By Murtaza Ali Khan
Mayank Tewari has managed to establish himself as a go-to screenwriter for films based on political subjects as far as Hindi cinema is concerned within a short span of time. After writing the dialogues for Ragini MMS, Tewari struggled for a couple of years before he came in contact with Amit Masurkar who went on to cast him as one of the leads in his debut directorial feature, Sulemani Keeda. Subsequently, Mayank Tewari cowrote the screenplay for Masurkar’s second feature Newton. Tewari also headed the team of writers that adapted Sanjaya Baru’s memoir, The Accidental Prime Minister, for Vijay Ratnakar Gutte’s controversial film of the same name starring Anupam Kher as the former Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh.
Here Tewari talks to Murtaza Ali Khan about the challenges of faithfully adapting a book, the growing importance of realism in Hindi films, and his upcoming projects.
Murtaza Ali Khan: You adapted the screenplay from Sanjaya Baru’s book, The Accidental Prime Minister. What were the challenges associated with adapting a screenplay based on an existing work?
Mayank Tewari: The process was very organic. We wanted to stay true to the spirit of the book. We wanted to stay true to the material. Since we were dealing with a non-fiction work often we came across things which don’t lend themselves to a film script. A team of four, including myself, director Vijay Gutte and two others, it took us eight months to get it sorted.
MAK: Your last film Newton too had a very strong political commentary. Are you consciously driven towards political themes?
MT: The way I see it every project that I have done has been unique. With each new project I want to explore my craft in a different light. If you look at Newton, its politics actually works at a micro level but it is the exact opposite with The Accidental Prime Minister, which I only signed because the subjected intimidated me and so I approached it as a completely new challenge. The great irony with our country is that even though everybody is so politically aware we don’t have a tradition of political films. So I think we need films with strong political themes.
MAK: A lot of questions are being asked regarding how faithful the movie is to the actual book. What’s the extent of screenplay’s loyalty to the source material?
MT: Well, we tried our best to remain faithful to the book. The CBFC actually went through each and every scene in our movie in great detail to be sure from which part of the book it’s actually adapted from. The director had to answer to each and every query raised by them and prepare the answers in detail and subsequently present in front of them. We went through the due process and everything was scrutinized in detail. In fact, a lot of stuff had been taken out and some of the dialogues had to be muted as per CBFC’s instructions.
MAK: Did you experience any morality crisis while working on the film? Did you ever think you will not be able to do justice to the book’s subject matter?
MT: Of course, it was a big challenge to first adapt the book and then to make a film on it. But it has been our endeavor to do justice to the book as well as its subject. The Accidental Prime Minister has pushed the envelope greatly and I think now a lot of people will seek out material like this and try and adapt it into a film or a TV series.
MAK: What kind of involvement you had in the film after the screenplay was complete? Also tell us about your association with the director.
MT: Typically a screenwriter’s job is done once the screenplay is complete as the director completely takes over from that point onwards but here my involvement extended much beyond delivering the screenplay. The credit for that goes to Vijay. He used to invite me to the set every day and at times we would change the dialogues for day’s shoot in case we felt a need for it. Sometimes it would annoy the actors but we did what we felt was best for the movie.
MAK: In today’s times how much of the screenplay writing is about realism and how much of it is drama?
MT: I believe drama is very essential to any screenplay. I don’t think anybody would be interested in a story that doesn’t have conflicts. At the same time you have to be real. The old style of dialogue-laden writing no longer works today. Even the scenarios and dialogues in the screenplay today are getting very close to what we actually witness in the real world.
MAK: What are your upcoming projects?
MT: I have written the upcoming Netflix series Bard of Blood which is based on the novel by Bilal Siddiqui. Then I am developing another show for Netflix. Also, I would be doing Vijay Gutte’s next film but it’s a bit too early to talk about its subject.
Murtaza Ali Khan is an independent film critic based out of Delhi, India. He is the editor-in-chief of A Potpourri of Vestiges and is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. He has also contributed to The Hindu, The Quint, Wittyfeed, etc. He is on the guest panel for live discussions on the television channel News X. He is Films Editor at Café Dissensus.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
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