Interview with Rajat Aroraa, writer of The Dirty Picture
BlueCat: When did you decide to be a screenwriter?
RA: I was writing for TV and that can be very hectic. Shridhar Raghavan, who got me into TV writing, is also responsible for introducing me to writing for film. He was writing Bluffmaster at the time, and proposed that I do the dialogue. It was my first experience with film, and I wasn’t sure how it would be received, but the response was very heartening. My work was well appreciated. I didn’t know it then, but I had already begun to enjoy my new medium. TV writing is film writing on acid. I was enjoying the slowing down of pace. I was spending more time with my characters, writing and re-writing dialogues, a luxury you don’t have as a TV writer in India. When more work started coming in, I knew I had connected with the film-going audience. Several films later, I decided that film was the medium of my choice.
BlueCat: What was your first break into the screenwriting industry? In other words, how did you know you had really “made it?”
RA: In this industry, I’m not sure if you ever really “make it”. And even if you do “make it”, it lasts for a week until the next film releases the following Friday and becomes dinner table conversation. Yes, there are those precious moments when, years after the release of the film, someone refers back to a certain scene you wrote, or a dialogue you wrote gets used as a retort in a casual conversation, or you are walking on the street and you overhear someone sing a song you wrote. I cherish those moments. I’m filled with pride when I see vehicles (trucks on highways, rickshaws in the city) with lines I have written imprinted as bumper stickers. During Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, we struggled to get the right tone for the film, as it was based in the Mumbai of the 70’s. After much deliberation, we decided that dialogue would be the USP of the film. It could have worked either way for us, but it totally worked. Once Upon a Time in Mumbai brought back the trend of dialogue with chutzpah. I am delighted to have started the trend! Another highlight is when Sajid Nadiadwala, one of the most successful producers, called me to write his directorial venture with India’s heartthrob Salman Khan. I did a little jig after i got that call. I did an even longer jig when the film became a huge success at the box office. Recently, a film that I had nothing to do with was reviewed in a leading daily. I found my name in the review where the author used it like an adjective. The reviewer said the writing had Rajat Aroraaism in it. Now, that was kinda special!
BlueCat: What’s your experience with screenwriting competitions?
RA: I have never participated in one. I say they are a great platform for undiscovered talent, especially for the younger lot when you don’t know how to navigate the system.
BlueCat: Whats the hardest scene you ever had to write in any of your movies?
RA: In THE DIRTY PICTURE there’s a pre-climax scene between Silk (Vidya Balan) and Abraham (Emraan Khan). Silk and Abraham’s film has released on the same day. They are make or break films for both of them. Silk’s film has flopped and she has lost everything in the process. Abraham’s film is super hit. He is experiencing such success for the first time in his life. Both are completely out of their comfort zones. Both are lonely. They now take comfort in each other’s company. And love sparks between them for the first time. The biggest challenge in writing this scene was to decide where they meet and what do they say to each other. How do you get two warring people, always at loggerheads, to fall in love with each other in just one scene?
BlueCat: How do you defeat writer’s block?
RA: I feel writer’s block is a luxury of the rich and established, of the independently wealthy who don’t depend on writing for their bread and butter, those who have made a name for themselves and are sought after. For lesser mortals like us, we have to write when we are brimming with ideas and we have to write when the all the ideas have dried up. I don’t defeat writer’s block…it’s the other way around! No writer is powerful enough to do that, I think! The thing about writer’s block is that it is very adamant. The only way to cure it is to ignore it…and let it cure itself.
BlueCat: What does your screenplay writing process look like? Take us from the ideal idea conception to the finished product.
RA: My screenplay gets written in my head long before it finds its way to the paper (or computer). The process of writing a screenplay is mostly thinking. You think about the idea, then about the story progression and the conflicts and motivations of your characters. Sometimes, you are trying to get into the mind of your protagonist, sometimes your antagonist. At one point, you realize all this thinking has made you feel like a person with multiple personality disorder and yet there is not a word you have written so far. But that’s a point of thorough satisfaction, because now what remains to be done is actually putting those thoughts down on paper. That moment for me is like opening the floodgates of a dam. Then it’s a matter of a few hours to write down your thoughts, structure the screenplay, trim the excess flab and tie the loose ends. I have noticed that the actual writing of the screenplay only takes a small fraction of the time it takes to write the screenplay. For the most part, I am sitting at my desk, looking out of the window and thinking.
BlueCat: Tell us about your success with “The Dirty Picture” and where you came up with the idea for the screenplay.
RA: The idea came up over a lunch discussion with my producer Ekta Kapoor. She came up with the idea of writing a story about the objectification of women. I loved the idea and came with a story. The film was very well received. Vidya Balan who played the protagonist won all the major awards!
BlueCat: What projects are next for you?
RA: My next film is GABBAR with AKSHAY Kumar. Then I’m writing a biopic on Mohammed Azharuddin and a rom-com to be directed by Milan Luthria (Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai, The Dirty Picture).
Check out Rajat’s Twitter here.