By Nick Blake
I knew I wanted to get involved with the Indian film industry while honeymooning in Kerala’s backwaters. After a quiet day traveling on a luxurious houseboat, my wife and I settled into the main cabin to enjoy the movie “Hallo” with the bottle of toddy we had picked up along the canals. “Hallo” showed off the best screenplay writers Malayalam (or Mollywood) cinema had to offer and our boat guide stayed up to enjoy the movie with us.
The story is about the wayward son of an otherwise respectable family, a toddy-drinking lawyer who cannot forgive his parents for betraying his former love-interest. Padmashri Lt. Colonel Mohanlal Vishwanathan Nair (known in Mollywood as Mohanlal) plays the lead role, and our boatman noted that he was a famous regional actor that made the ladies swoon. To us he looked more like Super Mario, sporting his signature mustache and happy Buddha pot belly.
For nearly two and a half hours the plot swerved through a variety of escapades (often as though the best screenplay writers in Mollywood were suffering under the haze of toddy as well). In the end love rules the day, corruption is brought to justice and the family is reunited. And the movie takes unflinching swings at Tamil Nadu (to translate for an American audience: combine the worst Southern and Mormon stereotypes).
What really caught my attention, though, was that the movie was more or less a rewrite of a famous Song Dynasty story from China, written roughly 800 years earlier! I’ll have to dig through my old college notebooks to find the story I’m thinking of, but it has to do with a drunken detective who solves crimes of local corruption, etc, etc. India, I realized, was a place where stories were remembered and repeated.
As a writer I’m always looking for smart adaptations of stories. If I wanted to find the best screenplay writers, my road led to India. After the movie Laura and I took a quick stroll along the water to capture the full moon over the cloudless canal. I turned to her in the dark night and said, “I want to be where the stories are.”
At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether you’re writing for Hollywood, Bollywood, Mollywood, or your local community theater. The important thing is finding a good story, something worth sharing, and telling it well so that people listen. Hollywood has a lot to learn from India’s writers.