Smriti Kiran: Shakun is one of the most talented directors around, and he’s somebody who believes deeply in learning and also sharing. He has helped MAMI a lot in the past and has been an early collaborator of the Academy in putting the festival back on the map. So, we’ve got a lot to be grateful to him for.
Shakun, what do you mean when you say ‘creating rhythm in a scene’?
Shakun Batra: For the purpose of this session, when I sat down and asked myself what it means to find the rhythm of a scene, I couldn’t come up with a definition. Because rhythm is such an elusive thing, right? It’s not something that’s easy to define. It’s something you feel. It’s like tone. But how would you define tone? It’s something that you internally feel. That’s when I said to myself that I have to find the best way to articulate it.
The version of the definition that I came to is that it’s an intended design by a storyteller to evoke a certain feeling in the audience. I think that as filmmakers, as storytellers, our first purpose is to evoke an emotion. How you evoke emotion through a design – which is how a scene unfolds. That design is, for me, the rhythm. So, it’s not just the pace, it’s everything included. The pace is a part of it. That’s what I came up with. I’m sure somebody has a better definition, but, for now, if this makes sense to you, the rest of the class will make sense. If this doesn’t make sense to you, then you can just say bye to me.
Smriti Kiran: If we were to divide the filmmaking process into four broad categories – writing, prep, shoot and edit – where does the process of infusing rhythm in a scene begin? Could you take us through these key collaborators and explain how the creation of rhythm percolates through these four broad stages of filmmaking?
Shakun Batra: I don’t think it’s possible to make a film without some kind of rhythm. Even if it’s bad filmmaking, it will have some rhythm. It might be fractured. Rhythm pretty much starts in your head. It’s the way you are hearing your dialogues, the way the scene is going to play out. So, for me, it’s divided into four stages.
“The rhythm will be found in dialogues, in editing, in camera. All of these things will work simultaneously, hand in hand, but sometimes one more than the other.”
In the pre-production, during the writing stage, the rhythm is in how you write the dialogues. So, according to me, there are four elements to a rhythm. There is dialogue and the way you hear the dialogue; secondly, there is the way you shoot a scene and block the scene, And, hence, also the camera movement and choreography of actors, which is a dance between camera and actors. The third would be the way you edit a scene, and you can always find the rhythm in any edit. It’s extremely crucial that there’s a rhythm to the edit. Then, the fourth is the way you impose music on it.
In the prep stage, rhythm is in the writing. A great example of that is anything written by the Coen brothers or by Aaron Sorkin. Why does it feel like there’s music to the dialogues? Because it’s written with that kind of music to it. It almost has its own rhythm, how it unfolds, regardless of how you would edit it or shoot it.
If you see the Courtroom scene in The Social Network, or the opening scene which is an eight-page scene of them just sitting on the table, the camera is just on these two actors; it’s not even changing magnification. There’s just great rhythm to the dialogue. You don’t have to do much. Similarly, if you hear the dialogues in Coen brothers’ Fargo, you know that it has got that rhythm to it.
Why did commercial Hindi cinema feel so good? It’s because of the rhythm and the heaviness in the dialogue – the way it landed and the way Mr. Ambitabh Bachchan landed a dialogue. It had that weight. It was written with that rhythm. So, that’s one of the first and foremost things that comes early on when you’re trying to find the rhythm of the scene.
Second, for me, is where the director comes in if he’s not the writer, which is the interpretation of the dialogue. How quick? How slow? How are you going to take a beat? How are you going to take a pause? And, again, in The Social Network, they had a very close collaboration. If you see any of the rehearsals, any of the behind the scenes footage, you always see Sorkin and (David) Fincher just standing together during the rehearsal. They’re hearing it, they’re sharing notes because it’s written to that. In fact, there is an interesting thing about the screenplay of the film.
The length of the screenplay was 160 pages. That’s a no-go for any producer. Most of the studios asked them that they would surely cut it short, right? So, Fincher and Sorkin got together, and Fincher made Sorkin read out the script, and he recorded the script in under two hours. They went to the studio and said that this is the pace. ‘This is how we’re going to speak the dialogues.’ And most of the instructions that were given to the actors while they were playing out the scene, including the opening eight minutes scene, was that they take a minute or thirty seconds out of it. Move along by taking another 10 seconds out of it.
So, it wasn’t so much about ‘give me that emotion, give me that feeling’, it was more about speeding it up, hitting it quicker, getting there quickly. I think what they were trying to do with that is hit the rhythm of the scene, which was intended in the director’s and the writer’s head. They had figured it out very early on in the prep stages. Editing, camera, all came much later to that. As I said, it’s crucial that you find that. One of the shows that I absolutely love, which has a great rhythm, is Succession. Even Veep, where there’s great dialogue writing.
But it’s not always true that dialogues have to have this kind of back and forth rhythm. It’s not always a repartee. In Kapoor & Sons, there is conversational dialogue. The way you and I speak day-to-day doesn’t have a rhythm. It’s not written for that impact. So, the dialogue didn’t have to have such a strong rhythm for Kapoor & Sons. That came in later. For me, it was much more important to create a sense of how these people would speak in the real world. I then imposed rhythm in the second stage as a director blocking the camera.
“You can evoke feelings from the camera movement and how the actors are staged with that camera.”
It’s also important for me to say that if you see any true master of filmmaking or any great filmmaking, all these things work at the same time. The rhythm will be found in dialogues, in editing, in camera. All of these things will work simultaneously, hand in hand, but sometimes one more than the other. So, for me, the dialogues of Aaron Sorkin or Coen brothers always have a rhythm to it which I love.
Moving on to blocking and staging. Some call it blocking, some call it staging, some call it actor choreography, and even camera choreography. There are two ways to do this. Sometimes you just block a scene with people and then you decide where the camera should be. The other way is when the camera and actors have been designed together. It’s almost like there’s a dance going on. For me, any (Steven) Spielberg has that kind of beauty in how it’s choreographed. Even though the dialogue might not have that rhythm, it’s the way a (Martin) Scorsese or (Alfonso) Cuarón or Spielberg (that’s why I call them masters) would bring this music to the way the camera moves, which would create rhythm. Even if there’s no background score, there is this feeling in the way the camera moves. The feeling that they want to evoke comes from how the camera moves. It’s how Spielberg would go from a wide to a close. How Scorsese would add chaos to the camera movement that would evoke that feeling. So, you can evoke feelings from the camera movement and how the actors are staged with that camera.
Smriti Kiran: Once you’ve got a draft that’s shoot-ready and the technical recce and location recce can begin, what happens to the script once the DOP and the director decide to fit that script in those spaces?
