With a lot of free time at hand, I decided to pursue screenplay writing as a hobby. For the last one week I have been studying the Syd Field’s Screenplay-the foundations of screenwriting which is considered as the bible of screen writing, to learn the basics of this craft. If I can give you its most important take away from it, it would be this: screen writing is about giving words to ‘your’ pictures. These words will then be used to create their ‘own’ pictures by film directors. Never mention the inner emotions and feelings of the characters and other things which cannot be seen, instead try to show them through the character’s behaviour.
Armed with these basics, I decided to give myself an assignment. I downloaded a bunch of best Telugu short stories(old ones) and decided to write screenplay for one of them.
One of the best collection of short stories in Telugu, named “Amaravati Kathalu“(The stories of/from Amaravati) was written by Shri Satyam Sankaramanchi. Sankaramanchi is one of the pioneers of modern Telugu short story literature and his style of writing is simple yet profound.
The first story from that collection that I read was ‘Varada'(The Flood), and instantly loved it, and decided to try screen writing it. The story starts with beautifully describing the geography of the Amaravati town in just one paragraph. Then the author rues how the once glorious Amaravati(the capital of Satavahanas the emperors who started the Salivahana Saka/era), has lost all its riches, culture and values, through providing many illustrations. Then suddenly the story plunges us in to a devastating flood which destroys much of the town. In the midst of this chaos, a Brahmin(the highest caste) casts away his caste rules momentarily and asks an untouchable to serve him food, saying “Sanga! I am hungry…so are you, if others serve it , it is Ghee and if you serve it does not become not Ghee….so serve me”.
A Brahmin explaining this simple yet unrecognized logic to a untouchable is profoundly ironic. The readers might think that may be, after all there hope to eradicate caste boundaries between humans. But the author having seen the evils of caste system for far too long stays cynic and ends the story by saying that no number of floods is able to clean off the ‘dirt’ from the hearts of people.
Like many other Indian writers, Sankaramanchi anthropomorphizes the great river Krishna which flows through Amaravati. The author implies that having seen the past glorious days of Amaravati, Krishna is furious at the current state of sad affairs and so she shows her anger by flooding Amaravati(in a way to wash it off). This shows the author’s desire for destruction so that Amaravati can start from the beginning. But by the end he realizes that no amount of destruction can bring lasting change to people’ minds. The change of attitude in people brought about by the people themselves is the ultimate solution, which the author is sceptical of ever happening. In this story the author took castism as a representative of all things bad about Amaravati.
After understanding the story at a more deeper level, I concluded that I will not be able to do justice to the story through my present screen writing skills. The story is too visually dynamic, to show the contrasts between the past and present state of Amaravati, the geography of the town and the flood destroying it, is very challenging. Also the story had very few dialogues which makes it very difficult to express the inner feelings and the hundreds of years of caste dynamics through pictures.
Hypothetically speaking, even if I was able to write it, it would be too high budgeted to make a short film out of it.
So I decided to write some thing of my own as a continuation to this story, sort of a prologue to ‘Varada’. This screenplay consists of three pages and can be made with minimal resources and takes. Also I changed the destructive element from a flood(varada) to a cyclone(toophanu).
M V Teja Chilamakuri
Int. Under the Gopuram(of a small temple) – Night
An ancient looking, dark and damp room under a small temple’s ‘Gopuram’. Outside of it, the retreating cyclone’s rain is lashing at the tarpaulin/cloth that is being tied up by SUBBAIAH to keep out the rain.
The young wife of Subbhaiah, LAKSHMAMMA– a short and thin women, who has a slight bend in her spine because of constantly bowing down to the ‘masters'(upper castes) who visit the temple, is sitting on a dirty rug on the floor inside the small Gopuram hall. She is trying to soothe her child who is terrified and crying incessantly. The rain is lashing heavily with ghoulish fervour, with frequent thunders.
In the background, Subbhaiah is covering the side of ‘Gopurm’ hall that opens in to the main temple, with a cloth. The other side is closed by temple doors. The rain & wind are making it hard to tie it. Subbaiah’s face looks calm even as his wet hands are working hard.
Pilladu edupu aapatledu, em seyyalu teliyatledu(Eng: The Child is crying uncontrollably, I do not know what to do)
Lakshmamma’s voice gets drowned in a thunder, Subbhaiah does not reply as he is busy providing the child and its mother a protective shield against the rain.
Lakshamamma presses the child in to her bossom to keep it warm and rocks it gently.
Pantulu garu nee chetha nayyi veyinchukunnarantaga…andharu dani gurinche matladukuntunnaru(Is it true that Pantulu master had asked you to serve him ‘Ghee’ with your own hands? Every one is talking about it)
Avune, Pantulu garu entha manchoro. Nacheta veyinchukoni, emannarante, Nenu vesina gani, inkevaro vesina gani nayyi nayye kada ani annaru. Mahanubhavudu.(Yes, Panthulu master is a very good person. He said that it doesn’t matter if its me or any other person who serves, the Ghee remains the same. Such a great person).
Entha manchi mata chepparo! (His words are full of wisdom!
Lakshmamma’s face looks more hopeful
Mari mari maava, manam kuda garba gudi lopala padukuntamani adagochu kada?(Dear, then why don’t you ask him if we could also sleep inside the main temple area(more protected)?
Nenu bhayapaduthu adi adiganu Pantulu garni. Adi aacharam ki vyatirekam, thana chetullo emi ledu, avvadu ani anesaru(With fear, I asked about this with the Panthulu master. He said that it goes against the ‘tradition’ and the matter is not in his hands and so he said no)
Kanisam pillodinaina?(Atleast the child?)
Aacharam ee adhi, ee thoofanu lage aacharalu kuda devudi chetilo vuntai. Vatiki anugunnamga naduchukovali-velaithe vatinunchi kapadukovali, anthe gani vatini edurinchakudadu.(This is the ‘tradition’. Just like this cyclone, traditions are created by God, we should only adapt to them and sometimes try protecting ourselves from their harshness but one should never go against them.
Subbhaaiah by saying that, finishes tying up the protective cloth and sits beside Lakshmamma and looks at his Child’s face, while holding Lakshmamma’s hand.
Lakshmamma looks at her now calm child’s face and asks
Ee “thoofanu” baadha eppudu teerudhi mama?(When does this suffering from the cyclone end for us dear?)
Subbhaiah reaches for the Kerosne lamp and increases the intensity of its light and warms his hands over the heat. The glow illuminates the Child’s face. Looking at it, he says:
Aa painunnodike teliyali! (Only God Knows!)
The protective cloth’s fluttering increases, the knot of the tied cloth looks shaky and it is about to undo
Fade out to black:
Credits roll(sound: ROAR OF A THUNDER FOLLOWED BY A CHILD CRYING)
In Sankaramanchi’s ‘Varada’ the flood shows the author’s anger towards castism and other ills in the society. In “The Cyclone”, the raging cyclone symbolises the castism itself, where the dalits try their best to protect themselves and their families from its effects but not actually revolting against it. They have full faith in their God in whose name they are being discriminated against.