Graphic artist and film scriptwriter, TEJAS MODAK gets can­did

Co-writ­ing the screen­play of the hit Marathi film GU­LA­B­JAAM is just one of the feath­ers in the hat of writer and graphic artist TEJAS MODAK. He speaks to Citadel about the ex­pe­ri­ence of writ­ing for the movie and the cre­ative spark in him…

Citadel - - CONTENTS - BY SAPNA SAR­FARE sapna.citadel@gmail.com

His looks sug­gest he is more of an ac­tor than some­thing else. Good looks tend to do that. Hid­den be­hind that young face is a tal­ented in­di­vid­ual us­ing his cre­ativ­ity to cre­ate some­thing dis­tinct. Tejas Modak, a true Punekar, is do­ing just that. Writer and graphic artist, his ac­count of work in­cludes all kinds of cre­ative work that add to his pro­file. His lat­est foray into cre­ative work is writ­ing the screen­play of the now hit Marathi film Gu­la­b­jaam, star­ring Son­ali Kulka­rni and Sid­dharth Chan­dekar. An artist and writer, Tejas’s fond­ness for comics helped him af­ter leav­ing col­lege, when he worked on his own graphic novel in 2008 ti­tled Pri­vate-Eye Anony­mous, pub­lished by West­land Books. He talks about the be­gin­ning of his jour­ney, “I en­joyed dif­fer­ent lit­er­ary and vis­ual forms, and an­other graphic book fol­lowed the first, then a stint of tra­di­tional and mixed me­dia paint­ings and a cou­ple of ex­hi­bi­tions, fol­lowed by the trans­la­tion of a pop­u­lar Marathi chil­dren’s book from the Faster Fe­nay se­ries into English. I was also part of a graphic stu­dio as an il­lus­tra­tor. In 2013, I was of­fered the role of Pro­duc­tion De­signer on the Marathi film Happy Jour­ney. Since then, I have been do­ing some work for films apart from my graphic novel work.”

“Sachin (Kun­dalkar) has been do­ing films all his life and col­lab­o­rat­ing with him was like an in­ten­sive screen­play work­shop. The fact that he got me to work hands on was amaz­ing of him.”

As a screen­writer, Gu­la­b­jaam is his de­but. Happy Jour­ney too was a Sachin Kun­dalkar film.

GU­LA­B­JAAM IN MAK­ING

One can say he has been bit­ten by the filmy bug. It had to hap­pen. The world of glam­our and glitz l eaves no vic­tims. Right af­ter han­dling the pro­duc­tion de­sign for Happy Jour­ney, he got the chance to write the lyrics of Kund­lakar’s next film, Ra­jwade and Sons. “He would read out his scripts to me and I would of­fer my sug­ges­tions. I would show him the work I was do­ing on my graphic novel. At one point, he asked me if I wanted to try and write a script to­gether. He had writ­ten all his scripts so far, and per­haps wanted an­other per­spec­tive, which he thought I would be able to of­fer,” Tejas says of his ini­ti­a­tion into script writ­ing. Thus, an in­ter­est­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion be­gan, wherein t hey first started dis­cussing ideas. “At one point, we felt must write this food film, which is more than just a food film. That be­came Gu­la­b­jaam,” he says. Tejas has the writer in him, but films are al­ways a dif­fer­ent ball­game. This film ex­pe­ri­ence in­deed has been dif­fer­ent for him. He calls it a phenom­e­nal ex­pe­ri­ence, “That’s be­cause, writ­ing for screen, I re­alised, was vastly dif­fer­ent from writ­ing for the page. When we be­gan, I had to un­der­stand and as­sim­i­late how this new form worked, what its pe­cu­liar­i­ties were and how what we wrote would ma­te­ri­al­ize on the screen. Sachin has been do­ing films all his life, and col­lab­o­rat­ing with him was like an in­ten­sive screen­play work­shop. The fact that he got me to work hands-on was amaz­ing of him. As in­di­vid­u­als, we are vastly dif­fer­ent, have dif­fer­ent in­flu­ences and ref­er­ences, and even­tu­ally I think this helped cre­ate a nar­ra­tive that was well bal­anced. We would ar­gue and thrash out ev­ery

“I love life and every­thing about it. I of­ten stop and look at the sim­plest things and am amazed by the magic be­hind them. I ab­so­lutely love be­ing able to do what in­ter­ests me most for a liv­ing.”

small­est de­tail, with­out giv­ing up or tak­ing the easy way out of a cor­ner, and this I think was the best thing about work­ing to­gether.”