Shakun Batra: Yes, I think that it changes, and I think rhythm is not just tone. It’s ever-evolving. It doesn’t stop. You define it at the writing stage, you define it at the camera stage, then you redefine it at the editing stage and lastly with the background music. You’re defining how the design will work on each stage.
I always look up to directors where the craft almost seems very decisive yet hidden. It’s not something that they are being flamboyant about, but when you study them carefully, you can see that they’re taking a lot of time to put little, little things to make you feel a certain way.
Everything in a film by a great filmmaker is to evoke a feeling. ‘How do I get it?’ ‘How do I do that?’ So, yes, what happens generally on a recce with your collaborators in tow is that you begin to go through possibilities of all that could be done. You start to feel what a location offers you, and how that could change the rhythm of the scene sometimes. This wasn’t the case in The Social Network. It was very well defined by the dialogue, and they had to go that way. But, yes, in Kapoor & Sons, at times, things changed. I always knew I wanted to move with these people to feel the authenticity of how they live.
So, I was always looking for a house, a location where I would be allowed to go with them. But once I found it, I almost re-designed and wrote my dialogue to fit a certain duration. If a character needs to go from here to the kitchen, and if I need to be with him, then I need to give him an extra line, or it’s almost like wanting to pick one line out because I’m getting there too quick. You have to make minor adjustments as you go forward.
Also, sometimes, you have a short scene, but you want to do a longer camera move because it feels right in your view as to how you want to design that shot, and then you’re like, ‘Oh, I need to add a couple of lines’. The same happens when you’re designing. In a couple of incidents, I was definitely trying what I call ‘short oners’. They weren’t entire scenes shot in one take, but they were these short, short oners, which would hold for maybe 30 seconds, 50 seconds or one minute. In fact, my dream at that time was to do the entire end sequence as one shot, and I failed miserably. I kept designing it, but I couldn’t find the rhythm. I couldn’t find the rhythm of the shot that would give me the feeling of the family coming together in the end. I then broke it down.
“I wanted to free myself. So, I kept telling myself that I will not storyboard my second film. But because I was so nervous, I started to think a lot more about how I wanted it to unfold, how I wanted to shoot.”
It’s these things. You have a design in your head, and when you’re on location doing recce, you are wondering if that design will fit and if that design will allow you to evoke a feeling. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the location will help you design it even better.
Smriti Kiran: Could you please elaborate on what you mean when you say ‘I do a lot of my directing before I go on set’?
Shakun Batra: I, by nature, like to go prepared. If some of you have seen my first film (Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu), I was very young, and so, I was all about showcasing my craft. I wanted people to see that I knew how the camera’s placed so precisely and how the colour palette is so well thought out. I was all about the technicalities to pop out of the frames. I was caught up in that. I had storyboarded, picture framed all the scenes in my first film. I do feel that in my first film the design distracted me from the story sometimes; I got too bound by design.
In my second film, I wanted to free myself. So, I kept telling myself that I will not storyboard my second film. But because I was so nervous, I started to think a lot more about how I wanted it to unfold, how I wanted to shoot.
It’s kind of this balance that I try to strike where I prep a lot, but don’t want to be bound anymore by the design that I have thought of on set. On the set, I’m trying to be more open. I’m trying to be more inclusive of what people are bringing in. I do think of two or three people as my key collaborators, whether it’s the actors or the cameraman, and I’m open to their suggestions within the confines of how I see it.
So, yes, I do a lot of prep, but if you’re going to be somebody who’s sincere about their craft, I don’t think you can just go on set and start figuring everything out. A lot of figuring out happens when you are reading a scene, when you’re reading the scene with the actors, when you’re on the tech recce.
Then you give yourself the freedom to see if anything will add more to your design. So, I will not listen to anything that takes away from my design or takes away from what I had in mind. But anybody who brings any more value to it or a different idea that actually makes me go closer to what I want, I’m all up for it. I’m very excited to jump in and be like, ‘Oh yeah, let’s do it’. That happened a couple of times, too, in the film.
Smriti Kiran: Have you seen things drastically change when you’re on set and discover something that you wouldn’t have discovered if you went on ground shooting that particular scene?
Shakun Batra: Oh, yes. In fact, I’m always hoping for that moment where you see something or feel something which you had no idea about because I feel that’s the fun part. It could be a prop that you never thought of which is on set, and now the actors used it and it’s going to change. Even in the scene that we’re going to discuss, I did not know what Rishi (Kapoor) sir was going to be wearing, but he was there with a cap and muffler, and there was a vase with a rose, and I was like, ‘Oh, we should just use all of this’. You know, you come ahead, take the cap, give it to the mother, take the rose, and give it to the mother. Rajat (Kapoor) took the flower and gave it to the mother. All of a sudden it started to add so much value to that scene because it was about them coming together. I’m genuinely hoping for that thing to strike.
Every day when I go on set, I’m always actually looking around to see what I may have missed. In fact, on the set, what I do is that I read the scene before stepping on the set. So then when I’m on the set, I’m just looking around to see what may add or be different from what I wrote. I want to be surprised. I would love for that thing to happen as much as it can.
Smriti Kiran: How do you block an extensive, multiple page scene? How do you prepare for that and create rhythm within that?
Shakun Batra: It’s a broad understanding that a 120-page script is about two hours and ten minutes. That’s the general length of a screenplay. When you’re writing they tell you that it’s a minute a page. It’s broadly true.
The ‘Chand Si Mehbooba’ scene from Kapoor & Sons in the screenplay is just about eight lines, and that takes four minutes. The rest of the scene is six pages, which takes two and a half minutes. So, that’s where the rhythm comes in. Even though it’s written like this, you have a rhythm for how it’s going to unfold. So a six-page scene is just the way I’m seeing this overlap, I want the dialogue to come over each other. I want it to be edited in a certain way. It’s going to go much faster because there’s an intended rhythm in my head, which is faster than it is on the page. The inherent rhythm of The Social Network is much faster in Sorkin and Fincher’s heads than it is on the page. It can be vice versa too. It could be a one-page thing that takes two minutes to shoot and unfold. That could happen.
Going back to the blocking and camera movement and how it adds to the rhythm, again, you can see in any Scorsese or Spielberg film – it’s just the camera movement which evokes that feeling. It almost doesn’t matter who wrote the scene, the camera is adding the feel to it.
“Same dialogue, same actors, same blocking, and if the camera would change, everything else would change.”
