- Published on
Simile, you are on camera
- Karthik Narasimhan
Making a movie is hard work. There is much thinking involved – plots and premises; characters and camerawork and a whole slew of such things, but if you ask me who has the hardest job in filmdom, I'll unhesitatingly raise a metaphorical arm and say: The Dialogue Writer. What is the easiest job then? Why, Lyric Writing, of course. Now if you are one of those fancy-schmancy Hollywood types that knows not what a Dialogue Writer or Lyric writer is, go away.
On second thoughts, do stay: Losing sixty percent of my two person strong regular readership is bad, so I will explain. Now here is how it works. After a plot is decided upon, a screenwriter sits down and writes the entire screenplay but wherever the screenplay has characters talking, he leaves the page blank. Like so:
Shriya enters the room from the left.
Sanjay is sitting on the bed.
Now Sanjay hugs Shriya. Takes off her red saree to reveal a black saree inside. Sanjay now brings his lips closer to Shriya's lips. Giant rose covers lips. Shriya wipes off her lips sensuouly; camera focuses on her waist. Music begins. Cut to song.
Now Ms. Fancy-Schmancy, if you are still there, the person that fills the first set of blanks is the Dialogue Writer. And, yes, the person that fills the second set of blanks is the Lyricist.
In the real world, a conversation between Sanjay and Shriya would probably go,
Shriya: Hi, you are late.
Sanjay: Hello, you are hot.
Shriya: Thats so sweet, thank you.
Sanjay: Let me take off your clothes now.
Ok, I will stop here. My mind wandereth.
Once upon a time, the person that filled the first set of blanks had a clear-cut job description: he was to write exchanges that were completely different from any real world exchange ever. So he would write something like
Shriya: Sweetheart, why art thou cometh late. I waited long, took a shower, and have withered like yonder flower.
Sanjay: Huh? I had to go to the loo. But now that I'm here, let me stick to you like glue.
The more unrealistic it was, the more people would clap and whistle. Easy enough. Today though, things are murkier. The Dialogue Writer is expected to be a little bit more realistic, but if he writes something like “Um, you smell good, let's have a go at it,” the censor board will immediately intervene and do a couple of things:
1. Misspell the dialogue as “Um, you small goon, let's have a go at it.”
2. Mark the dialogue as offensive, and ask that it be removed.
So now the dialogue writer has to go back and write something that fits the lip movement but is not offensive anymore. Like, “Um, your mail came. Let's take a look at it.” Imagine doing this constantly for every line. Very hard work. There is some hope though: A new technique that consists of Sanjay making violent speaking motions with his mouth, with sound muted is doing the rounds. But that will be for a later post.
Fancy-Schmancy? Please don't go away now. I will grovel. Will buy you coffee when we next run into each other. Maybe a Mocha Latte from Starbucks.
Now a lyricist has no such worries. All that is required to be a successful lyricist is is a certain set of easily available tools – the metaphor, the simile and the names of ancient works of Tamil literature. There is minimal interference from the censors, and whatever interference there is can be circumvented with ease. Say you are asked to write a steamy song to describe the courtship betwen the lead couple, you just reach into your toolkit and pick the tool of choice. For example, in this song, the lyricist uses a metaphor (from the movie Mazhai, starring someone called Ravi and the real Shriya, who is not in any way related to the Shriya in our screenplay).
Let your kisses be the hammer
that drives a nail into my brain
It should be obvious by now that metaphors in songs don't really need to make sense. You just say Y is like X, where X and Y can be quite random. And there is plenty of latitude. Imagine Ravi saying “Let me put my sword into your scabbard” to Shriya. That would drive the censors into apoplexy (and create a new record for bad spelling). But on the other hand, a lyricist can effortlessly slip in stuff like that in a song and no one will blink.
Let out bodies unite
like a sword and a scabbard
Or you could say,
Let me be the Thriukkural
to your Kurunthokai
where Thirukkural and Kurunthokai are the names of literary works. Naturally, the names chosen here are random. You could put Silappadhikaram instead of Thirukkural and no one would care. In this case, people will call this gibberish literature and even try to slip a few awards to you. Yes, that's how easy it is.
Occasionally though, some lyricists go overboard and the censors notice.
In your hand a pile of books
And you, a pile of sex.
And when they gently chide you for using the word seks, you just pick a random word from the dictionary that rhymes. In this case the song became,
In your hand a pile of books
And you, a pile of Vicks.
Yes, that's how easy it is. We got our favorite lyricist to comment on this, and he said:
This is easy, I sound the horn
as easy as eating a cob of corn
you can even slip in some p*rn
and the dialog writers will go darn.
Fancy-Schmancy, please wake up and smell the corn. If you are wondering about the releavance of the title to the post, I'll put you out of your misery by confessing that I am not too sure either. But it seemed very cool, and the words simile and camera appear in the post.
Also posted at teakada
Update: Manoj manages to find a few (non-blogging) people who translate verses much better. Go here. I hope Venky listened to Shriya and let her stay in his cute smile during one of his watery orgies.