LEARN­ING EX­PE­RI­ENCE

The end re­sult must have been a quite learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence... one can surely think that way. Tejas clearly thinks along such lines. This was the Young Turk’s first ex­pe­ri­ence at look­ing at some­thing that comes to life on the screen. “I re­alised why cin­ema is con­sid­ered the grand-daddy of art forms – so many lay­ers get added on along its evo­lu­tion from script to screen! And it is this amaz­ing con­flu­ence of so many energies that even­tu­ally be­comes the film,” he re­veals. For him, the end re­sult is some­thing of a grat­i­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in­deed, “Peo­ple have loved the film and have been call­ing and writ­ing about it. I feel blessed. Also, the graphic nov­el­ist in me was keenly pick­ing up so many things along the way, and I am aware that my work in the dual forms now feeds off each other.” The Punekar in Tejas never leaves. The city has be­come a shadow. For him, all the places are very fa­mil­iar, which makes it easy for him vi­su­alise these places while the story is be­ing writ­ten. “Sachin, too, is orig­i­nally from Pune, though he has been in Mum­bai for many years now. He has an ex­tremely good eye for de­tail and is able to de­pict the typ­i­cal­ity and nu­ance of the city very aptly,” he talks about the de­pic­tion of the city.

AP­PRE­CI­A­TION & EX­PE­RI­ENCE

For Tejas, the re­sponse to the film has been over­whelm­ing. “The film is do­ing re­ally well and it is heart­en­ing to see full the­atres. Many have called me

in the in­ter­val it­self to say how much they are en­joy­ing the film. The au­di­ence to­day is ex­posed to the best cin­ema from around the world, and just as the mak­ing of cin­ema has un­der­gone an evo­lu­tion, so has its watch­ing evolved. They are able to catch ev­ery nu­ance of the film, and the small­est de­tail is ap­pre­ci­ated. And while this makes a screen­writer’s job tougher in ways, it is very re­ward­ing,” he says with ap­pre­ci­a­tion. Work­ing with a tal­ented di­rec­tor like Sachin Kun­dalkar was an ex­pe­ri­ence in it­self. He hap­pily calls it an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and a huge learn­ing curve, “Sachin was 17 when he first be­gan work­ing in films. He has more than two decades of ex­pe­ri­ence, and is very fo­cussed and sin­cere about his work. The best thing about him is his predilec­tion for con­stantly work­ing with new peo­ple and ex­per­i­ment­ing to make sure he isn’t stag­nat­ing. I used to avidly watch his plays and films when I was in col­lege, and get­ting to work with him is an hon­our.”

SOME CHANGES

Any good writer knows that a good ex­pe­ri­ence al­ways has the chance to change you. Tejas agrees, and feels that any cre­ative en­deav­our should have the power to do that. “More an­gles of a story or sit­u­a­tion are vis­i­ble to me now. Also, the im­por­tance of hav­ing many lay­ers work si­mul­ta­ne­ously in a scene has be­come more ev­i­dent than ever, and I con­sciously try and do that. As I said ear­lier, I think now my graphic novel work and screen­writ­ing feed off each other and com­ple­ment each other beau­ti­fully,” he talks about how the ex­pe­ri­ence has helped him grow on a per­sonal level. Tejas was and is still a writer and a graphic artist. In­flu­ences have hap­pened on the screen­play writer in him. He nar­rates, “A graphic nov­el­ist tells a story us­ing a se­quence of still im­ages, and though there are many dif­fer­ences be­tween a graphic novel and a film, there are cer­tain un­canny re­sem­blances. In Sachin’s words, a graphic novel is a frozen film. So yes, there are huge in­flu­ences of my graphic sto­ry­telling on my screen­writ­ing, be­cause I al­ways as­sess the flow of the nar­ra­tive vis­ually, which is es­sen­tially what a film needs. Words and pic­tures are the two fun­da­men­tal units of a graphic novel as well as a film, so I am able to adapt my in­stincts from one form to the other quite well.”

