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A conversation like a screenwriting course - with Khuda Haafiz director, Faruk Kabir

When I congratulate Faruk Kabir on the massive success of Khuda Haafiz, it is apparent that he is not an overnight success story. While he had his feature film debut as a filmmaker in 2010, he had already done many independent videos, documentaries and short films, with more than sixty ad films to his credit. With different web series on different platforms and the phenomenal success of 377 AbNormal in 2019, Khuda Haafiz is yet another fantastic project he can add to his repertoire. 

377 AbNormal went on to win the best digital feature at a couple of the award functions in India last year and of course, the film was well received. The film revolved around the real life petitioners to abolish IPC section 377 and decriminalize homosexuality. With a multi-plot narrative, Faruk Kabir was successful in delivering a film that was well-structured. 

I ask him when he realized he was interested in storytelling and when he realized he could be an effective storyteller. He smiles and responds, “That’s an interesting question. I think organically before realizing and recognizing the fact that I was interested in telling stories, I recognized that I should invest in time to write. While I feel like directing is one thing and writing is another, I feel that once you combine these two things, you tend to become a storyteller. I see myself in that sense that I want to tell stories. In my head, I’m a storyteller – whether it is on paper or punctuating it on screen visually as a director.” 



As a reference to an inspiration, he starts talking about Shakespeare: “For me, storytelling dates back to school because we were very strong in Shakespeare and drama in school. Shakespeare has been my inspiration to write and tell drama. I mean, I’ve been to Shakespeare’s work place, I’ve done this whole tourist-y thing of where he has lived. He has had a huge influence in my life, before I even realized I was interested in telling stories. I used to write my own spoofs on Shakespeare to have fun with the material.”

I ask him about his favourite Shakespeare play and candidly admit that I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan but surprisingly, both of our favourite plays of the literary genius are the same, Othello. Faruk elaborates, “there are just so many layers to the characters, so many complex emotions, so much taboo there, I feel like there was a lot of material that was a lot more real, darker, and out there regarding human emotions. It was not superficial anymore. There was also a yearning for redemption, which I feel, in big or small ways, we are always yearning to seek redemption as human beings.”

I wonder out loud with him when he first realized that writing was such an integral component of filmmaking and he goes back in time to when he was just seventeen years old: “I was barely 17 and a half when I started working after boarding school. I didn’t have many friends and I was a bit lost in Bombay. I found myself on a film set with Shah Rukh Khan and a number of stalwarts. That was good training ground for me. But both the films I worked on with Shah Rukh Khan in them, did not do so well initially. I realized that it had to do with the writing because all of the other faculties that are present for a Shah Rukh film were present – you can find the best of talent for films with him. Because for me, even as an assistant director, when they did not do well, that for me was a big turning point in my life. It is not just about technically figuring out the visuals to a film, I need to go back to paper. I need to teach myself the craft of writing. I may have the greatest ideas but I need to take those ideas to turn them into successful screenplays.”

Writing certainly takes a lot of discipline and Faruk says that he took himself to NYFA (New York Film Academy) and enrolled himself in a screenwriting course. Since, he has clocked 8000 to 9000 hours of writing over the course of the last ten years. He can write for about eight to fourteen hours at a stretch. He talks about wanting to be better than before and not wanting to plateau. He goes onto say, “[s]o when I am writing the next script, I have my guards up and my level of focus and discipline will hopefully help me successfully tell a story on paper. I don’t think of anything – the producer, the actor – when I write. I simply want to be fluid when I’m writing. When I realized I would be an effective storyteller is when I started putting in the hours. I realized that I’ve gotten better at my structure, that it is not feeling as boring for me. Writing is so much of re-writing repeatedly and I feel I am usually not very happy on paper the first few times. That has helped me become an effective storyteller.”



With the scripting for Khuda Haafiz taking over nine months, it is clear he has the patience and wherewithal to focus and just write. I ask him what his biggest learning lesson has been when it comes to writing then. He says, “[t]he biggest revelation for me when screenwriting was that characters should not be passive characters, especially if they are your protagonists. They should be doing things. They have to be active. I ended up writing passive characters and my climax was wrong too.”

He also talks about the importance of knowing your ending first. He talks to me about his process: “[n]ow, everything I write, I write it backwards. I have to have a very crystal clear ending first. The moment I have that, the confidence I have to write that story just shoots up ten folds. Once I have my climax and I know exactly where I need to go. I want to, in an ideal scenario, be able to just write but over the years, it’s not always possible because I’m a director and I’m also a producer – I’m dabbling in a lot of projects. But during lockdown, I think I was able to crack my first screenplay in the fastest time that I have ever before this. There was no other distraction. I just trained in the evenings to keep myself fit and keep myself agile and mobile but other than that, I was just writing. I just trained and wrote. That was a very good experience. I am already very confident in that structure and that it will be an effective story.” 

And what has worked for Khuda Haafiz have been the twists and turns and the character development which Faruk says he works on himself. He ensures he builds back stories to each character which then lead to the actions that you may see the character take on screen. So with everything said and done, I ask him what the most rewarding aspect of Khuda Haafiz has been? He smiles slowly and says, “I think it is that the people who trusted me, which is Vidyut, he has made a very brave decision to work with me. I told him to let go of everything he has worked very hard to create over the years. And it’s very brave of him to do that and to trust me that blindly. Vidyut is really happy. My producer, Kumar ji, who never interfered in the process – he and his son (Kumar Mangat Pathak and Abhishek Pathak), they are happy. They are simple and sorted people – somebody who does not praise so much and when he keeps praising the film, it makes me happy. I can see the pride in their eyes.”

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Bollywood Film Fame Canada has been a source of original content consisting of real conversations, reviews, and news of everything film, music, and entertainment for 15 years.

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