“People listen to stars,” says Bill Wheeler, who was in the city as one of the advisors for Mumbai Mantra-Sundance Institute’s annual scriptwriters’ forum. The statement is a far cry from some of the upcoming voices in Bollywood who feel stardom has superseded art.
Wheeler, who has penned the screenplay for Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, elaborates saying, “I favour the stars because it is easier for them if they choose to experiment with cinema. For instance, Robert Redford was one of the brightest stars of the ’70s but he wanted to do things differently.”
On being asked about the adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s novel, the Pennsylvanian lauds the director of the film. “As the screenwriter, the challenges were cinematic — transforming a conversation between two people in a café into a full-length movie.
Fortunately, Mira’s commitment to telling the story the way she wants to made it easier for me. That’s also what I admire most about her,” smiles the writer of the Richard Gere-starrer The Hoax. So if a film fails commercially, how responsible would the writer be? “Not at all,” quips Wheeler, adding that there are different mechanics that go into the distribution and marketing of a film. “For instance, there was this brilliant film called Infamous based on Truman Capote. It didn’t do very well. You know why? Because another brilliant film called Capote based on the same writer released just six months before it. Now, who’s to blame?”
Speaking of writers, Wheeler points out that the balance between big screen and small screen projects is nicely struck in the West. “The most talented writers are still concentrated in Hollywood but over the years, there has been a steady shift towards television. Having said that, there have been Alan Sorkin and most recently David Chase (of The Sopranos fame) who are constantly shuttling between the two mediums.”
On his maiden trip to the country, the bespectacled visitor admits to his unfamiliarity with Bollywood. But he suggests the industry introduce a structure similar to that of Sundance in India as well. “If it weren’t for that film festival in Utah we wouldn’t have names like Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky or Jim Jarmusch doing the rounds,” signs off the writer-producer.