How many shots of the girl dancing or laughing aimlessly does it take to establish her as a Manic pixie dream girl?
Learning from bad writing: Meri Pyaru binduThese days I am writing my first story that I intend to complete and publish. So as you can imagine, I am in the writer mode most of the time - anxiously looking for writer's intent, choices, character arcs, alternate story lines etc, while watching any movie or reading any novel. With a well written story, these choices are not that apparent. You have to look hard and yet you might miss out on essential choices that the writer made, to make the film/ novel a great piece of art. It feels as if the story flowed out from the author's mind onto paper with zero loss in translation. For that reason, it is difficult to learn much from good writing. It inspires, yes of course. It helps you get in the mood or get into the right frame of mind. But it can't teach as well as a badly written movie/ novel can.
A badly written story makes you aware of your own fallibility. It grounds you. Most importantly, it helps you see the many ways in which you can screw up perfectly serviceable stories. And that is often scary - to know that your story can very likely end up being mediocre, misguided, misinformed or just plain old boring.
Today I got scared again by watching 'meri pyari bindu'.
I don't want to review the film. That is of no use to me. I would rather make a simple list of things that I think I should not do, if I was to write such a story.
1. A story worth making a film for:
Writing is a fairly difficult work. One must be motivated to write a story to complete it. You perhaps are propagating a certain world view, a certain philosophy, a certain utopia, reliving a certain daydream, coming to terms with your anxieties/ traumas etc. A writer completes the story when he/ she feels that what he wanted to communicate/make someone feel, has been achieved. So the question on my mind was, what was the ambition for this film? It seems it was simply to milk 80s nostalgia somehow. Neither the writer nor his characters achieve anything with the film. All that one is left with is a sense of impotent nostalgia.
2. Something must change!
Essentially, nothing much happens either externally (character's choices leading to events or vice versa) or internally (emotional arcs, character development) with any of the characters in the film. Consider the fact that the writer chose to build the story through two decades of character interactions. We see them as childhood sweethearts through to mature adults. And yet, nothing changes in these two decades. The characters were nostalgic as children, listening to 70s songs, and they remain nostalgic as adults singing songs from 80s.The hero does nothing consequential in two decades to affect any reaction from the heroine and not because he is shy or a loser. We don't know what he can do or can't do and why.
In contrast, this reminds me of 'Age of Reason' by Sartre. Its a story spanning three days, in which the reader intimately experiences the turmoil of characters who are making life altering decisions. It is profoundly beautiful piece of literature that forces you to see the world anew.
3. Give the narrator a break
I have never cringed as much with the use of narrator as with this movie. It was verbose. It was indulgent without merit. And worst of all it didn't even do exposition well enough. I mean, it is bad film making if you have to resort to narrator for exposition. But you accept it - decently enjoyable movies have been made with the crutch of narrator. But how bad is a movie if narrator does not add anything meaningful to the story or its events? The characters in the movie were not lived through actors, they were narrated through a verbal diarrhea of a wannabe-poet.
Also, the lengthy similes and descriptions didn't create a mood, it masked the writer's lack of conviction in the story.
In one scene the narrator is describing the scene - the heroine (as child) is looking suspiciously towards the hero (as child). But on the screen, the girl was simply looking at the boy sweetly, there was no suspicion. Or when the narrator says that the girl's eyes were aimed at the samosas, but the scene does not show that at all.
It was as if the narrator is trying to act on behalf of the actors.
4. How many shots of girl dancing or laughing aimlessly does it take to establish her as a Manic pixie dream girl?
When will bollywood discover other stereotypes to waste screen presence with? The title character has no depth in the film. Her actions, her reactions are non-existent or have no cause. She simply exists as a matter of principle in the film. Why is she doing what she is doing is never evocatively conveyed. Her motives, her inner turmoil and her coping mechanism is all but invisible. She fails as a singer, and all that we get in the way of reaction is her annoyance at her boyfriend.
We can assume that her existential reason is threatened. and hence she is now questioning her choices, especially about the relationship. But that is the problem - we have to connect those dots. The actors, director or writer didn't think of evocatively bringing to life her existential angst. All that the viewer feels is that the heroine is a moody confused person.
Secondly, to answer her existential angst she goes to Bangalore (we assume) and does what? There is a story waiting to be told. Instead we have to see the idiot Bubla being busy with his exasperating trivialities.Why did she go to Bangalore. What did she do? How did she cope with her failure? Why did she marry?
5. Action reaction - Real people react. Machines, things and badly written characters don't.
As a writer, one must be vigilant to the motives, actions and reactions of characters.
In the film it was never established that Bubla wanted to be a writer. So it is a puzzle when the heroine says, 'you finally made it as a writer'. Why? he was never the artsy types. He was a poodle who lost his master. How did he find his groove?
Won't Bubla be in turmoil with the unrequited love business? When exactly does he commit/ not commit suicide and what's the relevance of that scene if he never does it?
How would a normal human being with a working amygdala react to being ignored by the boyfriend, being accosted to washroom without enough provocation, being proposed?
6. Climax needs to be a 'climax'.
What was the point? So much narration and no meaning in sight. Waxing not so eloquently about Sachin's batting, Gulzar's lyrics and so on doesn't help reveal anything.
So did Bubla come to terms with his unrequited love? Did Bindu close that chapter? Why are they dancing in the rain? Why is Bubla laughing? And what was that suicide business? did he or didn't he? what the fuck was that? how can such a pivotal scene have no relevance to the story?
7. You don't need flash backs
Did the story really need the back and forth in time? If it was a linear story - a la boyhood - would it have been better? Or if it simply focused in their 20s, their time together? Could the story have been tighter and easier to develop?
Essentially, the writer and the director made this film because they found a backer and they wanted to make a film. Not because they had a story to tell.