One of the scenes that I absolutely love from Roma is the chaotic mob frenzy scene in the film. In this scene, even though what’s happening outside is absolute chaos – there’s a mob, hundreds of people – the camera is slow. Alfonso Cuarón could have had the choice of putting the camera in the crowd and feeling the chaos. It would have had a completely different rhythm. It’s almost that he decides the rhythm of the scene by placing the camera away and moving it at a slow pace. It’s that he wants the audience to watch the chaos and not participate in it. Those are two very different things.
If you see the opening of Saving Private Ryan (the Omaha Beach scene), which is one of the most beautiful sequences when it comes to feeling subjective and being in the protagonist’s head, that’s the complete opposite of this scene, right? That tells you how a director can choose and give you a rhythm by knowing where the camera is and what the camera is doing.
In this scene, there is so much happening, but it’s just the way the camera moves and how it slowly exposes everything layer by layer. It’s not a big wide shot followed by close-ups. It’s not revealing everything in one go. It’s revealing the way the director wants it to.
It’s almost like a good player opening their cards. He’s unfolding the scenes a certain way for the audience to enjoy and absorb the information a certain way. Hence, this is a great example of a camera bringing in rhythm. This scene could be shot in a completely different way, and it will not have the same rhythm. Same dialogue, same actors, same blocking, and if the camera would change, everything else would change. So, this is where I feel a great craftsman will come in and design. It’s almost that he knows his design before the edit. You can see it in the entire film that he knows the design of the camera before he knows the edit. He knows how he wants to edit it. And regardless of the dialogue, the camera does the trick here. So, this is another prime example of using the camera as a tool.
Smriti Kiran: Coming to Kapoor & Sons, what did you want to evoke from the family get together scene?
Shakun Batra: Since we’re talking about rhythm as the use of design to evoke a feeling, I was trying to evoke nostalgia and intimacy. Since we had seen this family fight and argue a lot in the film, I wanted the people to feel that they too could be so nice if they didn’t fight, if they came together. I wanted to give this warm, fuzzy feeling. I wanted them to feel intimate. I wanted to bring nostalgia because this is how I felt during my sister’s wedding sangeet practices. This is exactly how I’d felt. My chachas came over and ‘Chand Si Mehbooba’ was the song that they played, and people danced, and I wanted that nostalgia and intimacy from there to come into it. So if that’s the feeling that I’m going for, how do I design all the elements to give me that feeling?
Let’s start with the dialogue. It needed to sound chaotic and overlapping, but not chaotic in the way we’ve seen it in the plumber scene which is at the beginning of the film. It’s chaotic and dysfunctional, and people are not getting along there. Here, it’s chaos trying to create intimacy. Even when they are in the kitchen, you can hear the dialogues from the living room. It feels that they are together. There were a lot of extra dialogues written for the scene, even though I knew that we will never have those dialogues in the film, but it was a system to create an environment where the audience felt that everybody was in the room, and they’re all talking over each other. That’s what I was trying to do.
“I wanted to create intimacy. I wanted to find intimacy in chaos.”
Next, coming down to blocking and camera movement. The camera is not actually doing too much apart from the beginning when it’s coming together. In the beginning, what I was trying to do with the camera was to put the audience in between these people. I’m not watching, I’m making you come and participate as one of the members. So, the camera is constantly between them. You’re constantly in the crowd. You feel like one of them. When somebody is hugging, you feel really close to them because I also wanted to give a sense of intimacy. If you see, there are barely any wide shots because I didn’t want you to stay and watch, I wanted you to participate. I wanted you to feel like one of them. So, that’s the camera.
One of the things that I felt odd about in Hindi films was that, even if you watch Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!, in big party scenes, people just stand there and talk. It’s like theatre happening. But I’m like, ‘You’re not in the theatre, it’s not a stage’. People in our houses move while talking. You will go to the bathroom and keep talking, and somebody will hug then sit on the sofa in the same line. The design that I wanted to create was that you’re hugging this person when you’re talking to somebody as you’re hearing something else and you’re reacting to that person. So, blocking and camera work were designed in a way to accentuate that feeling, that chaos.
I wanted the same thing with editing; I wanted to feel overwhelmed with so many people in the house. You see a lot of reactions of the kid and then somebody saying something and then the dogs come out and then Sidharth Malhotra’s character is playing with the dogs. And so it’s designed in the edit, all these like quick cut-aways that are not necessary for the dialogue. It’s not necessary for the information, but it’s necessary for the feeling that I want, necessary for the mood I want to create. The rhythm of the scene is different than how it would be if you just shot the dialogues. That’s because I wanted to create intimacy. I wanted to find intimacy in chaos. So that’s what I was trying to go for.
The other element or tool for designing rhythm is music. Music sometimes can just change the rhythm of the scene. And part of the reason I put the song in there is because I saw it in my family, and I wanted something more than just dialogue to bring that feeling of them being together. That’s where I think the music came in. It really did add so much to the feeling.
“Am I going to cut the scene a certain way, set to a certain kind of music? Can I just go and, kind of, freestyle on this? These are the decisions.”
When I watch all the other great directors, I’m always in awe of the fact that they are working on their craft on so many levels, starting right from dialogue to camera to blocking to editing to music. It’s all in there. I just don’t know how they do it. That’s one thing that I’m going to keep learning, I am going to keep evolving. I still don’t think I understand staging really well. So, for me, the difference between blocking and staging is that blocking is just moving the actors and placing the camera accordingly. But staging is keeping the camera and the actors designed together. Like the way Spielberg or Scorsese do it. The camera is not independent of the blocking. It’s almost like the camera and the actors are choreographed, like they’re dancing together. If an actor does something, the camera will do that. When you watch Catch Me If You Can, or any Scorsese film, sometimes you just sit there and you just keep playing it again and again.
I was watching Casino a few days ago, and the whole sequence where they’re showing how (Robert) De Niro runs the place, the design in it is everything – the camera, the editing, the music, the push-ins. The push-ins are not part of the dialogue. It’s just there to give you that feeling of ‘Whoa, who’s this guy?’ These elements can really add up.
Another example is the bar scene from the film Out of Sight. It’s purely the design of the edit that’s setting the rhythm in that scene. To give you a little trivia: this scene was written as two separate scenes. When (Steven) Soderbergh read the scene, he said that he’d intercut the two scenes. When the writer came on set, he saw Soderbergh direct the scene and wondered what he was doing. It wasn’t how he had envisioned the scene. He felt that it was too slow, that it would never work. He was just starting out, so he didn’t say much. He went back really upset and then Soderbergh called him in and showed him how he intercut the scene, and it changed everything.
