'Dulquer Salmaan's cop film will be different from Mumbai Police'
In this candid chat with Cinema Express, screenwriter Sanjay talks about his working process, his take on writer's block and other shortcomings, and what to expect from Dulquer Salmaan
Recently, Prithviraj’s cop thriller Mumbai Police turned seven, and this conversation, with its co-writer Sanjay (of Bobby-Sanjay), began with a discussion about its writing process and gradually evolved into a small masterclass about screenwriting. Sanjay starts off with the surprising revelation that no one has attempted a remake of Mumbai Police even though the rights were sold long ago. What if someone tries it now? Would Bobby and Sanjay be interested in going back to it? “Once we have done something, we have no interest in pursuing it again,” says Sanjay.
Mumbai Police and the unconventional character played by Prithviraj remain fresh even after all these years. Were you guys initially doubtful about people accepting such a character?
We were, yes. Given the kind of macho hero Prithviraj is, we didn’t know how everyone would react to this film. But that didn’t hold us back or discourage us. We went ahead regardless. The same thing applies to every film we do.
Before Mumbai Police, there was a tendency to portray gay characters in an effeminate manner. This film was refreshing that way.
It’s the conventional way of thinking that makes some folks think that a certain group behaves in a certain way. The portrayal doesn’t necessarily have to be effeminate. There are a lot of people who behave normally. That said, there was a problem in the first few days, with regard to the film’s performance. People didn’t know how to approach this film. We were a bit concerned about the overall collection. But then, slowly, it picked up in the following days. It’s all about separating the star from the actor. Once you do that, there is no problem.
Was any other actor considered? Was the portrayal of that character already written when you pitched the idea to Prithviraj?
He was our only choice. He had no qualms about doing it. Initially, it was just a one-line idea: A man loses his memory; he is a police officer; he discovers that he did it himself. Only after we finished the script that we told Prithviraj about the climax and the twist. He was surprised, but not at all uncomfortable. The backstory wasn’t there initially. It came to us while writing it.
You guys were fortunate to have an actor who doesn’t always want to be in the limelight.
Right. He sees the film as a whole. All the important actors of this generation are like that. For them, it’s not about whether they have something major to do or not. They just have to feel that they have something challenging to do.
Some actors are reluctant to do what’s in the script.
We never like to see our vision compromised. We can’t do something that requires us to weaken or remove a script’s honesty. Our vision has to be trusted. A film happens when someone trusts our vision.
You’ve enjoyed a long and fruitful collaboration with Rosshan Andrrews. How did he respond to this script?
The fact that we did so many movies with him is self-explanatory. It’s not the sort of relationship where we (Bobby and Sanjay) write a script in our home, give it to Rosshan, and then he shoots it. No. Initially, we three sit together and discuss this one line with each other. This discussion can go on for a month or more. A director should understand our characters, not necessarily obey our scripts. They are our collaborators. We put great value in discussions.
When we wrote the first draft of Mumbai Police, we had some trouble getting into it fully. So Rosshan told us, “Why don’t you take a break for a while?” So Bobby went on to do his thing and I went on a trip with my family. We completely detached ourselves from movies. When we got back after 15 days, we wrote the second draft, which is what you see in the film. A give-and-take relationship is necessary between a writer and a director. As far as we are concerned, a director is someone who suggests a detour when we encounter a roadblock. Once the discussions are over, we start writing by ourselves. Now that, is a private process.
Your films have successfully managed to maintain a balance between commercial and arthouse sensibilities. Can you tell us about that?
We have to take the freedom that fiction affords us. There is a bit of that larger-than-life aspect one comes to expect from mainstream cinema. Our films have that—we like watching such films.
You’ll be doing a police film with Dulquer Salmaan soon. Can we expect a different police story this time around too?
Yes. It’s got nothing to do with Mumbai Police. It’s a crime story, but it’s not connected in any way to it.
Is it based on any real incident?
Not at all. It’s entirely fictitious. The writing is done.
What more can you tell us about it?
I would call it a complete cop story. I can say that, as audience members, it’s the sort of film that we would like to see. That’s only what matters to us right now. Hopefully, others will like it too. With certain scripts, there is a sort of purging, cathartic effect—the feeling of having turned into a better human being—that is experienced once I have finished writing something. I got that feeling from this script. That doesn’t necessarily mean the audience will feel the same way. I’m speaking from a screenwriter’s point-of-view.
This purging effect -- did you get that from your previous films too?
Of course. Take, for example, a pure mass entertainer like Kayamkulam Kochunni, with its larger-than-life action scenes and whatnot. We did it because that character stayed with us from our childhood days and we wanted to relive those memories, which was a fun and thrilling process. The only film which did not give us any kind of feeling was Casanovva (laughs).
What actually happened with that one?
It was a slightly outdated script -- it came out four years after it was written. Now, I'm not saying it would've been successful had we made it earlier. It was written in 2011 and went through a lot of uncertainties. After writing 30 scenes, we had a feeling that it won't see the light of day as it was an expensive project. The same stalled feeling happened after the 40th scene. After a point, our interest slowly began to dwindle. But it was technically superior, though. The only weak aspect was its screenplay (laughs). This is not a fake humility thing, mind you.
What about School Bus?
Well, though it didn't do well at the box office, it was a script dear to me in some way. I'm not saying it's great or anything. I think we weren't really able to communicate our ideas effectively.
Was it written in one draft?
Yes. We wrote How Old Are You? like that too.
But that one did well.
Perhaps that made us overconfident (laughs). It's always better to write as many drafts as one can.
What's your take on logical errors? Can they be entirely avoided?
Every film has them. For example, how come nobody makes a big deal when some actors 'sing' in Yesudas' voice? Logical errors can happen. But we try our best not to have them. We do very extensive research so that there are no factual errors. We look at each character's journey, the time zone and so on, to keep the logic intact.
Do you see writer's block as a problem?
No. We often saw it as an opportunity to come up with a better alternative. A lot of confusing thoughts would pop up along the way. It's only natural. But we shouldn't take them too seriously.