Notes From A Screenwriter's Diary - Who Am I Writing This For?

By Jyoti Kapoor. Posted on November 10, 2015

I often ask myself this question whenever I need a fresh perspective on my work. So whom am I writing this story for?

On a good writing day my answer would be, ‘for myself’, because I am my first audience. And so, if it manages to move me, it will manage to move the viewers. That’s the principle I try to live by when I maneuver through those lone, solitary days of digging deep into the story universe, trying to make some sense of it, as I watch the world go by.

On most of the days I can manage to motivate myself by playing both the storyteller and the audience but on other days, the days when I am down and out, when I doubt myself, like all of us do, I try to remember those familiar faces that I have come across from time to time, the faces of my prospective audiences and it somehow brings back the focus.

These are the people that give me that extra push, that extra iota of motivation that I crave for. These are the people who’d rather be elsewhere but choose to come and watch my story unfold; giving me their time and hard earned money. And the more I get to know them, the more committed I feel towards my script.

Yes, I have a deadline, and the guys who put in their monies will eventually decide the fate of my script; but that can’t be the only thing motivating or demotivating the storyteller in me. It has to be much more than that for me to be able to turn in draft after draft of my script, to try and retain that honesty in my story, despite a clash of views.

So who are these people that I am ‘actually’ writing for? Let me introduce you to some of those familiar faces that I try to keep at the back of my mind every time I put pen to paper, the people I feel answerable to.

I write for that old man who moves with the help of a walker but somehow struggles to plonk himself on the rickety cinema hall chair as he requests me to hold his bag. “The aisle chair should always be reserved for people like me,” he says, as he tries to strike a conversation with me, settling down awkwardly. I have seen him year after year at the Mumbai Film Festival, for the last so many years, watching back-to-back films without fail. Even though his health has gone from bad to worse in these years, his love for movies surpasses everything else.

I take a good look at him, as he looks back at me with that thankful glance, smoothing out the creases from his silken embroidered shirt, dabbing the sweat off his balding forehead, running his hand through the leftover strands of dyed jet black hair.

I write for that woman in a power suit, caught in a suffocating relationship and dreading to go back home after a long day at work, the woman who hopes to find some solace in the darkness of the cinema hall. You will often find her touching up her smudged kohl in the multiplex washrooms as she struggles to hold back her tears. The last phone-call she received just before the interval, unsettled her.  She blows her nose in the tissue, applies an extra coat of lipstick, takes a good look at herself in the mirror and steps out with a determination to watch the rest of the film, come what may. She promptly grabs her large tub of popcorn-cold drink combo and moves back into the soothing darkness, enjoying her last moments of freedom before she heads back to the drudgery of life.

I write for the young, chirpy boy from the movers and packers agency that helped us move into our current house a couple of months ago. While he was catching a breath before the next luggage truck arrived, he told me about the part time language course he’s taking in German, his dreams of quitting this lowly job someday and becoming ‘the best’ tourist guide. He also told me about the weekly movie ritual, which gives him something to look forward to in this otherwise grinding life. “So what kind of movies do you watch?” I asked him as he helped me arrange the boxes. “I watch all kind of films but I make sure I never miss any Aamir Khan film,’’ he said. “Uski filmon se hamesha kuch seekhne ko milta hai,’’ he told me with a genuineness of a serious movie buff. “Aapne ‘3 Idiot’s dekhi hai?” he asked me,brimming with a renewed energy, as he got ready to unload stuff from the next truck. We never got around to finishing that conversation.

I am not a die-hard Aamir Khan fan but it got me thinking. Mr Khan must have done something right to be able to convince this lanky, 20 something boy to shell out those 100-200 rupees from his hard earned salary every now and then. I’m not sure if he was even thinking about his audience when he said yes to a particular project, but I’m sure that there can be no bigger praise or motivation for an artist even of his stature.

And sometimes that’s more than enough! Not second guessing your audience, but just being aware of their presence, of those faces in the dark that accompany you on that journey in to the alternate universe you are trying to create, the people that hold your hand and help you cross the threshold in the moments of doubt.

Jyoti Kapoor is a Mumbai based screenwriter and former journalist. She worked as a correspondent with publications like The Indian Express and Mid-Day before she crossed over to fiction. She also taught screenwriting at Whistling Woods International, a film school based in Mumbai, before starting out as a full time writer. An alumnus of Film and Television Institute of India, Jyoti has co-written scripts for films like 'Kaccha Limboo' and 'Dawat-e-Ishq' and TV shows like 'Left Right Left' and 'Jhoome Jiya Re'. When she is not staring at the blank page, she indulges in food.


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