That’s where the edit comes in. It can completely change the rhythm that the writer had and give it a new feeling. The scene wasn’t written with this kind of feel and rhythm and pace, the scene was written with a much more aggressive pace, and Soderbergh came in and said that he’s going to design it like this and cut it like that. It’s a great example of how to set the rhythm with the edit.
With music and edit together, take any Scorsese film and see how he uses music. Take any Wes Anderson film, and you know how he designs music. Take Rushmore: just long tracking shots and the music changes everything you feel about those shots.
Another example I’d like to take here is the out of tune trombone kid scene from Whiplash. Let me tell you, that scene was written like that. The way he (Damien Chazelle) cuts it, the way the music comes in, the way the music overtakes the scene was all written in the script. In this case, rightly so because it’s a movie about music. The way that music is above all of the craft. All the other aspects of the craft are following the music. So, music is on top. Editing after that, camera after that and the performance layering all of that. But it’s music and editing on top. Unlike dialogue, in the Sorkin example that we gave before, which is a scene in the court, here the music comes on top.
So, as a director, you think of these things earlier on: Am I going to cut the scene a certain way, set to a certain kind of music? Can I just go and, kind of, freestyle on this? These are the decisions. These are the things that I like to think of before I go on set – a sense of edit, a sense of music. I might not necessarily stick to it.
Similarly, Fincher had a completely different score in mind, before he went to Atticus Ross for the score of The Social Network. Fincher talks about a track that he wanted to use but the score changed everything on The Social Network. It’s this kind of simmering undertone. It just gave it so much more conflict, an internal conflict which wouldn’t have been possible without the score.
Smriti Kiran: Since there may be multiple creators or co-creators of rhythm, who controls the rhythm across the board?
Shakun Batra: The crazy, megalomaniac, egocentric thing would be to say the director, but it’s really a collaboration. The director will have the final call on the edit table. Mostly, DOPs aren’t present. You could change the rhythm of a scene. So, yes, I think a director could make those very important decisions that will affect how the scene feels.
But what happens sometimes is that, say, a composer, like in the case of The Social Network, will make such a great contribution that it literally changes what the director had in mind. In the case of The Social Network, Fincher kept saying that he didn’t have the track (referring to Hand Covers Bruise), he didn’t have the feeling in his original vision. Fincher asked them to compose, and he started cutting the scenes to the composed stuff. So, it can change. A director can be open to that idea. Sometimes, I do that, where I feel that if it’s a really good score, I change the rhythm of the scene. It could change, but the director has to make most of those decisions. How open is he to changing what at what time?
Q&A with Dial M For Films Participants and Viewers Watching Live on Facebook
Anomittro Banik: Does the actor’s interpretation and mannerisms towards the dialogues change the beat, the rhythm in your films?
Shakun Batra: It could do that but in a minor way. Actors can contribute a lot in terms of how they say it. But how the actors will say the dialogues is defined very early on, like in the case of The Social Network. Even if you look at Javed Akhtar saab or Salim Khan saab’s dialogues, they were written with a certain kind of value. It had to be said in a certain way. So, it depends on what kind of film you’re working on. I know something about Dil Chahta Hai. It was all locked in. Everything was written in the script. Every dialogue was in the script. I’ve seen Farhan (Akhtar) work. I was assisting Farhan. He doesn’t like to change too much.
So, again, yes, it could change, but a director is still the one who controls those things. You can see what the actors are doing and where you want to take it. Even when actors are improvising, it’s not that they are improvising without any feedback. As a collaborator, you may say that you like what they’re doing but you’d rather they didn’t take it in that direction.
Parvathy Thiruvothu: How do you find the core rhythm that should not be changed at all while you allow many other aspects to expand the scene in a positive manner? How do you identify those key narrative beats that you cannot compromise on?
Shakun Batra: It comes from what you want to see in a scene, and what emotion you want to evoke in the audience. I generally have a feeling in my head that I want the scene to have and anything that takes away from that feeling, I don’t do. I have to give you a great story about one of the people that I learned a lot from, Raju (Rajkumar) Hirani.
I once directed an ad which he was producing. It was one of the first commercials that I did, and I really enjoy commercials. Back then, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m just going to do macro lens and then I’m going to shoot it like this and do that’. I went up to Raju sir and explained how I was going to shoot and edit and what music I had in mind. He said, “Vo sab sahi hai. Kahani kya hai?” So, I explained to him the actions of the characters. He said it again, “Kahani kya hai?”
I kept wondering why he was hell-bent on kahani. ‘It’s 30 seconds. It’s going to be over before anybody knows the kahani’. He said it three-four times over two meetings. And it changed everything about how I approached filmmaking. What he was basically trying to say was, ‘All your shots are fine. All your editing is fine. You can do all of this. It’s all great. But what do you want to say? What is it that you want to communicate? What is it that you want the audience to feel?’ I think that’s how you define the rhythm. Once you decide what it is that you want to communicate and make the audience feel, everything that’s happening around you has to add to that feeling, has to add to that communication. If it doesn’t, it’s chop-chop.
There is a great quote by Billy Wilder that I read many years ago, and to be honest, it didn’t make sense to me back then.
He used to write with a couple of co-writers and direct. So, someone asked him if it was important for a director to know how to write? He said, “No, it’s not important for them to write. But it would definitely help if they know how to read.”
Now, it’s a funny joke. But I actually understood it much later that what he means by reading is that directors should be able to read and understand the interpretation or the rhythm of a scene. You should be able to read a screenplay and understand what it needs to do to evoke a feeling. That is another thing that I’m still trying to teach myself because so far I’ve been directing stuff that I’ve written. That’s also part of the reason why I love directing commercials. It is because commercials are scripts written by other people. But they come to you, and then you’re like, ‘Okay, what do I want to say in this?’ Thanks to Raju sir, now it’s about ‘kahani kya hai’.
In fact, now I ask this question to most of my collaborators. For me, that line has changed so much. It’s like when you’re paying attention to spirituality or meditating, the question you ask yourself is ‘who am I?’ Who am I? ‘Kahani kya hai’ is the ‘Who am I’ of storytelling. The more you say it, the more you find what is important and what is not.
Aditya Chandiok: Directors often keep in mind the power dynamics between the characters while staging. Do you let the actors know about the power dynamics while directing, and does that information interfere with their performance?
Shakun Batra I personally feel that actors have so much going in their minds that you don’t need to show them what you, as a director, have thought of. I really want actors to stay in an emotional place within their head. I don’t want to burden them with how I’m going to move my camera or light the scene. Because they’re in the headspace, you don’t want to screw with them.
