Sunday, 31 March 2013

Post 5: Au Revoir Mumbai Mantra Sundance Institute Screenwriter's Lab (Because 'goodbye' is so difficult to say)

Lord Krishna stands in the Tribhanga posture

I have a leisurely breakfast. My first session of the day is a free one. I am looking forward to writing Anu’s introduction (without dialogue J). 
At breakfast Sarthak with his headphones sits next to me. I want to know what he’s listening to. As if he’s read my mind he hands me the headphones and asks whether I like original sound tracks of films. I love OSTs. He promises I’m going to love this one-OST of Cinema Paradiso-Wow! It’s amazing. It’s put me in another world, another space, another frame of mind immediately. Zen! No wonder Sarthak doesn’t look like someone who is really part of our ribbing and chatting (except of course when he’s with his Bengali brigade!)He is either deep into his music or with his phone taking amazing pictures of all the proceedings.
Das Kapital oops! DasGuptas

Immediately after breakfast we have a feedback meeting of all the fellows with Michelle, Paul, Rohit and Aparna. They tell us how we are all going to be connected forever, a lovely film family. They will continue the mentoring as and when they can read our latest drafts, they will actively help us with contacts and introductions if we were to need them in USA. All of us are so relieved. It is so important for us to get feedback on our rewritten screenplays. We are all starting to feel the pangs of separation already, a bit orphaned almost and the scary feeling of being left alone on this journey once again is quite depressing. The assurance that not only will our screenplays be read by our mentors but both Sundance Institute and Mumbai Mantra look forward to all the updates about us, even of other writing work we are doing put the smile back on my face. Talk about sone pe suhaagaa!

Deeply reassured I head back home (room 3019) to write. From what Asif said yesterday most of what all the mentors wanted to tell me about “Tribhanga”had been said and done. What would Marti (Noxon) and I discuss? I think I’ll write something new and read it out to Marti. It would help me find out if I am going in the right direction. 

When I take out the notebook that I write in, I feel as if I’ve looked at it after so long. So many things have happened since I last wrote in it. I always write long hand. I can never start writing directly on a laptop. The physical aspect of watching the ink flow, to see it in my cursive handwriting, to scratch some things out, to doodle, are all very important for me to get the creative juices flowing. Sure enough, the moment my pen touches paper, it does not rest till I have poured out all that I have thought of, about Anu’s introduction. I remember the “Do Re Mi” song in Sound Of Music. The lyrics go, “Let’s start at the very beginning, A very good place to start; When you read you begin with A B C, when you sing you begin with Do Re Mi….”. So the introduction is a good place to begin. Somehow it flows so easily. It’s amazing what great guidance can do for you. My strides have an extra spring as I go for lunch.

At lunch it hits me that tomorrow at this time I will be on my way back home. None of us want the Lab to end. Even our lovely Mumbai Mantra gang of girls, Aparna, Rachna, Sneha and Himani carry the weight of the goodbyes we’ll have to say tomorrow.
It’s time to face my last mentor at the Lab. My newly written introduction in hand, I look for my mentor.

MARTI NOXON: (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) “Emotional


Marti has been very friendly from the very first meeting at the pre Lab dinner at Mahesh Lunch home. We’ve had so many general conversations before this that I am looking forward to this one related specifically to my screenplay. First of course I compliment her about her regular physical exercise. She attends Olivia’s Yoga session early every morning. She is really very fit. We also have another huge common point to discuss, our kids. Hers and mine are both exactly the same ages. In fact I’ve realised moms are moms anywhere in the world. Michelle’s children are in their twenties (technically you can’t even call them children) but when Michelle talks about them, I see the same worry, same pride, same concerns I have about my kids. Marti does mention that there is very little left for her to discuss about “Tribhanga”. The other mentors have really gone into the details. We talk of all the characters. She reiterates the relationships that need a once over. I ask her if I can read out what I’ve written. She is more than happy to react to it. I read it out to her and she responds very positively. She looks at me with her twinkling blue-grey eyes (so many shades of grey!) and says I’m on the right track. She encourages me not to give up what is so uniquely mine in the haze of all the ‘shoulds’ and goes on to tell me how much she’s loved Anu.
I feel like a proud mother whose kid has been praised for being talented. My Anu’s quite popular with my mentors.
We then talk of how she began writing and what her childhood was like. I am touched that she is sharing a part of herself with me with such generosity. It is quite a girly, emotional sharing. What a fitting end to the gruelling mentor-fellow discussions.
Mumbai Mantra has arranged for Mehendi artists for all of us. Marti is really excited about getting mehendi on her hands. So are Malia, Jackie, Michelle and I. I love Mehendi! The expert Mehendi artists draw beautiful patterns on our hands. The colour will keep increasing under the Mehendi and even long after it is taken off. Much like our Lab. The effects on our writing, our thinking, our approach is going to be so different, enhanced in all ways.

