“Aaj is baat ka bhi yakeen ho gaya, ki hamari filmmon ki tarah hamari zindagi mein bhi end tak sab kuch theek hi ho jata hain, happies ending, aur agar theek na ho to woh ‘the end’ nahin, picture abhi baki hain mere dost, picture abhi baki hain.” (Om Shanti Om, 2007)
You probably know who uttered this iconic speech but do you know who was the mastermind behind this famous dialogue? It was Mayur Puri and he has penned this and many other fabulous lines in his work as a writer in Bollywood. You have heard his words in Om Shanti Om, Love Story 2050, My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves, Fight Club, and Meri Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai. Besides quoting him, you have also sung his lyrics when you sang along to the tune of ‘Jaane Kya Chahe Man Baawra’ from Pyar Ke Side-Effects, ‘Bheegi- Bheegi’ from Gangster and ‘Teri Ore’ from Singh Is Kinng, to name a few. Recently BollySpice got the chance to catch Mayur on a break from his new film for Tips, Season’s Greetings, starring Vivek Oberoi, and he thrilled us with his fantastic answers to our questions on all things writing. Enjoy!
When did you start writing and did you know this would turn into a profession?
I started writing at the age of four. It took me another 10 years to realize that I could make money off it. A girl in high school told a friend of mine that ‘…your letter was so sweet, I’d pay someone to write it for me’ and he said: ‘I already did’. He was lying. He hasn’t paid me yet.
You penned the dialogues for last year’s blockbuster, Om Shanti Om. The audiences will tell you that the movie had some of the wittiest lines in years. In particular the clever dialogues carrying connotations of stereotypes in Indian cinema and also the unforgettable scenes of the Southern film industry. What was your reaction when Farah posed such a challenge to you? Any secrets you can reveal that helped you create these legendary lines?
There’s only one secret to good writing. You have to be the character. You have to live out their life. The closer you are to them, the easier it becomes to achieve what we say ‘rasa-nishpatti’ in Natyashastra, or ‘catharsis’ in western terms. So for you it might be a witty line when you see the film, but for me, when I’m writing it, that’s the only natural reaction that I can have as that character. Take for example the scene where Shahrukh and Shreyas are dressed up as Dacoits and they talk about how their moustaches will help them avoid being recognized. Now, this might be funny to an outsider, but I’ve been on the sets of Bollywood movies since 1999 and I know for a fact how much the junior artists want to be a part of the crowd but not the recognizable face in the frame. Yes, it is ironic but true. They think it ruins their chances of landing a leading role in future.
It is sad, this dichotomy, this tug of war between the reality and dreams. So yes, it’s funny and stupid behavior but I totally empathize with it. If I couldn’t, the humor won’t be real. You can’t carry jokes from a book and put in a film script. You have to know your characters. Nothing is funnier than life. Nothing is as dramatic either.
In your short time in writing dialogue you’ve done three quite opposing genres, Comedy (Om Shanti Om), Action (Fight Club) and Sci-Fi (Love Story 2050) what was it like switching between such vastly different genres? Which is your favorite genre to write for?
Fight Club had very little work from me. Most of the scenes I wrote never came out the way they were supposed to. I’m not washing my hands off a flop. Please. I also wrote My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves which was a bigger flop but I stand by it. In fact I have written equal number of hit and flop films. Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai did well. That was my first. It will always be special. But that genre (Rom-com) is like lefty batting for me. Comic dramas like OSO also come naturally to me (I am a very filmy person). Though I’m supposed to be good at comedy and romance I believe I can write a dark film pretty well.
What I personally enjoy is aspiration-al stuff, like ‘My Name is…’ but I guess audience wants me to write more comedies. I don’t like to restrict writing into genres. Hindi films are a genre by themselves and I really enjoy those moments in a script when you are actually bending genres. Like the first couple of scenes in ‘Mere Yaar…’. Before it becomes the typical family fare that YRF movies are, we had a great time establishing a very urban, post-modern friendship between Uday and Bipasha. Those were fun scenes and paved way for a lot of ‘cool’ boy-girl friendships that we saw in later movies. Likewise in OSO there are lot of genre bending moments. In the middle of comedy, there’s a romance, in the middle of romance there’s a quest. Especially in the second half, the screenplay plays with genres like a paintbrush in a palette. A dab of this and a dash of that… I love this kind of challenges. For me writing a scene is as much as writing a movie. Every scene needs to have its graph sorted.
How do you feel when a film that you have contributed to, like Love Story 2050, does bad at the box office?
Devastated. Even more devastated when the critics pick on and ruin my lines. But I live for the day and I guess I’m getting wiser if I may say so. I ask myself: So what went wrong, smart guy? And I realize where I’ve not been smart.
I actually, enjoyed writing the first half of Love Story 2050. I think we had some cool moments there. I admit that the second half needed more work. I learnt a crucial lesson from this failure. One should never give up on writing a film while it’s still in the making. Shooting is just the beginning. You can keep writing till the movie is released. What makes sense today may not make sense six months later. Every scene has a sell by date. If it doesn’t work you must, must, must axe it. I learnt from this failure that I should put my foot down as a writer more often and not give up the fight.
