Sunday, April 09, 2006

Favorite Screenplays

The Writer's Guild of America, in its first ever best-of list, has chosen Casablanca as the best screenplay of all time. The news led me to think about screenplays in general. I think the screenplay is the most important aspect of a film since a good screenplay can make us overlook deficiencies in most of the other departments of the film.

I know that the screenplay is what makes a story suitable for the big screen. But beyond that, I am not clear about exactly what makes up a screenplay. I'm never sure where the story ends and the screenplay begins. I'm not sure how much of the script is part of the screenplay. I'm not even sure in what state the director gets a screenplay in hand or how much of it he can change as he directs the film. With such vagueness about what the screenplay is, it didn't seem fair coming up with a list of any sort. So I thought I'd just write about some of my favorite screenplays in Tamil movies. And I found that all my favorites could be thrown into 1 of 3 categories.

Tamil cinema, for the most part, has seen stories being told in a linear, chronological timeline. The only break in the timeline occurs when there is a flashback. So any movie that attempts something different from this straightforward narration catches my attention. One of the few movies that attempted this among older movies was Andha Naal. It juggled its stories skilfully as each person came up with his own version of how Sivaji could have been murdered. We've seen more such narrations recently ofcourse. 12B threw up the question of how different a man's life would've been if he'd caught a bus instead of missing it and presented both versions of his life in a fascinating manner as they converged and diverged at various points. Virumaandi presented the same story(with slight embellishments in one case) from two different points of view, showing us how the truth can be spun. Aaydha Ezhuthu presented a key incident in the lives of three youth and then moved back in time to show their lives as they led to that point.

A good screenplay is capable of presenting the simplest of stories in an engrossing manner. And it can make a cliched story seem completely fresh to us. My favorite example of the former is Agni Natchathiram. Manirathnam blew up a 1-line story about warring step-brothers into a stylish and entertaining affair. The sheer energy in the meetings between Prabhu and Karthik and the cuteness of their romances made the film slick and thorougly entertaining. Films like Dhill, Dhool and Gilli would be good examples of the latter. Dharani presented the same 'common man against powerful man' story in each of movies but made it seem fresh each time with the help of his screenplay.

Sometimes a screenplay amazes us with its cleverness in developing its plot points. Two movies that immediately spring to mind in this category are Aboorva Sagodharargal and Michael Madana Kamarajan. As I've said several times before, the screenplay developments(like the puli - puliyaattam connection) that made Raja the suspect for Appu's crimes in Aboorva Sagodharargal are simply amazing. Michael Madana Kamarajan's screenplay was almost a wonderfully choreographed dance in the way it fashioned interactions between the 4 look-alikes 2 or 3 at a time, before bringing all 4 of them together at the end.

I'm sure there are several more wonderful screenplays in Tamil cinema over the years. But the 10 movies I've listed above would probably be the ones that make it to the first draft of my top 10 list in this category.


At 12:16 AM, Blogger மு.கார்த்திகேயன் said...

It is impossible to make K.Bhagyaraj and Screenplay to put in two different plates. KB's (Here K.Bhagyaraj) screen play was very popular..still people are amazing how he made 80's 90's with his powerful screenplay.

When he accepted to do a movie for AVM, he gave entire script in hardcopy to AVM with a movie named as Munthanai Muduchchu..and they were very much impressed..and he didn't make any changes in that screenplay..He is such a wonderful Screenplay writer..with lot of small stories got inserted in the movie which would be a twist in that..The famous Thavani Kanavugal, Darling..Darling..Darling..Thural Ninnu Potchchu..Oru Kai Osai,Enga Chinna Rasa,recent Rasukutty, Veetla Visheshanga, Sundara Kandam..

I loved his way of screenplay with nativity and introducing many new things to end viewers..Only his Enga Chinna Rasa did lot of advertisement on family planning than government ads at that time..

And also, We can say Puriyatha Puthir, a thriller and KSRavikumar's film, has a different story and Screenplay. You can't expect the killer still the Climax..Like Putiyatha Puthir, Kalaignan also had differnt screenplay.

Balaji, You can add thriller movies also in a differnt screenplay Category.

At 12:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MMKR is, well, MMKR! Oh, the sheer genius!

At 1:51 AM, Blogger pagala'k' said...

The alai paayudhe screen play was a little different as well...I am not sure if the audience were prepared for it.

I think Lingusamy is good at screenplay's. I think Run's storyline was also a one liner- guy likes girl but girl's brother is against love. But it was engrossingly told.

Similarly Goutham's screenplay for Kaakha Kaakha was different from the run of the mill cop movies.

