Only Words!

{An old interview of my favourite director Abbas Tyrewala – which never got published! I met him in 2006, when he directed his debut film Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na — which has now attained cult status. Tyrewala seems to have disappeared from the bright lights of Bollywood. His stamp on screen still remains!}


Only Words!
And words are not all – award-winning scriptwriter Abbas Tyrewala may have in his arsenal.

Abbas Tyrewala Source -

Abbas Tyrewala
Source –

Like most writers, Abbas Tyrewala only begins click clacking when it cannot be put off any longer. But when he does – more often than not — he usually hits the key to success. Lyrics, screenplay, dialogues – there is nothing this ex-advertising professional hasn’t written. His multi-faceted talent is a given as his leap across genres of high drama (Maqbool), period film (Asoka), cockle warmer (Munnabhai MBBS), pacy potboiler (Main Hoon Na), romantic comedy (Chupke Se), a contemporary urban romance (Salaam Namaste) or even a dramatic social (Shikhar) showcases. Almost all critically acclaimed or box office bonanzas. “I have got a good instinct to know a bad film from a good film. I am more a smart writer than a hard working one. Besides, I have the courage to say no to bad films.”

This year, Tyrewala will make another leap. This time across his sheer laziness and an almost yearlong writer’s block — to script, write and direct his debut film. Titled Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, this “short romantic film” is being produced by Aamir Khan, have music composed by maestro A R Rahman and star fresh faces. “We’ve never really had a college-campus kind of film on the big screen before.” And luckily was amongst the three scripts written before he hit a yearlong writers block. “I just couldn’t write any more. Given that I have been writing for the last ten years, I knew it was time to change gears and start afresh.”

Lasting a decade without hitting a creative blip would be a challenge for anyone. And even before one questions whether his move to direction was an escape from the solitary process of writing, he says matter-of-factly that Salaam Namaste was written during this painful block. “Siddharth knew. But he was sure I could pull it off.” Tyrewala did – and managed to impress audiences and himself. “Usually, writing is 90% instinct and 10% craft. Writing Salaam Namaste was 90% craft and 10% instinct. I put in everything I had learnt in the last ten years!”

This ardent fan of Goldmine and Tarantino has spent all his growing years honing his craft. A gift he discovered when he narrated his first story in Class 1. “It was a story about blood-sucking bats, vampires and ghosts. And it had the kids frantic. But I can still recall the high of having 40 bratty kids listening to me telling them a story.” From then on, the thrill of holding an audience continued – with Tyrewala performing plays for Boy Scouts, writing skits in school and even in college at St Xaviers. “I found my niche writing plays and lyrics because Xaviers had no Hindi theater culture.”

His first break came when he bailed a friend working in the ad-world by writing the Cema Ads and bulbs jingle. “To be paid that kind of money for a few lines and hear it all over was a high.” Advertising beckoned and Tyrewala joined O&M as a copywriter. “I learnt very quickly that I was a storyteller. One bright idea in one line was never going to be my forte.”

He inched his way to the big screen, strangely via television. “When you see what you think is your best writing being enacted and you hate it, you learn more about your craft instantly.” Writing for serials like Saboot, Nehle Pe Dehla and Jaane Bhi Do Paaro, Tyrewala found two of his biggest strengths, “the ability to get the structure in a script correct and the art of visual storytelling, “ and two of his biggest teachers, “Ravi Ojha and Shivam Nair.”

Not just that, he also managed his first break into Bollywood – writing lyrics for films like Tere Liye, Love ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega & **. “Having written poetry all my life – mostly bad – and being a big ghazal buff – it wasn’t difficult to write songs. I don’t have the kind of words and vocabulary that Gulzar saab does in his bag, but I have a sense of rhythm, fun and tone in my words.”

It is perhaps this ability to move even the archaic into being cool is what got him onboard Shah Rukh Khan’s home production Asoka over ten other dialogue writers. “It was tough to work in a film, which had to be completely clean of the Urdu language. And yet, we played around with words of what we thought would be cool or could have been said during that time like khshan, prem instead of pyaar, bandhu and more!” It’s not as if Tyrewala was trying to be radical—he was just sweating the details. “There was no mughal influence during that time.”

