On the write path
The Screenplay Writing Course at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) marks 10 years of completion this year and is all set to go from a one-year duration to two years from now on. To Anjum Rajabali, well-known screenwriter and the Head of Department (HOD), goes the credit of creating and sustaining this successful course.
Anjum Rajabali, head of the Screen- play Writing course at Film and Television Institute of India
Rajabali says that screenplay writing is a combination of art and craft, with a lot depending on one’s ability to structure a good script. “For this, a basic understanding of the underlying principles of the screenwriting craft is essential. In India, we do not have any formal tradition of guiding new writers, even though we have full-fledged courses that teach every other skill in filmmaking. So, in that way, the Screenplay Writing Course was an idea whose time had come. And, via a serendipitous meeting between the then director and me, facilitated by our senior Vinay Shukla, the idea took concrete shape.”
Like any good venture, though, it was fraught with difficulties. Firstly, the Institute seemed reluctant and to compound that, we needed the Ministry’s approval. Rajabali says, “While we did get the Ministry's approval, they wanted the course to be totally self-sufficient. So our budget which was small, was then supplemented with a fee that I took from production houses in exchange for allowing them a pick of the scripts that the students would write in the course!” But there was some sunshine too through the early gloom. Rajabali adds, “We were so lucky in having Tripurari Sharan as the Director then, and the department remains grateful for his dynamic and unstinting support. All the later directors and most of the FTII faculty too, have been very encouraging.”
No one involved in the faculty had any experience with teaching. Rajabali became its honorary HOD, and course designer out of compulsion. He explains, “Then, the most important challenge was to induct a full-time teacher. A stroke of luck gave us Ashwini Malik. As the years progressed, we were fortunate to get dedicated faculty who gave generously to the course. The achievements are evident. About 80 per cent of our students decided to make screenwriting their vocation. Already, we have 37 film credits and many more in TV.
Two bright lights became established novelists. Several got inspired to become screenwriting teachers, making us proud. The course has acquired credibility in the film industry. Hence, we receive a stream of eminent guest lecturers who are senior writers, writer-directors, and scholars from India and abroad.” Like they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the proof the screenwriting is in the film. Some films written by the students are Kai Po Che, Shaitan, Rock On!!, Taryanche Bait, City of Gold, Margarita with a Straw, Shootout at Wadala, Hapoos, Maazii, Mee Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy and Daawat-E-Ishq.
Rajabali has great expectations from the course. “Everyone is looking for talented writers who understand the craft. And that is the central thrust of our course. When we began, we had 48 applicants for 12 seats. Today, we have almost 300 people wanting to join. Our primary effort is to expose them to the basic principles of the craft, and to offer them the tools, which they can use to express themselves the way they want to. Given the kind of talent that the course has been attracting, you can expect many more exciting scripts from our students — and at least half a dozen films a year!” We can say amen, or more aptly, houseful to that. Entrance exam dates are to be declared soon, so aspiring screenwriters need to keep an eye out for that.
At: FTII, Law College Road.