And yes, the whole "how much of the script is part of the screenplay/story ending and screen play beginning" issue has been nagging for quite sometime :).

At 5:56 AM, Blogger anantha said...

Yes.. MMKR! Thank god for peer technology!

At 7:44 AM, Blogger skanda said...

i think shankar is one of the best screenplay writer today..check out "kaadhalan', and "jeans" which werew just one line stories.."Indian" had a terrific screenplay which is tottaly unpredictable.....

At 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must agree with MMKR screenplay. That was Kamal's best comedy. Even though the story was out of the world, the screenplay made it extremely believable and enjoyable. And the fact that they had a slick editing, which doesn't happen for most movies. I can't really think of one scene I would take away from that film.

Gilli was enjoyable too.


At 11:28 AM, Blogger Filbert said...

I agree with Karthik about Bhagyaraj. One of the best of all-times when it comes to screeplay. Of the current crop of directors, apart from Dharani, Hari is one other name that comes to my mind instantly. Saamy & Thamizh had very good screenplays.

At 11:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"good screenplay can make us overlook deficiencies in most of the other departments of the film". -- Well Said.

The most Important thing I look in for a movie is screenplay then only the story.
Even if story is not good screenplay can make it excellent to watch. But some times I feel story and screenplay are like
water and milk.

Mine is Usual suspects - all time.

At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice write-up on screenplays, bb...i think a screenplay is something that brings "pace" on screen to a story...i think when we say "taut script" we actually mean, "great screenplay." the way scenes are connected, the manner in which something from an earlier scene is brought to the forefront in a later scene, the point in the narration where a transition is made to a flashback, expertly juggling between tracks, are all part of the screenplay process...
my favs in no particular order:
aboorva sahodharargall
sindhu bhairavi
oru kaidhiyin diary
pudhiya paadhai

At 2:02 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

karthik, completely agree. bagyaraj was a master at screenplays that moved along with an undercurrent of humor.

as for thrillers, i think the twists would be products of the story rather than the screenplay. i guess the screenplay comes into play when seeing how well the suspense about the twists is maintained :) and 'puriyaadha pudhir' did it extremely well.

zero, yep :)

pagalak, i think 1 reason why directors r not attempting different screenplays is this fear about whether the audience will understand it. and our magazines, tv channels, etc. contribute to it. even a slightly different screenplay and u'll find all of them saying something like "this might go over the heads of the layman". i'm afraid they dumb the audience down too much.

anti, peer technology?? what is that? :)

At 4:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

balaji, salangai oli has a good screenplay too...

and dont know if you've watched this movie - flavors (indian english), it has an interesting screenplay as well (similar in structure to AE). its also a very fun movie :)

At 5:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

deepa, Flavors is by far the besttttttttttt indian-english movie i've's funny, touching, insane, insightful, silly and soulful all at the same time...yes, it had a very interesting structure...
lovedddddd the guy who calls up the girl's dad in the middle of the nite and asks, "can i talk to geetha please!"
any other flavors fans here?!

At 5:23 PM, Blogger Filbert said...

Count me in, Ram!! I liked Flavors very much too.

At 5:33 PM, Blogger Babs said...


I dont know if you have watched any of J.Mahendran's movies (he takes a lot from hollywood though), his screenplays are slick and has good twists. His movies like;

Metti (1982)
Nandu (1981)
Nenjathai Killathe (1981)
Johnny (1979)
Poottata Pootukkal (1979)
Utharipookal (1979)
Mullum Malarum (1978)

(coutesy IMDB )

Johnny being my fav, wonderful character building and good story telling.

I agree with Karthik too KB was good (actually both the KB's were :)...the lists goes on like you said hard to come up with'em when you think about it....

At 6:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

am happy to see so many flavors fans!! i absolutely loved the movie & have the dvd too. also, it had a great soundtrack...(ok, i liked it a lot :), so that makes it great automatically ;p)

ram, yep wonderful mix of emotions with an undercurrent of humour, so it never became very heavy or sad.

At 7:32 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

skanda, yes shankar has the ability to transform a cliched story into an entertaining movie. i think 'kaadhalan', more than the others, is a good example of that :)

kajan, am not too fond of the climax. but other than that, i would agree that there's not a single scene that's boring or repetitive :)

filbert, i think hari's later debacles made me forget him. but yes, 'thamizh' had a good screenplay that mangaged to be different from other rowdy movies :)

anon, "story and screenplay are like water and milk" - thats exactly what i meant when i said i'm not sure where 1 begins and 1 ends. u've said it in a great way too. we know they're different but can't really separate the 2 :)

and movies like 'memento' and 'usual suspects' would probably figure on everyone's 'favorite screenplays' :)

ram, glad u mentioned 'oru kaidhiyin diary'. thats one of my fav examples of the power of a good screenplay. if u think about it, every one of the murders, especially the 3rd one, is outrageous and not even remote plausible. but the racy screenplay doesn't make us think about the loopholes in them :)

deepa/ram/filbert, now i feel left out! havent seen 'flavors'. havent seen many of those indian-english movies actually... will rent it soon.

babs, i've seen 'nenjathai killadhe', 'johny' and ofcourse 'mullum malarum'. the last 2 definitely had good screenplays i would say.

