By shaikh ayaz Oct. 09, 2016
How do you sell a story in Bollywood? Well, actually, you don’t. An aspiring screenwriter gives the inside dope on mission impossible.
Leggy starlets cluster at a bar. A close-knit circle of old-timers occupy the centre of a room, as if chatting up a conspiracy. On the dance floor is the not-so-glamourous gang, probably the writers and the ADs. A desperate scriptwriter crashes the glitzy success party at a five-star and finds himself amid a sea of pretty faces. He runs into the famous filmmaker, whose office he’s been making the rounds of, for months now. The meeting point: the urinal. The big man is held captive by that little fountain. Voilà, the script is sold. The movie goes on to make millions.
This is a Bollywood story all right, but this isn’t Cyrus Khambata’s story. Like a million other writers with Bolly dreams in their eyes, this scriptwriter has been trying to get his pet project off the ground for years now. But unlike a million other writers, this scriptwriter already has a film – Yahaan Sab Ki Lagi Hai – under his belt.
Restless 21, is a story of a 21-year-old easy-going boy from Mumbai, who challenges the ways of the world in his pursuit of small joys. Honest as the day is long, his beliefs are shaken when he finds himself up against a popular Bollywood star. It’s a story that could be fresh but the screenplay of this not-so-hipster boy has found no takers.
The neatly-bound draft of Restless 21, has seen the inside of every major Bollywood studio in Mumbai. And then the not-so-major ones. A copy of the screenplay lies in a corner of Aamir Khan’s production house, in a cupboard full of scripts. But how will Aamir know that a golden script is gathering dust on the third shelf, Cyrus often wonders. A submission to the Anurag Kashyap camp gave him some hope. “It’s a great read,” one of Kashyap’s minion’s said to him over a cigarette one day, blowing Cyrus over. “We will call you.”
Cyrus has been staring into the screen of his phone for over a year, but that call has never come.
Cyrus was tired of showing people the door. Sex, sleaze, but no success. That had been his story so far.
Cyrus thought he had his big break when Kiran Rao was looking for scripts from new talent during the production of Ship of Theseus. Seeing the article in The Bombay Times, he dialled Aamir’s office. “Aisa kuchh nahin hai,” said a rude voice from the other end.
With that, Cyrus gave up on big names and went the Bhojpuri way.
The Bhojpuri producer was in his early 50s, his hair beginning to thin, his mouth permanently stained with paan. Cyrus met him at a small studio in Lokhandwala, a mecca for strugglers in suburban Mumbai. The producer chewed paan disinterestedly as he heard Cyrus out.
He’s not bad, Cyrus thought to himself, brushing away his niggling doubts. During the meeting, the producer happened to chance upon an edit clip of Yahaan Sab Ki Lagi Hai and for the first time since the conversation started, began to show some animation. The object of his interest – the starlet in the film, a lovely girl from the Northeast.
“Get me this chinky babe,” he said, as Cyrus winced. “She should expose. Can you get more like her? I want to make a porn film,” he added matter-of-factly.
At first, Cyrus pretended not to understand him. He needed this man pretty bad. But then the conversation went in an impossible direction. The producer went into a monologue about how he would shoot the movie in Bihar and buy the distribution rights because an “exposed chinky girl” would set the market on fire.
That’s when Cyrus showed him the door.
After the producer, came a financer. This one was from Surat and was a neighbour of one of Cyrus’s friends who had been helping him find funding. He saw a film poster in the neighbour’s shop only to find out that the man had financed the movie. He quickly made a pitch on his friend’s behalf.
The meeting went well. Mr Financer did not chew paan or reduce the Northeast to offensive stereotypes. That alone was a great start. Moreover, Mr Financer put money straight on the table. He had a budget of ₹3 crore, he said, putting Cyrus at ease. “Two for the film; one to blow up on whores in the city.”
Cyrus’s story was destined to be filled with sex, sleaze, but no success.
Bollywood is an unforgiving place. Aamir Khan’s production house rejects an average of 200 scripts before giving a green light to one. Multiply that by a hundred and you begin to see that writers like Cyrus are better off praying to the tooth fairy.
But still, for millions of people like Cyrus, the dream refuses to die, the wet dream of a mainstream, big budget film, and a Bollywood party with top-notch booze and flashbulbs in the face. The movie itself is not important – it could be Restless 21 or it could be the many other scripts he has dabbled with. The dream is to get a chance to shove it in the face of a big name. Even if it is at a urinal.
Shaikh Ayaz is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist. He has written for Open, The Week, Alpha Dubai, Catch News, Dainik Bhaskar and The New Indian Express among others. When not chasing stories, he paints.