Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tip # 38: Language

By Anant Mathur (December 11, 2011)

When writing a screenplay it is extremely important to use language which suits your story. By language I mean the style of speaking, the dialect and the attitude that comes with it. If you character is from South India, London or China, he must speak and have the same body language and attitude that people of that region have, same is true if he’s from any other part of the world. Similarly, a young prince will behave differently than a street urchin. For a writer it is crucial to understand the minutest differences between people, it's these small elements that make characters come alive. For example, you may feel there's something wrong with a person who speak monotonously, but it could make for an interesting character.

Communication is as old as humanity and language is a big part of that. If you travel to different parts of the world, you discover the many different dialects in other regions of a country. Take cockney for instance, it's a dialect from England, a rhyming slang, but most Englishmen today wouldn't understand it. But again, it would give the writer the ability to create a great character, if he/she understood details like this. If you travel from the Northern United States to the South or West, you can certainly see the difference in how people speak, behave and work. The same is true in India, in fact, in India you can find the difference from village to village. It shouldn't be surprising to find then that India has more than 400 languages and thousand of dialects. But these dialects and languages rarely translate into our character or stories.

When filming a screenplay it is equally important that the producer hire the right actors to portray these characters ­­– when producers fail to accomplish this we see characters which appear to be mocking their environment, and instead of being strong characters in a story they come across as weak caricatures. Great characters have an on-screen persona which draws the audience into the story. Gabbar Singh, for example, when we watch Sholay we see Gabbar Singh the character not Amjad Khan the acclaimed actor. Even though we may have seen Sholay hundreds of times it's the on-screen persona of Gabbar Singh which makes the story entertaining and engaging, can you imagine how bland Sholay would've been without strong characters like Gabbar Singh or Jai, Veeru, Thankur and Basanti. 

The original choice for Gabbar Singh was Danny Denzongpa, the first time I heard that I laughed it off as a joke, but it's now a well known fact. As brilliant and versatile as Danny Denzongpa is, no one in their right mind can imagine Danny as Gabbar Singh, Ramesh Sippy and Amjad Khan created a legendary character which still scares children. The sole reason Sholay works so well is because of the characters and a talented star cast which pulled off those characters without missing a beat. Don't get me wrong, Sholay had great music, action and cinematography as well, but without the actors' ability to pull off those characters everything else is meaningless. But when an actor can pull you into a story with his or her portrayal that's when everything else falls into place and you, as the audience, start to notice the brilliance of a story or film.

It surprises me when I speak to writers and find out how little they understand about language, characterization and the ability to create characters which the audience can relate to. Today a majority of writers a busy penning stories where actors seem to be playing themselves, yes there are those gems once in a blue moon where you can see the talent of a writer, actor or director but they are too few and very far between. But what a wonderful world it would be if only writers could understand the art of language.

© Anant Mathur. All Rights Reserved.

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