In Conversation with Shakun Batra

Kapoor and Sons poster B:W
Last month on April 20, Mr. Shakun Batra, writer and director of ‘Kapoor & Sons’ and ‘Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu’, dropped in to talk to our students about writing, directing and films in general. He discussed his writing process and his experiences. Their mentor, Satyanshu Singh moderated the session. Here are some excerpts from the day.

On Learning Film-making:
“In my opinion filmmaking can’t be taught. Film Schools can open up for you a world of ideas but it is up to you to put in the hard work, learn the different forms and then use them to create your own process. When I told my parents that I wanted to make films, all they could relate to was that I’d make wedding videos because that’s all they knew about films. I really started to watch as many movies as I could and read a lot about films. It’s almost obsessive.”
“I learnt the grounding principles while working with Raju Hirani on ad films. Even while making a 40 second TV commercial, he would constantly ask – What’s the story? What’s your objective? What’s your narrative? That process has stuck with me ever since.”
On Writing:
“I wanted to direct. So I started writing. It takes me a lot of time – I get random ideas, it’s never structured, it’s very frustrating. It’s time-consuming and I hate all of the drafts I’ve written, but eventually I sit with a few like minded people and it comes together slowly, but surely.”
“The hierarchy is – Story. Scene. Moment. In that order. Figure out if a particular dialogue is essential. If it’s not serving any purpose, let it go.”
“Make your characters interesting enough so the audience want to know them and are invested in their history, their story and their progress. Know your characters. What they like, dislike. What they wear. Their views on politics. Give them traits to distinguish them from others. It’s not crucial to the screenplay – but fleshing out details will give you clarity about who they are and what they’re going to say.”
“You must find ways to expose information so that the audience doesn’t feel it. Good exposition is inconspicuous. Figure out when the audience is ready for information and reveal it at the opportune moment.”
“All your self-doubt, lack of motivation and constant critique of your writing – it all goes out the window when you see your bank balance drop! The passion, the love, of course it’s all there, and I wouldn’t do anything else for a career, but there is nothing like a little financial instability to put you right back into the zone.”
On Setting the Tone of a Film:
“It’s difficult to explain what tone is exactly – because its intangible. Tonality at some level is your taste – the way you do certain things. It’s almost inherent and it becomes more instinctive with every film that you watch. As a director I always try to visualise how they will actually say the dialogues but I never bind the actors to a certain type of dialogue delivery – even when I have an idea in my head about how it’s supposed to be done. It’s important to tell your story through the treatment of the shots you take, that’s your own flavour. As you write more, it comes to you gradually. Tone is taste and taste is exposure.”
On His Films:
“All the romantic comedies I had watched usually centred around the hero, and that’s when I thought of flipping it. In ‘Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu’ (2012) I made the hero unmotivated and confused and that appealed to me because I could explore the heroine’s character and convey their love story in an interesting way.”
“For ‘Kapoor & Sons’ (2016), the script went through numerous changes. I would write and rewrite scenes over and over to make the characters compelling, to show that they’re all flawed and imperfect. Initially, the grandfather was supposed to die in the end, but that would have been predictable and I realised I could convey my objective, which was – ‘life is short’, via a different plot point. That is when I decided it would be the father who would die. In the process of finding the individual storylines of each character, it started to feel honest and came together as an engaging story.”
At this point in the session Mr Batra took questions from the students. Before he left, we asked him for some parting words, to which he said:
“Keep reading, keep writing. It’s always good to take in as much information as you can, so that you may manipulate it later. Read screenplays, read about the process.”
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