“This was a little dream we had in Madras many years ago in a hotel. We were feeding each other with stories and the mosquitoes were feeding on us,” Kamal Haasan remembers that fateful chat he had with veteran French writer Jean Claude Carriere and Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami when they first discussed their plans of mentoring the next generation of writer-filmmakers.
“They had bigger ideas and I have tried to sculpt it down to a palpable size. The Chennai International Screenwriting Workshop we held recently was just the tip of the iceberg,” he reveals, when Academy award winner and Luis Bunuel’s old ally, Jean Claude Carriere (he worked with Bunuel for 19 years), flew down to kick off the mentoring process and the launch of Kamal Haasan’s ambitious short-film project.
The actor-writer-filmmaker plans to produce 30 short films on Chennai written by students from the workshop. “The idea is to get the short film movement moving in Tamil Nadu. It’s not an institute, it’s a movement.”
Kamal Haasan had first met Carriere when he went to seek his advice on Marudhanayagam. He not only got advice, he also found a “young and affordable co-writer who did it for the love of writing” in the veteran. “That was the time I lost my mentor and friend Ananthu. I was missing him when I found Carriere who gave me the courage.”
Film and the City
“There’s an ancient, intimate, deep, secret relationship between cities and cinema,” says Jean Claude Carriere. “It’s like a love-affair since the beginning of cinema. Some of my director friends talk about cities they want to shoot a film in and some cities they will never shoot at a film in.”
The temptation, for most filmmakers, is to go to the streets and make a documentary on the city but he believes fiction often turns out to be more insightful than documentaries.
“Sometimes fiction goes more deeper into reality than a documentary. Fiction is not the enemy of reality. On the contrary, fiction reaches another level of the same reality. That level is sometimes deeper than the other. Don’t hesitate to invent even impossible situations, or explore dreams or science fiction situations taking place in a city that can reveal different aspects of the city. A documentary filmmaker can never use these tools. So don’t hesitate to work with actors. Don’t hesitate to explore,” explains Carriere.
“Imagine your children and your grand children when they watch it, it will be like a treasure. A gift. A moment of life in the city. It has to be made freely, without thinking about money or success. Give the city something what nobody else can give it. Give the city what vision you have, what you have seen, heard, dreamed, imagined about the city,” is his advice to young writers.
“We have to teach the new generation how to do, but never try to teach them what to do,” Carriere believes. “We have to explain how we did and stop on that borderline and never try to impose our ideas, our views, our stories to the newcomers.”
“We were all born in the only century that invented a new language. If we were born 125 years ago, we could only talk about writing books or theatre. So let’s use the film language and not try to compete with novels or theatre. Let’s use this priceless new language that the masters have developed, refined and even perverted and transmitted to us. Try to find your own way, a story situation that touches you deeply and use what you know and what you want to learn and what one day, you will invent.”
Carriere rarely uses the word screenwriter.
“The screenwriter is a filmmaker. Screenwriting is not the end of a literary exercise but the beginning of a cinematographic adventure,” he explains.
The writer of the Peter Brook play, Mahabharata, drew a parallel between how Dushasana tried and tried to disrobe Draupadi but failed and his own attempts in seeing the real India. “I could never see India naked as much as I try,” he says, wishing the young writers luck.
Carriere would mentor some of these writers when 30 of them will be shortlisted ahead of the International Film Festival in Trivandrum in December.
“Let our minds let loose on Chennai as a concept,” says K Hariharan, director of the LV Prasad Film and TV Academy, outlining the rules. “Since Chennai boasts of a variety of ethnic and linguistic diversity, the language of the film would be the writer’s preference.”
The writers have four weeks to submit their proposal and 60 entries would be shortlisted for further development and 30 would be fine-tuned during the mentoring process and subsequently produced.
“If all goes well, we will go on floors by March 2010. Writers will be invited to the location to see their scripts transform into butterflies.”
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