of any long-term association, particularly one that is as intense as that between a director and a writer.

Creativity in the medium of cinema is always, but always, collaborative and any individual excellence is a result of many factors working towards it. I don’t know if ‘Black’ and ‘Guzaarish’ are my creative best, I certainly wouldn’t want to think that’s all I have to me. But they have been the most visible of my screenwriting endeavors and I am happy to be associated with films that you think are worthy of being termed ‘classics’.

On your transition from being an Editor to a Screenplay writer?

Before editing ‘Stardust’ magazine, I started my professional career as a Copywriter in an ad agency, so my journey with words has actually been from “a twelve word copy, including header” to “120 hand-written pages”, from brevity to excessiveness! Seriously though, writing was always my calling. I remember my Dad giving me writing assignments every Sunday, from writing short stories to poems to one-act plays and so on, from the time I was ten years old. I love words, I love language and I love the world of expression that it lays at your feet. Screenwriting was something that Anurag Kashyap, who was a very good friend, suggested that I get into. The addictiveness of the world of cinema took care of the rest.

What are the upcoming projects?

Some of my most exciting work are scripts I’ve written for first-time filmmakers, there are about half a dozen waiting to find their destiny and I hope that happens sooner than later, especially for those brilliant minds waiting to explode into Hindi cinema. I have written a love story for Revathy, which is waiting to go on the floors, a political satire for Kunal Kohli, a slice of life story for Goldie Behl and an adaptation of a short story for Vikramaditya Motwane (in fact it was one of the first scripts I ever wrote, even before ‘Black’); among others.

Guzaarish did allegedly average business, although critically it was very acclaimed, did you, as the writer feel you would have done things a little differently, to get more seats filled in the theater?

I am told that the only thing that went against ‘Guzaarish’ was the economics of the film – the pricing and the budget at which it was made. I am embarrassingly unaware of the non-creative aspect of filmmaking, so I wouldn’t be able to answer if that were true. I do know, however, that most people who went to see the film with a simple desire to see a good film loved what they saw, the film got a surprising amount of standing ovations as end credits rolled (I was witness to a couple of such shows) in several movie halls and I have got a great deal of compliments for the film.
No screenwriter, in my opinion, is ever entirely happy with the way their writing translates into film. Cinema is a director’s medium and what you see is his/ her interpretation of the written word. That said, while there would be several things that I would’ve done differently in ‘Guzaarish’, none of them would be to get more seats in the theater filled. Any writing defeats its very purpose when an imaginary audience is constantly at the back (or front) of the writer’s mind. The best work is when you are oblivious of yourself or the world outside or even the writing itself, when your writing and you are so unified that the world (when it watches/ reads it) cannot but feel the same connection to the writing.

The obsession of directors in Bollywood, for the most part, also wearing the writing mantle, what do you, as a writer feel about that?

Like I mentioned earlier, cinema is a director’s medium. The performances are how s/he sees played out in his head, the music is what s/he hears in his mind, the visuals are how s/he sees the film unfolding… every single department in a movie is geared towards the realization of the director’s vision. Ergo, s/he is this omniscient, larger-than-life presence in everything that makes the movie. Which is possibly why most directors wish to claim authorship over the film.  Also, most other departments, like the Cinematography, Art or Editing require technical knowledge whereas anyone who can hold a pen can write! Screenwriting is not considered a craft in Hindi cinema, very often the writer’s opinion is stifled in the face of the larger, more important director’s voice. This is perhaps the reason why most films are reflective of the director and there are very few films where you’d see the writing and be able to identify the screenwriter, unlike say Charlie Kaufman or Akiva Goldsman or Atom Egoyan or  Jean-Claude Carriere or Krystof Piesiewicz (although even he shared credits with Kieslowski for the Three Colors Trilogy!).

How do I feel about it? It bothers me, certainly, but more than the director’s need to wear the writer’s mantle, what bothers me is most writers’ inability in such a scenario to be able to make their own voice heard and their individuality felt. Worse still, while they receive very limited credit for all that’s right with a film, they are magnanimously bestowed with all the blame for everything that goes wrong with it! But then, that’s the writer’s journey and the smart ones have learnt to make their peace with it.

3 Responses
Hello Vivek, This is an excellent article on one of the most talented and ahead of our times screenplay writer, Ms Bhavani Iyer. I have admired her work right from her first movie, "Black" to "Guzaarish". Her characters, their stories relate to us as no one before has been able to. I am looking forward to many exciting projects from this young and prolific writer. Sucheta March 10, 2011 at 7:36 am
Hi Vivek, Thank you very much for this wonderful article. I am sure that talents like Bhavani will surely make the Indian film industry more proud. I'm looking forward for her new projects.   Thanks, Rahul. Rahul May 14, 2011 at 11:13 am
[...] A 2011 interview with Bhavani Iyer (Indian Entertainment Online) [...] In focus: Bhavani Iyer | Chasing the Script July 10, 2013 at 12:20 pm
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