An Afternoon with Mr. Sudeep Sharma

NH10-poster b & w

On April 7th, seasoned writer and the man behind ‘NH10’, Mr Sudeep Sharma stopped by the AIB First Draft classroom to talk to the students about writing and filmmaking. It was a two hour discussion, where the students got to ask him questions and gain some semblance of insight on what it’s like to really get a script into production. Their mentor, Satyanshu Singh moderated the session. Here are some excerpts from that day.

On Starting His Journey as a Screenwriter:

“When I got in the industry, it took me far longer to approach directors or walk up to people and say I’m a writer. What happened as a result, is I studied a lot. I would read at least one screenplay and watch one film every day, over 5 years, almost like a ritual. You end up finding clever ways to make it happen, it was the only way to grasp and understand the structure. I religiously pursued it for that long because it was the only way to learn. I also read books by Robert Mckee and William Goldman to expand my horizons.”

“I’m a very structured sort of person, when it comes to writing or when it comes to doing anything for that matter. It’s a lot less talent, and more of hard work. I’ve never considered myself a particularly talented writer, it was more like 100% hard work. I could get to IIM because I used to work harder than anyone I knew. One reason I’ve also been able to survive here (in the industry) is because I work hard. I’m not as talented as a lot of people around me, I can’t write naturally if you will, it takes me a lot of time to think about every sentence I put down. It’s a very studied process. It took me a while, at least 3-4 years to even grasp it.”

“I used to write at night. EVERY NIGHT. While traveling, while working on other projects. I’m a creature of habit, and I would write regardless of any possible obstacle. You have to find your centre and just keep at it. My wife was extremely supportive of my work, so I was lucky, but I kept writing. NH10 was our 4th screenplay that finally saw the light of day, it has its own tumultuous journey, a process that took 3 years, from writing it to watching it.”

On the Film Industry:

“This is a very unpredictable business, you WILL throw yourself a party when you sign your first contract, only to find out 3 months later that it has stopped filming due to some unforeseen issues. This is very common, it happens a lot. The journey from writing it to actually see the film released on a screen is a roller coaster ride, but you mustn’t let it deter you.”

“You have to find your groove. For me, if I like something it’s very easy to keep at it, without getting distracted. If I don’t like something however it’s very difficult to keep at it.”

On Collaboration:

“I want to work with writers who I get along with, who understand my tone for the simple fact that writing with someone is almost like a marriage, where you’re meeting the person everyday, spending time together, creating together, discussing every aspect together. Whether I then go and write on my own is immaterial because the whole collaboration is giving me my story.”

On Plot, Story and Characters:

“The plot of a film is bare. It’s cold. It deals with what happens next, it’s very basic. It’s just a model. A story, however, is about the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’, that’s what makes it richer. The plot is what the writer is trying to do but the story is what the characters are trying to do. There’s a discrepancy between both, and the only place a happy marriage can happen is when both those things come together in harmony.”

“It bodes well to remember that you don’t need likeable characters. You need interesting ones. You need characters that the audience wants to see, not characters they like. The motivation of a character supersedes his/her likeability.”

On ‘NH 10’ (2015):

“There were quite a few ideas that were floating around, and we knew that this was an interesting story, because we were well aware of it being a genre piece. It wasn’t going to change the face of cinema on the world stage, but it was a good story. In this country, we really don’t make genre films, it started maybe in the late 90’s. We make films with a little of everything in it, romance, action, drama which fundamentally goes against the whole concept of a genre piece.”

“The idea of NH10 was to give the story context, to give it roots in something real, into something that had happened, it was modeled loosely around the Manoj-Babli case. Our one-liner about the film was ‘a couple is traveling together and shit happens to them’. It would have been very easy to abandon this premise, and set up the same story as a ‘couple traveling to Goa, and are chased by goons amidst a cocaine deal gone wrong’ but it would be a lesser film because it wouldn’t say anything minutely substantial.”

“The prime objective of the film was to make sure that the audience enjoys it immensely, as a thriller, as a slasher film.”

Mr. Sharma then went on to discuss the plot of the film explaining its beats and its three-act structure. He shared insights about the film, behind-the-scenes anecdotes and answered questions about both his work and writing in general. The session then pivoted to this very poignant piece of advice:

On the Craft:

“It hampers your craft if you decide you’re going to make the next great film and you end up taking yourself too seriously. Regardless of whether you’re actually telling a story that is relevant and groundbreaking, it will compromise the quality of the work if you put so much importance on the fact that you’re telling this story instead of focusing on actually telling it.”

“The best way to break the rules is to know the rules. It’s very important to understand the structure and theory in order to then break that. Don’t ignore the basics in the name of poetic effect.”

We want to thank Mr. Sudeep Sharma for his time to come to First Draft and share with the students his invaluable insights about writing.

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