9 Things We Learned From Sriram Raghavan At BISFF!

By Arun Fulara. Posted on September 02, 2015

One of our favourite directors was at BISFF 2015 and we had the chance to interview him. While the interview will be up in a few days, we were also lucky to listen to him interact with young filmmakers from all over. The session, initially titled, Script To Screen, eventually turned out to be an hour of Q&A's with the filmmaker behind Ek Hasina Thi, Johnny Gaddar & Badlapur. And an interesting one at that. The reticent filmmaker has the airs of an intellectual but was quick to dismiss any such notion. Unassuming and frank in his answers, Raghavan answered most questions, with the host Prakash Belawadi adding his inputs from time to time.

You can read our daily coverage of the festival here, here & here and a summary of the session with Raam Reddy here.

Here are the few nuggets of wisdom we learnt at the session;

1. A film might not change the world, but it can surely change someone's life

Using the example of Bicycle Thieves, Raghavan mentioned that the film might have made him a little honest. Films do not change the world, but they have the power to change a person's heart and maybe his/her life. As long as your film can impact a few people it has achieved its purpose.

2. I am a student of Hitchcock's but i don't follow his structured style of filmmaking

When asked how he gets the performances out of his actors, Raghavan spoke about his style of filmmaking.

"I give them a lot of freedom. I try not to get stuck to the script. Even though i am a great fan and a student of Hitchcock's, i do not follow his structured approach to filmmaking. The actor also brings a lot to the film, we talk a lot. Sometimes we don't even talk, we just do it. Basically i try to watch the movie there as it happens."

3. You don't need to tell everything, the idea is to hold the viewer's attention

In response to a question on how Raghavan communicates his story, he brought up the opening scene of Badlapur. The static camera captures the events leading to the bank robbery. The idea for static camera came from the cinematographer Anil Mehta (who spoke about it in our interview). The scene is shot like a documentary and sets the tone for the film. Some writers like Paul Schrader & Tarantino write very readable scripts. Raghavan, apparently keeps making changes to his scenes, to the extent that there could be 20 drafts of the same scene.

Sriram Raghavan 4

Sriram Raghavan & Prakash Belwadi in conversation

4. Writers need discipline, directors are not the most disciplined

Since he writes his movies, it was but natural that someone would ask about it. Raghavan confessed that he wrote despite not been the most disciplined person around. Writers, according to him, need discipline, which he lacks. So he has co-writers who work with him on scripts.

5. Work hard on your script but be open to on-set magic

When asked where dialogues come from, Raghavan spoke about the role of serendipity and chance involved.

"Sometimes on sets. I don't do readings, but i do extensive role-plays, sometimes with my assistants. We do the scenes just to hear the dialogues. Writing is an extensive process of re-writing. I love accents and people as they are. So when i heard Dharmendra talk in English, i loved it. It was quaint and i used it in the film. There is always a dialogue graph but i get the actors involved. They can take it somewhere else.

6. A song does the job of 7-8 scenes in a film, incorporate it in your film, if you can

When someone asked Raghavan about commercial cinema's obssesion with songs, he had this to say;

"It depends on whether you like music. If you do you should incorporate it in your films. A song does the job of 7-8 scenes in a film. If you remove the songs from a film like Guide, the film will collapse. I've grown up on radio and love songs. But even then there is a lot of pressure from the producers to include songs in the film."

7. Ignore the commercial pressure as much as you can

Someone asked the filmmaker about how he copes with commercial pressure and how it impacts his writing. The filmmaker replied saying that he tries to ignore it as much as possible but it still get through sometimes. Like in Agent Vinod, even before he had written the film, he could feel the pressure to add a few songs given the size of the project. When a producer does it, you should protect your story. There will always be a push & pull but your story should not suffer.

8. Film schools will polish pebbles & dim diamonds

This quote comes from the veteran filmmaker Saeed Mirza who Raghavan sought out before joining FTII. The film school exposed him to the world of cinema and gave him a perspective. That is the least a film school can do.

9. First get the story right, the details can come later

Becuase of Celtx every script looks like a script. Raghavan complained of receiving a lot of scripts that do not have any depth. His one line advise to the crowd of young filmmakers was to get the story right, and add the details later.


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