Also, I choose to speak to different collaborators in different ways. I don’t want to start talking about emotions and backstory with my cameraman. I don’t want to start talking about the camera with my actors unless it’s very crucial for me. Unless I want an actor to move at a certain point because I want a certain look, I don’t want to burden them.
I also think that smart actors already do their work. They’ve already understood the dynamics of the scene. I learnt what not to communicate in my second film. As a debutant director, especially because they feel so insecure, you want to show everyone that you know your thing. Then I shut up in my second film. The directing was about what not to say. I realised that you need to choose your people carefully. You choose people who understand how you want to tell the story and then you speak less. Now, I’m a big believer and a big promoter of what not to direct. I think directing is all about what not to direct. Yes, technically, you can direct everything. But personally I don’t like to go into all of that.
Varshith Parankusham: How much scope is there for improvisation in a dialogue-heavy scene?
Shakun Batra: Sometimes when you work with really good actors, they understand rhythm as well. Every creative person at a conscious or unconscious level understands rhythm. They will give you input. You know, while I was watching the scene from Kapoor & Sons, I was really missing Rishi sir because as much as we fought on the set, he just had a timing for humour. You can’t take that away from him. He just knew how to land a funny line. And when he did that, I didn’t have to say what the rhythm was. He just knew. Sometimes, he would ask me to ask someone else to say their dialogue after which he’d say his in a particular way. So, actors too understand rhythm.
So many times as a director, you just have to learn how to be calm and absorb, especially because the atmosphere on set is so chaotic that you would just be like, ‘I need to control everything.’ Now it’s all about being relaxed. It’s all about hearing people and being able to judge what works for the scene and what doesn’t. I’ve done my homework before. So, I know my intention, and then I’m just going with the flow, and it’s like an ever-evolving thing. It’s not something that you teach once and it’s done. Every time I go on set, even now, I make the mistake of sometimes just being too active and sometimes I just want to show that I know it. I suppose that’s a lesson in life. Every time you think you know it, there’s something going wrong. I do want to change that about myself, and that’s a personal path that I’m taking. It’s not necessary that everyone has to go on that path, but I want to work with collaborators and just be able to absorb and listen, and then make those decisions with a relaxed mind.
Damini Gupta: Have you ever felt stuck or confused about finding the rhythm of a particular scene?
Shakun Batra: It’s not ‘have you ever?’ It’s ‘have I ever not?’ There has never been a time when I have understood the rhythm of a scene. It’s almost like on the day before the shoot, you are still figuring out if you know what you want to do and how you want to do it.
To be honest, a lot of times you don’t figure it out. Sometimes you figure it out once you start blocking and when the camera comes into play, sometimes you figure it out on the edit. It will change in a certain way. How do you solve that problem? Most of the times you solve it in the writing. Most of the times, when you find yourself being unsure about what the scene is, why it doesn’t feel right, it’s in the writing. My feeling, and whatever little experience I have, tells me that if you fucked it up in the writing, it’s going to be very tough to fix it anywhere else. So, even in the edit, actually, why it’s called rewriting is because you’re actually trying to fix the writing.
Edit is still fixing the writing. So, the problems you are fixing are the problems you didn’t see before. I find that a lot. I would write a scene and when I’m shooting it, I’m sometimes thinking, ‘I don’t know what I’ve done wrong’, and I think that I’ve missed something but I can’t feel it. I’m still working every day on the film that I’m going to shoot next, and sometimes I’m still sitting and thinking that I don’t know why it does not feel right. As a director, I have to tell you, and this is something you never tell your producers and studio, you’re always hoping God to be on your side. Like, God will give you a sign which will tell you something bigger that will help you direct. I’m always looking for that moment.
Yes, there are certain things that I know or feel that I have under control, but so much of it is just staying open. If you can stay open, it might happen to you. So, it’s a weird thing. That’s also the transition that I’m making in my personal life, which is to stay open to things happening, taking them and using them.
Nasreen Munni Kabir: I really think that you have such a grasp of filmmaking. You have a grasp of the craft that I find to be extremely refreshing. A person quoted something very good to me recently, they said, ‘It’s an art to hide art’. I felt that the scene you spoke about had a slightly documentary feel. I know you said that you were aiming for intimacy. But how many cameras were involved in that scene? I was also wondering whether there was any particular film that influenced you for Kapoor & Sons?
Shakun Batra: I just want to say before I answer your question that when I first moved to the city, I picked up a book called Talking Films: Conversations on Hindi Cinema with Javed Akhtar. It was one of the first things that I started reading. I still have it. There was something about dialogue writing and how there are three rungs of conversations in dialogue writing. It was one of those things that you read once and it changes how you approach things. So, thank you for writing so much about films. That’s been really helpful. We need more people like you. We just need you for another hundred years. And indeed the highest form of art is to hide art. That’s what you should strive for.
To answer your question: in my first film, I was all about the craft. I wanted the world to know that I knew how to frame a shot, that I knew everything. I was watching Raging Bull, for the third or fourth time, and I was trying to understand its screenplay structure. It dawned on me that the reason the script was so good is because they had hidden all the structure. It didn’t feel like structure anymore. It felt fluid. It started to flow like water. I was taken aback.
Now I conduct a ritual on my work, which I call ‘hiding the craft pass’, which is me looking at a scene and figuring out what here is obvious. Then, I ask how do I hide the obvious because the obvious is the thing that the audience really catches onto. That’s why in Kapoor & Sons, with Fawad’s (Khan) character especially, because I wanted to portray him as a gay man who comes out of the closet in the end, I wanted to give hints, but they couldn’t be obvious.
There is a scene where Fawad’s character and the mother are talking, where she’s drying clothes, and it’s all about Fawad gauging if his mother would ever be comfortable with knowing this. But it’s all about him hiding what he wants to say that the scene gets its value from. I can’t agree with you more.
In fact, I feel, as long as I make films, the journey that doesn’t stop is how you hide your craft because that is an ever-evolving thing. You can feel so much more if you don’t know how I am doing it. It’s like magic. If I don’t show you how I’m doing it, you are so much more in awe of it. As a filmmaker, if I don’t show you what you’re feeling, you’re going to feel more of it.
Anu Singh Chaudhary: What is the role of storyboarding when you’re beginning to visualise the scenes as a director? If there is too much description in a scene, does that hinder your creative process?
Shakun Batra: To address the storyboarding question first: I think it depends. It’s almost like every tool in prep is just to get clarity and to be able to communicate with your collaborator. For Kapoor & Sons, I made it a point not to storyboard because I wanted fluidity in how I saw the film. But for my first film, it was all storyboarded and I knew how I saw every shot because, really at that point, I was a big Wes Anderson fanboy. I wanted to be like that guy who knew his shots and camera. So, clarity is everything if you’re trying to find clarity with storyboarding, and not just for yourself, but also for your collaborators. Coen brothers storyboard the entire film most of the time. If you see Fargo, the rhythm is from everything, from composition to how it’s cut and all of that.
