Monday, December 27, 2010

While we were dining on Christmas night, one of my friends and students from the Academy - ScreenWrite.In ignited a discussion on dialogues of old Hindi films which had created great impact on the audiences of those times, which he doubted exist in the same order nowadays. I found it an interesting query, at the same time I opined I loved the dialogues in Taare Zameen  Par (2007)  or very recently Aakrosh (2010) impressive for that matter.

The discussion then moved on to the scene (I’m editing those portions of the discussion of Indian regional language films for the sake of the majority to relate to the movies,) in Jerry McGuire when Tom Cruise dashes into the room to claim his estranged wife. When he spots her in a group of unfamiliar women, his eyes are moist and his face is awash with a million feelings. He locks eyes with her and pours his heart out in anguish. She tearfully shushes him to let him know that all is forgiven and that she is back. That moment would have been complete and poignant even if it had ended with Tom’s soulful soliloquy, but the dialogue, ‘You had me at hello’ melted the last icicle in a cynical heart.

In Apollo 13 when Tom Hanks and his team are getting trained in the spacecraft could you guess as to how that scene would turn out with none of them saying a word? For sure, there would have been much labored gesticulating involved.

That’s why we need dialogue – to sometimes convey the essence in situations where no words are necessary, and to sometimes convey information in situations when only words will do.

Now, movie dialogues, as with real life speeches, broadly elicit 2 reactions: ‘Well said!’ or ‘Who talks like that?’ To predominantly write dialogues that fall in the first category, there are a few thumb rules that one can follow.

One of the most important things to remember is that a dialogue is something that a character gives birth to. It is the character, complete with his strengths, his weaknesses, his past, his experiences, and most importantly, his reasons to tell a bit of his story that mouths the dialogue. In other words, what a guy says can’t be very different from who he really is.

Tom Hanks, as an articulate, wronged lawyer sitting across Denzel Washington explains his HIV predicament: ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.’ No, it couldn’t have worked there – but an earnest and simple Tom Hanks eager to share his wisdom with a willing stranger – yes, there the dialogue worked.

The next important thing is to remember why your character has to speak in the first place. Does the dialogue establish character? (A guy with 20” biceps mumbling ‘Tough men don’t cry.’ Or Michael Douglas in Wall Street saying: ‘Greed is good.’)

Or does it move the story further? (‘But Ma left for the hospital ages back! You can probably catch her at the platform),

Or does it connect two divergent pieces of information related in the story?
When the characters are real and the situations reasonable, simple dialogues become quote worthy. Take the tough Arnold Schwarzenegger saying ‘I’ll be back’ (most of Rajnikant movies have similar dialogue characteristic) or a somewhat curious lady in ‘When Harry met Sally’ making up her mind for dessert after witnessing Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm, “I’ll have whatever she’s having.’

They didn’t say anything exceptional, and they didn’t even say it exceptionally but the character and the context makes the dialogue worth quoting. The dialogues worked because they were natural, they were probable, and they were dialogues that one can believe them of saying.

And finally, I’d suggest we write dialogues keeping in mind that some scenes really work without them. As Air Supply - the Australian duo sang it: ‘You say it best when you say nothing at all.’


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