The film flopped, but not before it made critics notice him and King Khan introduce him to choreographer Farah Khan who was scripting her debut film. Also not before, it made Tyrewala take a wow of refusing to be in the league of writers penning just dialogues or writing them on the sets. “Each scene in Asoka by itself was perfect. Put together, the film never had a rhythm going for it because it wasn’t bound and written before we started shooting. Also my fights with Saket – the screenplay writer and me were legendary. ”

Following closely in the footsteps of Asoka, Chupke Se and Darna Mana Hai — Main Hoon Na, Maqbool and Munnabhai M B B S– hit the box office catapulting this unknown writer into a well-known name in the industry. Three completely different films –all of them with first time directors. “There were no ego games. No fuss and we were all equally excited to be working together towards a common vision.”

Tyrewala, in particular, embraced the challenge – subverting language, shuffling genres and generally having muchos fun! “Each one taught me interesting lessons and we had an interesting style to learn from. Farah refused to let me convert her masala entertainer into a serious film. It was completely outrageous and its success a vindication for my own self. In fact, the success of Main Hoon Na saved me five years of just being in the background… Vishal, on the other hand, was someone who I shared with, the common joy of pissing people. Maqbool was my finest work in terms of screenplay. Raju Hirani — despite having spent many experienced years in Bollywood was making his first film and his enthusiasm was infectious!”

That almost all his directors barring Ram Gopal Verma are friends says much about the writer. Shona Urvashi, the director of Chupke Se calls him her ugly, bald twin. “He’s multi-talented and make everything look completely effortless. In fact, I took him to Goa to write the film with me – and we actually worked on our laptops on the beach. I am possibly the only person who’s taken him to a fun place and made him work! My only apprehension is that even at 30, always seems to be worrying about his family. He needs to loosen up.”

Director Siddharth Anand found a Devdas instead! He laughs about not just lending him a shoulder to cry on. “It was a full body – all of 60 kiloes! He was so depressed. But what convinced me that Abbas could pull an urban comedy was his versatile body of work. He has never written one and I didn’t want to head the tried and tested route. Which is why I decided to sign him on. It paid off.”

Though not all of Tyrewala’s moves have been as fruitful or successful. Ask him about Mantra, Barf, Ek and a handful of films that got announced but never saw the light of day and you can sense Tyrewala’s angst. “It’s absolutely heartbreaking. Especially watching a film like Barf fold up two days before we are ready to start shooting.”

Which is what has also made this suave 30-year-old form his own do’s and don’ts. Like most leading actors today, he works on only one project at a time. “I give six months to a film. Then, I don’t look back at all. I have my own vision and I would hate for it to interfere with the one put together by the director.“ But not heading to the sets while the film is being shot has its own pros and cons. Sometimes, Tyrewala also can’t help but wince, when actors don’t get the tone of his dialogue as written by him right. He won’t spill the beans but is happy to praise those who caught his nuances right. “The one person who got every single dialogue, every intonation, pause and tone as I had written in my mind was Arshad Warsi. Which is why Circuit in Munnabhai was such a winner. Or Pankaj Kapur who improvised and gave every dialogue his own tone and edge… He acted on levels beyond than the way I conceived it.”

Which explains why he also won’t watch his work over and over again. “I am too critical of my own work. When I see my films more than twice, I realize I gave a dialogue or a film too much tone or too much attitude. I can only see mistakes.” Will he head back to his laptop soon to craft another piece? “I already feel ready to conjure words, silences, situations. Only, this time, I think, I will be a more measured and mellow writer.” Maybe, this time around – he will also fulfill his dream of working with Aamir Khan… “Simply because I haven’t worked with him before.”

Admittedly, however, life has come a full circle for Tyrewala. And there is a twist in the tale. “Today, my biggest reference points as I begin shooting are not my super hit films but my first film Asoka whose sets I lived on from start to finish. And perhaps my only film which gives me a clue to what life on the sets, skills I need as a director could be all about.” What’s also ironic is that the man who spent last ten years with nothing but solitude for company and inspiration, working to craft someone else’s vision into reality is now motivating a team of over a hundred people to see his own vision. “I make for a good leader.”

Will his audiences let him have the last word? We will find out soon.