When I first wrote something which didn’t even get made, I thought people would love me for how clearly I saw everything, so I will define how a lamp is placed on both sides of the bed and the colour of the wall and how the curtain moves slowly. This is not how the story is going to move. In contrast, now I just want to understand how the story is moving. I think you just know. You need just about enough information to get the sense of the mood of the room, and then it just needs to feel how it goes.
When Spielberg was working on Minority Report, he called the writer in and he said, ‘Listen, don’t give me too much. If a cop walks from car to a hotel, just write, ‘He steps out and rushes to the hotel’. Don’t give me the feeling of how the cop is feeling and running and rushing because I feel sometimes you get caught up in that, but sometimes it does read beautifully. A lot of times why novels don’t turn into great screenplays is because the beauty is in the description of it. And, yes, sometimes the movies are the same way. Sometimes a movie is beautiful because of how it looks and feels. But I think you should never get lost in description. You should always be with the story. Anything that takes away from the story, and is just describing a feel, a mood, a shot should be quick. Again, that’s a personal choice I’ve come to accept now. So, I don’t like overly descriptive stuff. I want to feel the tone of the scene. If it’s an aggressive walk, I just need to hear, ‘She walks aggressively’. I don’t need to understand how she’s putting one step after the other.
I feel like some people write as if you can literally see the camera move. I think sometimes it’s important if it’s really crucial for that point in the film for me to understand how the camera moves. But if it’s not important how the camera moves, I don’t need to explain it. Just to give you a sense of the Kapoor & Sons scene. I didn’t have to say that everyone does this and the camera feels like it’s in the middle of it – it participates. No, I just wrote, ‘It’s chaotically beautiful’. That’s it. Now I can interpret it. I know what I’m going to do with it.
Viraf Patell: All the scenes that you spoke about share, except perhaps the one from Out of Sight, a three-part structure. Is that a practice that directors or editors like to follow? Also, as an actor or collaborator, what are the healthy ways to sync with the rhythm the director has in mind?
Shakun Batra: Yeah, I think that’s an interesting question because there was a time where I gave a lot of importance to the three-act structure. It has been there since the time Aristotle spoke about it. What’s interesting is that anything dramatic ends up having a three-act structure. Even when you didn’t know the three-act structure, there was a three-act structure. It’s like when your mothers and your grandmothers told you a story, it had a three-act structure. It’s just how stories became interesting. So, even if you just did something completely by instinct, chances are that it would fall in that. But where it comes handy is when you are editing it and you don’t know why it’s feeling like this. Then you try to understand where in the structure you are and then you try to, like, give it shape. You can’t have a climax before the climax. You can’t have a big pay off before the climax because it won’t feel right. Your climax will start feeling small. So, there is a graph to the storytelling. Whether it’s three acts, five acts, the circle, the hero’s journey, even if you know it or don’t know it, those things exist.
I don’t know if it’s a principle or a law, but it’s there. It ends up there. In scenes, it starts somewhere, goes up, peaks, and then it resolves. It could have that and not necessarily always. So, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong. But it’s a thing that can be found in a lot of things on its own. Maybe we are reading too much into it because I don’t think it’s intended at all times, but sometimes it’s just there by coincidence and sometimes by choice.
If you see the scene that I was talking about, the Kapoor & Sons scene, it would feel like it has a three-act structure. The family comes together, there’s chaos, and it all peaks with the music and then it resolves at the end shot of them at the window. Yes, there was the three-act structure there, too, you could say. But was I writing it as a three-act structure? No, I wasn’t. It just helped me in the edit to give it that feeling. That it should drive and then it should resolve.
As for your second question, for me it’s becoming more about how less I do it. It’s not about sitting with an actor and being like, ‘Listen, I must tell you the rhythm of the scene’. I can’t speak like that. It’s just something internal and it’s loose. It’s tough to explain. So I never, as a rule now, try to explain something that is going to be hard for someone to interpret because I feel that it becomes another problem. Now you’ve said something and that person has to interpret how you’re seeing it in your head, which is a complete fuck up. So, I don’t do much.
I literally feel all these things can happen by just saying, ‘little faster’, ‘little slower’, ‘take a little moment here’, ‘you’re maybe thinking about something else’, ‘be a little more definitive’, ‘can you be unsure’. I think you start to pick up on these words, and these words are the best. It’s like you get that but you get that in indirect ways. You never speak about what you are trying to do. You’re trying to achieve it, but you’re trying to throw different things and see what works. I have a list of words that I picked up over the years. I have it on my laptop somewhere. You know, a lot of times, I think, those words are from scripts, in parentheses under dialogues. They’ll have how it is said. Those words were really a new learning for me. Now I speak just in those words. I really think the quicker you can explain yourself to an actor and the quicker an actor can ask you a question, the better it is. Once in a while you do have to get into a conversation, you have to ask about the scene and why it’s feeling like this, and sometimes an actor would come and point out the problem with the scene or the writing of the scene. You can have that. But with rhythm, really just try using these things. ‘Do you want me to be unsure?’ ‘Do you want me to take this in a more definitive way?’ ‘Do you want me to be more aggressive?’ ‘Should I be timider/softer?’ You can find the rhythm with that. I’ll be honest. Another thing that I don’t enjoy is having a five-minute conversation about a half a page scene. I’m like, ‘Give me a break, dude. I need to go shoot this thing.’
I’ll tell you a funny scene. I’m not a very expressive director, to be honest. I don’t compliment actors, and I don’t go all ‘Wow, that was amazing!’ I just always say, ‘Yeah, that’s good. Sure. Move on’. In Kapoor & Sons, there was a scene where Sidharth has to take the dog out for a walk and the dog has to pee. I mean, I can’t direct the fucking dog. He’s going to pee when he’s going to pee, right? But the dog pees on cue. I flip out and start praising the dog. All the actors looked at me and said ‘You have never done this to us. You have never been so happy with any of our performances.’ I was really trying to direct the dog at the moment. So, a dog is the only thing I’ve ever tried directing. Actors are smart. They can do what they have to do. So, it’s just a conversation.
Aditya Bagri: You referenced The Social Network. I’ve seen a lot of Fincher’s commentaries on his movies which he releases. Every time, the actors say that Fincher knows his characters so well that they just have to copy him. Do you also take a similar approach, or do you let the actors interpret their characters in their own way?