At 8:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah, i agree with the implausibility of the murders...but the kinda tension that director bharathiraja, screenwriter bhagyaraj and actor(s!) Kamal Sr. and Kamal Jr. built in the sequences leading up to those murders was fav one was the Vijayan murder, with the "parikshith maharaja" story!

At 8:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

flavors-- yeah bb, u've gotta check it's screenwriting at it's brilliant best.

adhuvum Iruvar-um review pannunge, seekaramaa...

At 10:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i just saw inside man and it has a different innovative ind of way of telling the had some future flashes and i thought the director portrayed it very addition to this, the opening and closing song to the movie is one of the most popular indian songs of the past 10 years, thaiya thaiya from uyire....but the hindi version, chaiya chaiya from dil se, was the one they decided to play...but i was very surprised to hear the song and it gave me a bias for the movie i guess

At 10:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

balaji, do watch flavors & let us know how u liked it, but please please reset ur expectations before that - dont want u to be disappointed or say anything other than +ve abt it :)

some in-glish movies are really good, dont know if u've watched mr & mrs iyer, hyderabad blues - these are among my favs in this genre.

At 10:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bb, letz start a separate post on "in-glish" movies...!
anyways, though on a tangent, will still put in my 2 cents worth:
mr. and mrs. iyer-- a great performance from Rahul Bose, an exercise in subtlety...
hydrebad blues-- looooooooved the 1st part, hattttttttted the sequel.

At 11:41 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

ram, my fav was the last murder. the scene where kamal jumped down from the horse, sword in hand, always gives me goosebumps :)

anon, yeah i've read about the 'chaiya chaiya' song in a few places :)

ram/deepa, already added 'flavors' to my netflix queue :) maybe we can discuss in-glish movies when i write about it :)

At 5:27 AM, Blogger P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

"Kadhal Kottai" had a great screenplay not because it got the national award for best screenplay but i was just blown away by the way the series of incident rises tension level towards the climax. The second half especially is well done. Though i feel the movie and its screenplay goes obsolete with the advent of mobile phones.

At 9:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

suresh, nallavela sonnenge! how could i forget kadhal koattai, one of the trickiest yet smartest screenplays till date...
bb, yeah, that was a gr88 moment in OKD...yeah, seekram flavors paarunge...amsure u'll love it...

At 10:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

balaji, yep will wait for that post :) sorry for going off track here...

while on the topic of screenplay, i thought Parineeta's was good as well. considering its a love story & a semi-period one at that, the movie was pretty compact & had a good pace which kept it engrossing.

At 9:59 PM, Blogger siva said...

I want to list some movies with good screenplay which went un-noticed, and of course Tamil people should be proud because they had, K Baghyaraj, whom many still say as Best Screenplay writer in India

1. Five Star - this is sort of "Katti Mela Nadakkira" story, a guy loving his friend's wife, but the director made the movie worthy as family entertainer

2. Oru Orle Oru Rajakumari - This could have been handled in 2 ways.. "almaratham" type of mismatched identity stuff comic one, or serious one. But KB done excellently with making it a feel good entertainer.

3. Munthanai Mudichu - A typical village story, with mix of all commercila elements, hence with importance to story and equal footage to heroine..

4. Thirupachi - I know this shouldnt be in the good movies list, but i included it here because normally mass directors will include all elements alltogheter troughout the movie. But Perarasu intelligently separated 1st half to comedy and sentiments while allocating 2nd half thorughly to action and heroism..

At 5:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The hindi version of OKD (Aakhri Raastha) directed by Bhagyaraj had a more realistic last murder. For the tamil version, Bharathi Raja excised this scenario in favour of a more dramatic but less plausible scenario.

At 5:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh..forgot to mention ...screenplay of OKD is by K. Bhagyaraj :)

At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a difference between a good screenplay and translating it into a successful movie. To me, mani's movies have a poor story and screenplay. But put the screenplay, treatment, performances together, it is satisfying. Given that, my favorite tamil movie screenplays has to be bhagyaraj but poor execution. And mani/gautham do the other way. Although gautham seems to be the right mix between screenplay to translating it to the screen.


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