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…
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
novel artwork Tejas’ graphic
More artwork by Tejas