Shakun Batra: I know what you’re talking about Fincher. I’m a fan. I listen to his commentaries and interviews. So, yes, he knows his character well, but it doesn’t mean that he’s speaking the part to be active. That’s not the truth. He knows the character psychologically. He understands the character’s mind. It doesn’t mean he’s giving them line readings. It’s not that he’s reading the lines to them or how they have to say it. This is my personal thing, but I believe that’s really an insulting way to work with somebody. If you’re going to tell them what to do, how to do, you should not hire them. I also feel that actors feel small when you do that, and I feel that they know their job better than you know their job. So, let them do that.
But, yes, he understands the character’s psychology and mind. So, he will tell you where you’re coming from and why you need to feel and deliver a certain way for the scene. So, let me give you an example of Fincher. If you followed Fincher when he was doing House of Cards, Robin Wright walked up to him and she’s like, ‘You know, I’m not sure I’m getting this.’ She had just done one or two episodes until then. She was trying to figure out the character. This is when the series had just begun and the idea of the series was situating itself in the consciousness in a big mainstream way. Fincher told her, ‘This is not a film. Do not think of your character from this episode. A series is all about character consistency over time, character behaviour over time. You only understand the character by their behaviour over time.’ Just like you would see Walter White from Breaking Bad. It’s not about defining yourself in one episode. You have 10 episodes to define your graph, 10 episodes to define your journey. So, that’s what he means. He understands the psychology, and he understands that not everything in their character has to be understood in that one second. It has to be understood over the course of the story.
That, for me, is learning again. And, yes, again, I mean, I could be wrong, you know, I know directors who do line readings and they get great results. Unfortunately, I just didn’t belong to that school. I feel like it’s wrong unless an actor comes to you and he/she wants it, or unless you’ve written the scene with a very precise speaking style to dictate what they need to do.
Another example I can give is Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway. He shot a bunch of stuff with Diane Wiest. Then he took her to watch a film called Pygmalion. He showed her the film and said, ‘That’s what I want you to do’, and she understood it. You see that Woody Allen has copied that kind of speaking style in a bunch of his films. So, it can be helpful. But I also think that even if you’re going to do it, you have to find a very, very respectful way of doing it. You should never impose it on an actor. It’s like an actor comes in telling you where to put the camera. You won’t like it, right? It’s the same thing.
Shlok Lalwani: In a scene with an argument, or simply a very busy scene with an ensemble cast, how does one determine the extent to which one can add external factors such as chaos without actually trying to deviate from the main focus of the scene? How much of this is influenced while writing/blocking and shooting/editing that scene?
Shakun Batra: I feel it’s in the writing itself. I feel the other way. If we keep writing about what the scene is about, it becomes boring. If all you understood from a scene is what the scene is about, it’s not fun. And, as Nasreen said, it’s about hiding it, right? So, you are trying to distract your audience by throwing something else out there, which takes their focus away from the information. So the information doesn’t feel like information.
I think another thing about writing is how do you write information so that it doesn’t just feel like information which is exposition and how would you hide exposition? So you’re just trying to hide exposition. That’s how it works. Just so you know, the scene in the kitchen is not that. The scene in the kitchen is actually information. I’m establishing the album in their hand that will come out three scenes later, and bring nostalgia. The album is being established in these scenes. Though she’s talking about the recipe, which will then come five scenes later for which she has to then open a laptop where she will see Fawad’s things. So, it’s a setup. These are the kind of hidden setups that will pay off later.
Mandar Kurundkar: You said that heavy dialogues give a certain rhythm which work in certain genres such as thriller. But when it comes to mumblecore or slice of life films, how can the camera contribute in designing and giving a rhythm to the narrative?
Shakun Batra: Just so you know, the non-design of mumblecore is the design of it. The reason it is non-design is because it doesn’t want you to feel the design. You can do what you want. Nobody will stop you. You can do a slice of life with really edgy shots, but you have to ask yourself, ‘Is it going to contribute to the feeling I want, or is it going to take away from the feeling I want?’
So, if I design this beautiful shot that comes down from an aerial shot all the way to a car which then follows this one person in a mumblecore film, nobody can stop you. But is it going to give you the feeling you want? Even if you look at the Dogme 95 movement, such schools of filmmaking changed some of the things because the design they wanted to follow was non-design. It’s by choice that you are denying the design. So, it’s a conscious decision. You can do what you want. Nobody can stop. Nobody stopped the French New Wave, and they were breaking the rules. They just went ahead and did it. You can do what you want, but, like I said, you just have to ask yourself, ‘Is it going to add to the scene?’
Swaratmika Mishra: I think you brought the cracks in the family and each individual’s lonely journey beautifully in Kapoor & Sons. I believe that this story could be placed anywhere, irrespective of its setting. Why then did you specifically pick the landscape of a hill station, and not an urban city?
Shakun Batra: Now that you’re making it to be deeper than it is, I’ll just agree with you!
I think that’s the funny thing. So many things just happen. I’ll tell you. Yes, I was writing it for a small town. I’ll tell you why. I’m not Michael Haneke, where everything has a bigger meaning. I don’t think like that. I’m genuinely pretty surface level in most ways. The reason that I was writing it for a small town is that when they come back, they have to bump into each other. I was trying to go for what I call a ‘reunion film’, where somebody comes back home and they start meeting all these people who they haven’t met for a while. And that evokes a certain feeling. I think it’s a subgenre of family films. It always feels nice when they meet people they haven’t met.
Garden State, one of the films that I loved very early on, is a great example. The protagonist goes back to New Jersey where he starts bumping into his friends and the girl that he eventually falls in love with. That feeling is almost not real in a city. In Bombay, you don’t bump into people like that. You don’t just show up at people’s houses for parties. I was writing it for Darjeeling, and I was in Darjeeling when I was writing it. But I wasn’t sure if it was working out. Even the hotel mentioned in the film, where one of the characters are staying, called the Elgin, was the hotel that I was staying at in Darjeeling while writing the film.
I was in Coonoor for a friend’s birthday party. And I was like, ‘What is this place – it’s so beautiful!’ Imran, my friend, who also acted in my first film, had grown up in Coonoor. So, he took me for a walk to a cemetery where a brief scene with Alia (Bhatt) and Sidharth is set.
After I came back, I started adding and revising the screenplay because when I saw the town, it just added so much more to the feeling that I wanted to explore. So, I rewrote everything, and that’s when the locations came in.
Sonali Chugani: Something I really admire about your filmmaking style is how you incorporate realism into your story in a very balanced and fresh way. How do directorial styles like these play into the rhythm/blocking? Are there any specific things that you do as almost your own developed formula? If so, how do you develop that formula?