LOOK­ING AT THE WRITER

Time and again, we have to come back to his work in writ­ing graphic nov­els and trans­lat­ing books. He is glad to dis­cuss his par­tic­u­lar thoughts be­hind them with a be­guil­ing smile on his face. His child­hood love for comics is where it all started. He rem­i­nisces, “It was with them (comics) that I spent most of my time. So mak­ing my own comics was al­most a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion of this in­ter­est, and not so much a con­scious de­ci­sion. The trans­la­tion, how­ever, hap­pened be­cause I was at that time work­ing with an an­i­ma­tion com­pany that had ac­quired the rights to Faster Fe­nay and were ap­proached by Pen­guin to trans­late a novel from that se­ries from Marathi to English.” Luck­ily for

“The au­di­ence to­day is ex­posed to the best cin­ema from around the world, and just as the mak­ing of cin­ema has un­der­gone an evo­lu­tion, so has its watch­ing evolved.They are able to catch ev­ery nu­ance of the film and the small­est de­tail is ap­pre­ci­ated.”

Tejas, he was there at the right place at the right time. He con­tin­ues, “It wasn’t some­thing I had thought of do­ing on my own, but it was a fun process.” Ask him about what he loves the most, and he smartly an­swers the ques­tion in a di­plo­matic man­ner, “I love life and every­thing about it. I of­ten stop and look at the sim­plest things and am amazed by the magic be­hind them. I ab­so­lutely love be­ing able to do what in­ter­ests me most for a liv­ing.”

MORE ON WRIT­ING

The writer in Tejas is ex­cited in dif­fer­ent things at dif­fer­ent times, though cer­tain gen­res or sub­jects do come close to him on a per­sonal level. He clar­i­fies, “But it is ev­ery­day life and the beauty, fragility, im­per­ma­nence and for­tu­itous­ness of it that re­ally makes me look at it with won­der all the time. For every­thing around us that we see and take for granted, there is so much hap­pen­ing be­hind it, which is ei­ther im­pos­si­bly un­usual or in­cred­i­bly po­etic. This in­vis­i­ble drama is some­thing I’ve be­gun to no­tice more and more, and I de­rive im­mense in­spi­ra­tion from it.” But he is very quick to dis­agree when asked if the graphic artist in him is dif­fer­ent from the writer liv­ing in him. He frankly states, “Both these are two facets of the same per­son. There would nat­u­rally be some things that I would ex­press only through words – like po­etry, which I write at times – some other things that I would only say with pic­tures, but es­sen­tially there is no di­chotomy be­tween the writer and artist in me. In fact, since comics have been my sus­tained love, and they weave words and pic­tures to­gether into one sin­gle nar­ra­tive, I have al­ways thought words and pic­tures are meant to co­ex­ist.” For Tejas, ev­ery project taken or ev­ery stage in the project taken in the last few years has been a heady chal­lenge in­deed. He elu­ci­dates, “I have had to con­stantly build more and more cre­ative mus­cle to be able to make some­thing as well as it de­serves to be made. For ex­am­ple, when I agreed to do the pro­duc­tion de­sign of Happy Jour­ney, I had no idea what I was get­ting into. I had to con­stantly stretch my lim­its, ex­pand the fron­tiers of my knowl­edge to be able to de­liver. Like­wise with the graphic novel I am work­ing on now. It has been con­stantly grow­ing larger in scope and has kept me on my toes, forc­ing me to learn more and grow con­stantly. And I hope I am able to keep this up. I would hate to come to any­thing think­ing it is not dif­fi­cult or not chal­leng­ing enough.”

LOOK­ING AHEAD

You see a happy face when you ask Tejas about his fu­ture projects. He is quite up­beat about it all. He re­veals, “I have been work­ing on an orig­i­nal graphic novel saga for a few years now. It has been a labour of love, and I am deeply im­mersed in its cre­ation. I haven’t put a date to the launch yet, but def­i­nitely in the near fu­ture. Along­side that, I am work­ing on a cou­ple of film scripts with Sachin.” The jour­ney is full of twists and turns, but the artist in Tejas Modak is fully charged to take on the chal­lenge and come out a cre­ative win­ner.

“It was with them (comics) that I spent most of my time. So mak­ing my own comics was al­most a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion of this in­ter­est and not so much a con­scious de­ci­sion.”

Graphic il­lus­tra­tions by Tejas

novel art­work Tejas’ graphic

More art­work by Tejas

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