How much editing and re-writing do you do while on set? Does it stay the same or does it change a lot?
I never go on the set unless expressly requested by the director. While on the set, I never open my mouth unless expressly asked for my opinion. Whatever changes, editing, re-writing happens on the set is entirely done by the director and his team. I give my work before the schedule starts rolling. But it also depends on how long the movie remains in production.
Sometimes the writing goes on while the movie is still being shot. In fact, I’m changing my style of work now, to be more on the set. I think it makes a difference. Earlier, I didn’t want to make my directors uncomfortable. But I think I should now. Better they fret and fume while I’m on the set, than me fuming when I see the edit.
The name of a dialogue writer may not be something audiences regularly know or recognize however their work certainly is. Lines from Sholay are something that never seems to die. Would you like your career to leave a mark behind as well?
I’d rather be known as a loving father and husband when I’m gone than a writer with n number of awards. See, if you are at peace with yourself, you don’t need approval from anybody. I don’t. I write because that’s a job that gives me satisfaction and means of livelihood. If my passion would be to clean the roads I’d happily be a municipal worker with as much pride and dignity as I have now. As long as I do my day’s work honestly, I don’t care about what posterity or even the present generation thinks of my work. I really don’t give myself that kind of false importance.
Have you come across a time when you heard or saw someone quote lines by you?
Yes. Yes. It happens all the time and I love it. On the sets of Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai, the entire crew started off saying ‘Hai aaj mere yaar ki shaadi magar main khush nahi hoon…’ whenever I walked in.
‘Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost’ is milked by almost every other writer on TV and shows. Now even in films! Rohit Shetty called me to work together on the next film and I said first pay me for using “Picture abhi baaki hai’ in Golmaal Returns!”
Last year, I stopped at an Udipi restaurant in Juhu for a quick bite — same place where I used to hang around when I was poor and struggling. Then a bunch of young college kids walked in. Five of them. Two couples and a loner. One couple was lovey-dovey and the other was in the middle of a spat. Then the loner started singing: ‘Adhi adhi jaagi, aadhi aadhi soyi, ankhein ye teri to lagta hai royi, lekar ke naam humara… aa ha ha ha …’ That’s the antara of ‘Bheegi Bheegi’ from Gangster! I almost had tears in my eyes. I realized how good I was at my work and how underpaid. I immediately raised my price.
What has been your favorite line or set of lines you have written?
I think my favorite line has to be the ‘Filmfare speech’ I wrote for OSO. That’s what I would have said in real life if I would get an award. Ironically, Filmfare nominated me for the best dialogue writer’s award, but never sent me an invite to attend the function! I only got to know that later from Rishi Kapoor. He said you knew you were not getting the filmfare? That’s why you didn’t come? I said ‘What? Was I even nominated?’ He said ‘Duh! Yes!’
I still can’t get over it. I mean, I have friends in the times group. I think I had. It’s not about the award. They should’ve called me to the function at least. Even if I was not nominated, I’m one of the biggest writers around. Next year I’ll have movies worth around 150 crores that depend on my lines. How can they ignore me like this? I’m the only writer who doesn’t belong to a camp. I work for everyone democratically. How many A-list writers are working on movies that they are neither directing or producing.
What do you think of dialogue in Hindi films these days? What about Hollywood films?
I think the dialogues these days in Hindi films are getting real, conversational with a lot of humor. I like the work of Imtiaz Ali’s, Anurag Basu and Abbas Tyrewala. I guess Raju Hirani is an exceptional writer and so is Vishal Bhradwaj.
In my humble opinion, Hollywood films are churning out a lot of trash these days. But there’s some exceptional work as well. I can’t forget the line ‘ God left this place a long time ago…’ from Blood Diamond. Genius.
Recently you wrote a song for Singh Is Kinng in which international singing sensation Snoop Dogg was part of, how was the experience of working with him? Did you have much interaction?
I’m extremely sorry to burst your bubble but that is the only song in the album that is not written by me. In future, if at all I get a chance to work with any kind of Canine, I’m sure it’ll be quite an honor and a lot of fun. (laughs)
Which is harder to write lyrics or dialogue? Before you begin the writing process what sort of preparation do you go through whether it be a song or the dialogue for a film?
Both. Each time you get down to write something it’s the time that decides how easy or difficult it is to complete. In case of lyrics it happens much faster and in case of dialogues you need to retain the right frame of mind for an insanely long amount of time. That’s the only difference.
As far as preparation is concerned, it depends on the subject. I do intensive research for dialogues. I’ve a team of research students and scholars help me, to source out the geographical and cultural references of any place or people that I’m writing about. I’m generally good at languages so dialects and diction are fairly easy to incorporate in the script. I do my bit, but then it depends on the director and the actor to make it work.
But that is not the case all the time. For some subjects I stay away from research and dig into my personal memories. OSO was one of them. Farah wanted me to see a couple of 70s movies and I told her ‘Farah, if I need to see a movie to write OSO, I’m not qualified to write it.’ I just became a child and remembered all the movies that I saw back then… It all came back in a flash.