Shakun Batra: That’s a good question. When I started out, I didn’t even know my voice. I didn’t know what it was. I once heard (Quentin) Tarantino speak about it. He said that you start by imitating. You start by admiring somebody and trying to imitate that. But because of your own imperfections, you can never imitate it a hundred percent, right? You will see your own flaws, your own mistakes, and then you continue on that process to be better because you’re not good enough and you want to be better. So, you are looking at the masters, you’re looking at others and you’re trying to get there, but in your process of trying to be better, you start to see something that’s more you than them. And, you know, I’m still imitating filmmakers. I’m still aspiring to be like somebody, and because of my conditioning and beliefs, for the lack of a better example, my own craft, I end up doing something which is more true to me. This was a beautiful talk by Tarantino about how he found his voice. I’ll post it on my Instagram after this.
I also think that voice is not something that stops once you find it. With every film, you will find something more. In fact, I feel that if the next film doesn’t make you look deeper or look for something to be able to tell that story better, then it’s going to get boring.
So, I would say, look at the people you enjoy watching, look at how they do it and try to do it. And in the process of doing it, you will find your own rhythm. You’ll find your own taste. If you see my first film, which I cringe about, is really just borrowing from Wes Anderson.
In an interview, Damien Chazelle talks about ripping off from other films. He was, in his style, trying to take from Scorsese in the way he moved his camera, the way the music came in. Scorsese did a musical called New York, New York, which is also about music. So, he’s trying to imitate that, and within that, he finds his own style.
I think it’s okay to not be original from the word go. You find yourself, sometimes, in trying to imitate others. Don’t judge yourself for that early on.
Priyanka Vasani: How do you deal with uncertainty as a director and channel it in your favour?
Shakun Batra: I read a great quote about balance. We tend to think of balance as just being calm. But the way they defined balance was in terms of a surfer on a surfboard. There’s chaos around you at all times, and you are trying your best to stay normal. It’s not that when I see balance, I’m not anxious. It doesn’t mean that I’m not feeling uncertain. I am feeling uncertain, I’m feeling anxious, I’m feeling unsure, but what I’m trying to do is that I’m trying to make decisions within the chaos. That’s your job as a director, which is that you’re still trying to make decisions. I hold on to either a feeling or a description of the scene in my head. Sometimes it’s music. Sometimes I just put on my headphones and let the music inform me about what the scene is. I will just keep that plugged into my ears through the day, and the song would play on loop. That’s what’s reminding me of what I want. So, when everything is going crazy, I’m just like, ‘I want this because it feels right.‘ The whole end sequence of Kapoor & Sons, of everyone coming together for a photograph, I had headphones on while shooting the scene. I wasn’t even listening to the dialogue. I didn’t care about that. I just had headphones on because I could see that everything else will work out. So, when the camera moved, when somebody moved, and it felt right to the music, I knew that it worked. I hope it worked. But you’ve got to hold onto that one thing that you know is true and navigate yourself through the chaos.
Mihir Karkhanis: What is your process of blocking and staging a scene when doing a recce?
Shakun Batra: It’s generally divided into two things – recce and tech recce. You generally go to a location twice. The first time I go around, I am just trying to understand the vibe of the location. It doesn’t matter what my shot is unless it’s very specific. I’m just trying to get a feeling. Does it feel like it’s from my story? Does it feel like it belongs to my world where I’m trying to set the film? As soon as you walk in, you can start to feel it. So I’m not overthinking it.
Once I lock the location after the recce, I look at the scene and try to figure out how it would work in that location. So when I go back for my tech recce, I’m now reading the scene and walking into the location, and I’m like, ‘Okay, where would this happen? What would happen here? Would this happen?’ I generally pull out my iPhone and go around, put an assistant here, try to move shit. I would get broadly 30%-40% of what I want. To know that the location allows me. Unless it’s a specific scene where it is defined by my shots, which has also happened a couple of times where I would sit at a small location for 12 hours, and I would just sit and move things back and forth. You’re trying to fit the scene in the location and put the location in the scene. It’ll never happen a hundred percent. Then comes the process of rewriting. Once I have understood the vibe, done my tech recce, I know whether I have to change the scene or trim the scene or expand the scene.
Before the day of the shoot, I generally go back to the location if it’s a very important scene, just to look at the location one more time.
Jaldeep Tipale: I’ve often seen directors use recurring principals, if I may call it that, from music to present a crescendo in the narrative. Similarly, with contrast, where a scene goes from silent to extremely loud by the end of it. Have you ever followed this route in your work?
Shakun Batra: Anything that starts small and becomes big will have a graph. Similarly, anything that starts big and becomes small will also have a graph. I don’t think it’s needed for every scene but if you look at The Social Network, what I like about it is that Mark Zuckerberg’s dialogues are mostly restricted to one or two words. Everybody else is speaking a lot more. Towards the end, Zuckerberg delivers a big thing, and everybody else goes silent. So, of course, it’s by design as it gives it a rhythm. That’s the idea of giving rhythm by dialogue. It’s a conscious design that he will speak in short dialogues, and the rest would have longer dialogues. Does it have to happen in every scene? No, I don’t think so. When you want to design, when you want things to feel a certain way, you can try that.
Abhishek Wadodkar: Sometimes, we may have to shoot a film in a fewer number of days than what we deem is required. In that case, would you rather compromise on the entire treatment of the film, or ensure that you would like to shoot a few scenes exactly the way you’d envisioned it? How would you identify those scenes?
Shakun Batra: I always struggle with it, and I think most people, most directors, no matter what your budget is, always have this problem. You are right. I generally have four or five scenes where I don’t want to compromise. I had four other scenes apart from the one we discussed in Kapoor & Sons. I am like, ‘Listen, I don’t want to rush through these scenes.’ I need my time to be able to click. So, sometimes I would make the other schedule tighter because I knew those were easy scenes. For those, if I got four instead of ten shots, I could still make it work.
Never undervalue the power of basic coverage. I don’t like basic coverage. But, sometimes, you tell yourself that these five scenes require my craft, and it needs everything I have to give. But these three other scenes, I don’t need them to be fancy. I will be simplistic. Basic is the wrong word. But you can be simplistic and still communicate. So, then, I choose between the scenes where I can be simplistic and the scenes where I want craft. Compromise is a heavy word, and I don’t like it, but I would redesign my treatment to allow me to work within the given constraints.
To watch the full video of the Dial M For Films session with Shakun Batra in conversation with Smriti Kiran click here.
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