T.J Stevens posted on last week’s Wednesday Watching post a video from Anupama Chopra’s “Film Companion” series, which was really interesting! So interesting that it is too much to talk about in a post comment. And yet possibly slightly too little to talk about in a post. We will see!
Here is the video, just to get that out of the way to begin with:
In case you can’t watch videos for some reason (at work, internet too slow, whatever), it’s a 5 minute look at how the creative development wing works at Dharma productions. Three people, Jugal Hansraj and Nidhi Parmar and Ryan Stephen, spend all day reading scripts and books and script ideas. And if they find anything good, they bump it up to Karan.
What’s funny here, is that the thing that the people in the video find unusual is not what I find unusual, and the thing they find regular is the thing I find regular. For me, the whole “creative development” idea is blah blah blah old school dull. Hollywood studios have functioned that way since the 1950s at least. And they got really big about it in 90s. Because of a bunch of boring industrial shifts and so on (Paramount versus US decision, rise of TV, fall of studios, multi-nationalization of the entertainment industry, etc. etc.), suddenly there was a quest for original content to bring back the viewers combined with a loss of the studio staff writer. Tons of young intelligent women (for some reason, it’s one of those jobs that ends up going to women. Maybe because it kind of feels like being a secretary?) were hired to read scripts and books and whatever. They were called “D-Girls”, for “development”. And they would pass scripts up to someone else who would pass them to someone else and so on and so forth. It’s so routine that whole structures and rebellions have broken out within it. For instance, the annual “Black List”, the list of the most promising scripts that every development team in town has looked at but for some reason never made.
(Good script doesn’t always mean good movie. This film, for instance, was a Black List script. And then Uday Chopra produced it and it was TERRIBLE!)
Now, what makes this video interesting to me is Jugal Hansraj and Karan Johar’s involvement in this process. Taking Jugal first. In America, the “D-Girls” tend to be young super educated women, sometimes coming in from publishing or other writer-type jobs. I don’t know about the other two in Karan’s development team, but Jugal does not have a writer-type background. He has a fascinating background! Child star in the classic art film Masoom. Came back as a 20-something in a cameo at the beginning of K3G, and one of the leads in Mohabbatein. Developed Roadside Romeo at Yash Raj, also had a small role in Aaja Nachle at Yash Raj. And now he has landed in the development team at Dharma films? Can you imagine Shia LaBeouf, for instance, ending up in an office reading scripts?
(Speaking of Shia LaBeouf, this video is amazing)
But I am glad Jugal is there. Firstly, it is a testament to the multi-talented kind of artist that Indian film turns out. Actor/writer/director/producer, kind of a common combo. And secondly, why does America focus on writer and word trained people for their development teams instead of on film trained people? Wouldn’t someone with fully filmi experience in various roles do a better job picking a hit film than some random young woman with a degree from Vassar? And finally, thirdly, maybe America would have better scripts if they put incredibly experienced and older and important people in the development office instead of making it an entry level job. Like I said, I know nothing about the other two people in the office, but I only assume they have a similarly varied and long and film-focused resume to Jugal’s.
Okay, final piece, Karan! The thing with the American Development system is that there is no end to it. Scripts get passed up and up and up and then just sort of drop into limbo somewhere. Most production houses don’t have a single person to give a thumbs up or thumbs down. Sometimes you have smaller production deal kind of houses, like Adam Sandler’s thing or Annupurma Films or Tyler Perry. But in that case, it gets passed up to one person, and then that one person has to move on to another series of people who will actually give them funding.
But with this system, the really magical perfect ingredient is Karan Johar. Development isn’t some never ending confusing process. Karan reads the script, Karan says yes or Karan says no, and that’s it. There’s no committee meetings about it or vice-presidents who give input or anything else. That’s the magic, not the structure or the development concept, that you have one person who has a perfect instinct for a good script, and that same person has the power to get the film made.