 We have a wrap up of the lab where all the mentors, Michelle, Paul, Rohit, Aparna and us fellows share the one memory that we will leave with, at the end of the Lab. There are so many, how can I talk of one. The Lab has impacted everyone very deeply. Apart from the generosity of the mentors, the hospitality of the Club Mahindra team has been outstanding. We say our half byes because the evening is going to be celebrated ‘Bollywood Ishtyle’. Everyone is looking forward to enjoying their last supper at Pavna.

Suddenly all that we have been taught is suspended as the DJ plays everything from Fevicol, to Zandu baam, to Fire Brigade to Jalebi Bai. It’s what we have to compete with, as we get out of here. The 100 cr club v/s the 1 cr gang.( I can see West Side Story in this battle). Mumbai Mantra has specifically told the DJ to play songs from the films our Indian mentors (Sabrina, Habib Faisal and Anjum Rajabali) are associated with. They also play my “Lo Chali main…”from “Hum Aapke Hain Koun”and insist I dance with it while it is showing on a big screen. It’s strange to dance to that track after 19 years and I see my mentors watching the screen with excitement because most of them haven’t seen me in my actress avatar at all. Their faces are worth recording. But then everything about the Lab is worth recording. Himani is the queen of the dance floor. She is so graceful and knows each and every step from whichever song is played. Her’s is an amazing performance. Paul is the other rockstar on the floor. The more Bollywood it is, the better for Paul. He dances like a man posessed. To see Joshua dance is also quite a treat, so different from his serious, studied personality. The last supper has really been energetic. After all the armchair thinking we've done, this pure dhamaal masti is such a refreshing change. Love every bit of it. It's well past midnight when we leave with a heavy heart.

Sumptuous isn't it?

Nitin and Dani- Writer-Director with DOP
The next day we leave after breakfast. We are packed in our cars and leave this dreamy place and time behind. Pratim, Sarthak, Nitin and I are in one car. That’s nice. Some more time to spend with them. We hit the 10 kms rough patch as soon as we leave the Resort. Again a reminder of reality.
I think of Robert Redford and what he has started and I thank him silently. He’s a real superstar. He has begun a movement of which I am a poud part. I thank him for his vision, philanthropy and generosity. And I thank all my mentors, facilitators and fellows too. And I know I will be thanking all these wonderful people every single day of my life.
Robert Redford (founder Sundance Institute)

  Kabir says it so beautifully:
       Yeh tana vish ki belari
          Guru Amrit ki khaan
              Sees diye jo Guru mile
                                 Toh bhi sastaa jaan!

Kavanjit caught between two tele'phonys' Pratim and I
Michelle, Bill wheeler, Malia (hidden), Habib and I

Neha and I (the hearts say it all)

Neha and Habib- no shadow of doubt!
Creative juices!

So if you have a story to tell I urge you emphatically to do what you must do. Log on to and you’ll get all the details. Do not miss this opportunity. It is truly lifechanging! And now that I know a bit about screenplay writing I’ll end my Lab experience with- Fade out. J


  1. Dear Renuk!
    Loved your blog. I have just read the last one and I hope to read all the other four. I chanced upon it while browsing Mumbai Mantra- Sundance Institute lab. I have submitted a story for the 2014 session.

  2. hey hope you get selected....all the best :-)

  3. Hi Renuka,

    I came across your blog while googling experiences at Mumbai Mantra. I was in consideration for the second round last year, but didn't finally make it. Don't think it will happen this year either since I haven't heard from them at all and they usually let you know about the next round by the last week of July. This will be the third time I have been rejected by the lab :(

    However, its still heartwarming to know the lab offers such an experiential process for the fellows and takes their writing to another level. This was a great read!