What is your favorite song? Is there a song that for you the lyrics really stood out?
I’ve innumerable favorites. It’s difficult to pick a handful of songs. My all-time favorite lyricist is Anand Bakshi. Two generations have grown up listening to his songs. If you think it’s nothing, try and play Antakshri and keep a count of Bakshisaab’s songs. I bet you every third song will be his.
I’ve always admired Sahir Ludhianvi for his passion and intensity, Shailendraji for his simplicity and Majrooh Sultanpuri for the fun and naughtiness he brought to hindi film songs. Yogeshji has written few but fantastic songs as well.
I’m a fan of Gulzarsaab. How can you write ‘chaddi pehan ke phool khila hai’ unless you are a blessed freakin’ genius!
Prasoon Joshi of course is brilliant. I wish I had written lines like ‘Har dil mein budbud karta H2SO4 hai..’
And while I’m at it, an honorable mention has to go to Irshaad Kaamil for his work in ‘Jab We Met’.
What is your favorite lyric you have ever written?
I’ve a long way to go as a lyricist. I just wish I get the right projects.
Out of the twenty odd songs that I’ve written so far three are special to me for various reasons. ‘Jaane Kya Chahe Man Baawra’ from Pyar Ke Side-Effects, ‘Bheegi- Bheegi’ from Gangster and ‘Teri Ore’ from Singh Is Kinng
Who is your favorite director?
Farah Khan. In my humble opinion she’s the best director that Bollywood has right now. We don’t know what a genius she is. I think even she doesn’t know it (laughs)
Which actor or actress do you think has the best dialogue delivery?
Undoubtedly, Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan. In yesteryears, Baljraaj Sahni and Dilip Kumar had remarkable dialogue delivery.
In Saajan there’s a scene where Akash (Sanjay Dutt) calls up Pooja (Madhuri Dixit) and asks her why she didn’t speak to Aman (Salman). She says ‘…zaroorat hi nahin rahi…’ Best line ever delivered by a bollywood actress. And yes, Juhi Chawla’s giggly act in the prologue of Andaz Apna Apna! How could I forget that!
You were the assistant director of Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai and associate director of Dhoom. Any plans to go into direction?
Yes. Very soon. Hopefully this year itself.
I’m getting tired of doing all the creative work for other people. I think, and then convince myself to write first which by itself is a very tiring ordeal. Then I write… then explain again and again how it should be done… Then it doesn’t get done how I thought it should be, so I go into corrective measures… Let’s cut this, let’s do that… It’s crazy. If I worked for myself, it would be far less work. I must direct now. All my friends, colleagues are tired of telling me to direct.
But it’s scary you know. The first film? It has to be special. It just cannot be another romance or comedy… It has to be something special. Something more than just a film. Shit! I’m thinking aloud again.
You also did a small role in a film, what was that like and would like to extend this part of your career or was it an ‘in the moment’?
I definitely took up the acting ‘in the moment’. Farah coaxed me into doing the Gujju director’s role in OSO, by saying that face recognition is very important in our times and since I have no PR skills that’s my only hope to have some kind of recall with people. I thought she was joking but when I saw the response of my minute and a half gig in OSO, I realized how true she was.
I enjoy all the attention I get as an actor and I’m planning to do one film every year as an actor.
You are currently shooting for your next film for Tips in South Africa. Is this the project with Vivek Oberoi? Can you give us any details about the project?
Yes, the film that I’m currently shooting for is an action thriller. It has an extremely slick screenplay by Shiraz Ahmed and my job was only to write dialogues for it. Vikas Gulati, is the young debutant director for this film. He’s really cool. Vivek as a co-star is a pleasure to work with. I’m very impressed by his sincerity towards his work and Kumarji has been the guiding light for this project. His vision is truly magnanimous.
What else are you working on? What is coming up next?
I’m working on a dozen of projects at the moment for various producers. I have multiple film deals with Eros Entertainment, Ramesh Taurani and Kumar Taurani of Tips and Shri Ashtavinayak Cinevison. Incidentally, my next release Blue (Shri Ashtavinayak Cinevision) is slated to be the biggest film ever made in India. I will have at least 2 more big releases as a writer next year.
I’ve already expanded my work span with my own production company, FlickerFilms Inc., that specializes in PRS (Pre and Post Roll Solutions) Flicker Films has successfully finished it’s first project, Jumbo, for Percept Picture Company.
Next year I’m starting another company with Vishal Anand, who was the technical director of recently released Roadside Romeo. This company will explore the possibilities in alternate and independent cinema.
But writing is and will always be my first love.
We were already huge fans of Mayur’s work, and after receiving his funny, amazing, in-depth answers, we are even bigger fans now! We thank him for taking the time out from his numerous projects to talk with us. He truly has great talent, and we can’t wait to hear the next lines we will be quoting to each other to remind us of scenes – or in some cases act them out! We also look forward to seeing his first film as director and wish him the best of luck!