[G]reen. That is the colour of Bhubaneswar right now. Literally. And metaphorically too – for me at least, and I am sure, for my co-participants at the International Green Screen Lab 2012, focused on developing quality screenplays for Indian children’s cinema. For an Assamese, the deep shades of green during the monsoons is nothing new, Assam and the rest of North-East India having been endowed with nature’s bounty. But it is the metaphorical green that has engulfed the campus of KIIT University in the Odisha capital that is intoxicating me at this moment – it’s the colour that has inspired this screenwriting lab (click link above for the backgrounder). And it has kind of engulfed my senses too – the idea of writing and making cinema that remains environment-friendly during conceptualisation and execution is too exciting for a person who grew up close to nature but now lives in a concrete jungle called New Delhi.
At this time of the year, Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha, sports all shades of the colour green at its shining best, thanks to the heavy rains that hit the city during the monsoons. It’s my first visit to the city for a longish stay, and as the Air India AI877 flight carrying me from Delhi descended on the runway of the Biju Patnaik International Airport, I could feel the freshness in the air. Soon followed a round of heavy shower, and from the balcony of fifth floor accommodation we are being put up, I could see the rains shifting position along the swathe in the horizon. It was a sight to behold – thick grey clouds above pouring down onto a vast expanse of green punctuated by new constructions here and there. Constructions that will probably obliterate much of the greens, if they continue in the way I could perceive they are being carried out in this city of temples.
The International Green Screen Lab 2012 is a unique screenwriting workshop focused around developing screenplays for quality children’s cinema rooted in India with minimum creation of pollution, minimum use of power, minimum use of plastic, and with minimum manpower – all aimed at maximum possible contribution towards a safer environment as it can be possible during the process of making a feature film. Sounds utopian? – Well, it does, but it’s a thought worth every leaf of every tree that is fighting to survive increasing pollution created by human avarice. And I am in Bhubaneswar with my first-ever feature film script, having been selected as one of the 19 participating writers in the Lab. So, pardon me for being so very green.
For me, selection has been sort of a vindication of my leap of faith, a leap that I have taken to cross the fence, the invisible one that exists between film criticism and filmmaking, perhaps the most difficult fence to cross for any film critic ever. After two decades of writing on cinema (and of course, on many other subjects as a professional journalist and film critic), one is not that young to take such a big risk in life to switch over to a career as a newbie with an uncertain future. But here I am in the Lab, having chucked my journalists’ job with a regular paycheque a year-and-a-half ago in pursuit of a dream that’s not easy to be realised (and that’s an understatement), with a script that I believe would lead to my first feature film as a director.
Ironic would be another understatement when I look back at the previous children’s screenwriting Lab, organised by Eleeanora Images Pvt Ltd (India) in collaboration with the Performing Arts Lab (UK) at Matheran, Maharashtra, four years ago in 2008. Ironic because for that Lab, I was part of the jury that shortlisted the entries. Now, I am no more sitting on the fence as I had been for last several years, thinking whether to take that leap of faith. I have taken that leap – at least I think so – with this Lab being organised in the beautiful campus of KIIT University, and I am firmly on the other side of the fence, as an eager participant who is one of the motley bunch of writers with a fantastically-diverse slate of projects that can perhaps change the face of how children’s cinema is seen in India. The fact that Children’s Film Society, India, which recently took a much-required forward step by having a theatrical release of a film produced by it (Rajan Khosa‘s Gattu), has partnered the Lab makes it an even more important platform, especially when strong support for the country’s children’s cinema movement is as much needed as critical patient needs oxygen.
It’s yet early to actually write down the experience of having a script mentored by experts in a Lab like this (the Lab started on Friday, August 10, and I am writing this on Saturday, August 11), but the first day’s pitching session and discussion with and feedback from the three mentors (German filmmaker Arend Agthe, Indian director-producer Onir and screenwriter Sanjay Chouhan) as well as peers, gave me a fair enough inkling that at the end of the ten days on August 20, my script will emerge in a much-polished shape, and I, hopefully, with a better perception about scriptwriting. My mentor Agthe (the three mentors have six scripts each to mentor) is a veteran and his films have been awarded at and /or screened at prominent festivals like those in Berlin and Toronto, and the initial feedback from him has been extremely helpful in getting another perception to my story.
As I write this, fellow participant Sudipto Sen (director of The Last Monk, Akhnoor, Na Bate Der and producer of Oass) is having a one-on-one session with Agthe. It’s a kind of a quiet discussion they are having. Unlike a bit of fireworks during yesterday’s first session when both put up strong arguments in favour of their thoughts on how Sen’s story should be treated. Like in every participant’s case, the others in the group also put up their questions (including the actors’ mentor Tannishtha Chatterjee) to Sen on which parts of his script were not working for them, and he put forth his arguments on why he was visualising the execution in his way. I won’t mind more fireworks – in our group as well as in the other groups (though I am not privy to what is happening in the other groups), and with regard to my own script too. Because it is fire that purifies gold. If there is any seed of the precious metal in our concepts – metaphorically speaking at least – let the fireworks in the Green Screen Lab make them shine to the level of excellence. The participants are here with an amazing variety of exhilarating concepts – and like expert goldsmiths, the mentors, I am sure, will mould them into exquisite pieces of art by the time we are through with the process, that includes a three-month online mentoring after these ten days of personal interactions. Long live Green Cinema.
[Utpal Borpujari, a National Award-winning film critic and a long-time contributor to DearCinema, is participating in the Green Screen Lab with his screenplay "Ishu", an adaptation of the highly-popular, eponymous novel in Assamese by noted author Manikuntala Bhattacharjya. He intends to make the film in Assamese]