Rensil D’Silva Talks About His Journey From Big Screens To OTT Platforms
Rensil D’Silva, the man behind solid scripts like Aks and Rang De Basanti, is a man of few words. As he delves into the web medium of storytelling, D’Silva gives an insight into his journey, and what makes him tick
Creative genius Rensil D’Silva
dons many hats, but prefers to stay away from the limelight. It is a tad unbelievable that he has been part of the film business for about 20 years. He started his movie career by writing Aks (Amitabh Bachchan, directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra), and followed it up with Rang De Basanti (also directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra). D’Silva then made his directorial debut with the SaifKareena starrer, Kurbaan, and brought to life the Indian version of 24 with Anil Kapoor. Not to mention, as he braced through Bollywood, he continued to make big ad films. Now, D’Silva is in the next phase of his career: web content. He directed the recent thriller Dial 100 with Manoj Bajpayee, Neena Gupta, and Sakshi Tanwar, and is all here to get with the times.
What is your take on this upsurge of content viewing on streaming services?
Finally, we can see what is possible with younger writers, actors, and young D.O.Ps who did not get a chance before. It is such a great outlet for talented people. I see more shows than movies because I feel the quality is much higher. Be it the quality of writing or engagement, it’s thrilling. Now, I think the makers should spend more time with the characters in the film, and the stories shouldn’t conclude at the point that they do.
I started comparing it with various shows. This is happening across the globe. The content in films is not as good as the content in the shows.
There’s been a lot of conversation about writers not getting their dues. As a writer yourself, do you have an opinion on this?
Your paycheck determines how much respect you get. So, if an actor charges 50 crores, people would say, ‘Wow. What a big star’. If you don’t have big numbers attached to you, then you are not a star. I’m from advertising, and it’s where I earn my bread. I worked on big projects with prominent actors right at the beginning of my screenwriting career. I’ve been lucky because my first film, Aks, was with Mr Bachchan, and the second was Rang De Basanti with Aamir Khan. But if you see other writers, we are still paying them lip service. When you talk about the betterment of writers, look at the west. In the west, there is a concept called residuals, administered by the unions for their members. The writers are paid between one and four months after the air date. Some of these Unions over there process around 1.5 million residual cheques a year. They are being paid millions, and here the writers get nothing. You say you value writers, but do we? They are doing better than before, but has there been a remuneration change? I have spoken to teams of young writers who work on a show, and ask how they live. Also, how do you know if the writing is good or not? No one reads in this country, and that is why we have narrations.
Rang De Basanti was released in 2005. The film is still relevant in the current political scenario. How does that make you feel?
I never thought something I wrote 15 years ago would stay relevant, but not many people know I wrote the film four years before the film’s release. It took time to get things on board. The film is 19 years old. It is as old as my daughter. It is not a good feeling to see your 19-year-old film still relevant. It fills me with sadness more than anything else. Today our tech has changed so much, and a new generation has grown up entirely. By this time, the new generation should have come in and taken over the reins.
Your last credit on the big screen was with Dharma Production’s Ungli and on TV was 24. What have you been up to after that?
I was going to start a film about bikers with John Abraham. But the pandemic struck right before we were about to begin. Now, I have my own production company wherein I’m constantly in the middle of ad campaigns and film shoots. When I was working on the second season of 24, it went on for two years. I was writing and shooting it. I was so consumed that I didn’t do anything else in those two years.
When I returned, I was not finding new and fresh scripts. The content consuming landscape had changed. Today, you see many feature films that seem old in terms of stories/themes compared to new themes explored in the shows being made. Streaming services are more a writer’s medium than a director’s medium. So, I wanted to make a comeback with something really strong and edgy, and that’s when Dial 100 happened.
What was the genesis for Dial 100?
Many years ago, when I was working as a creative director, I received a call late at night from a writer. He wasn’t getting much success with work, and many agencies had turned him down, including my agency. He also had tried to meet me, but I had no idea about it. When he called me, he was drunk, bitter, and heartbroken. So, I asked him to come over the next day over coffee. As a writer, I understand how a writer feels about rejection. He refused to meet and said he’s disappointed with my agency and me. He said he was burning all his work, and the moment the last thing was burnt, he was going to kill himself. I panicked. I pleaded with him to not take such a drastic measure and meet me the next day. But he hung up. There was not much internet back then, so I couldn’t do much, but I still hope nothing terrible happened.
Last year, when the pandemic set in, I was writing a script. I saw people going through various mental health issues. I went back to explore this subject. I remember telling Siddharth P Malhotra about a story on the emergency call centre, and he loved it. We met the Commissioner of Police, and he said we’ve met him at the right time, and this problem is prevalent. He asked us to spend a day in his Emergency Room. We spent a day, and it was not easy. You get calls from across the board about domestic abuse, fights, and various other issues.
At one point, I realised that an emergency call has more drama than all the action pieces combined, from shootouts to car chases to fights. You have to try and talk someone out from jumping off a ledge or something much severe. I wrote the script in under a week, and people just responded positively. So, we completed the shoot in 16 days.
How was your team up with Manoj Bajpayee after 20 years of Aks?
Manoj and I were discussing it some time ago. Aks was a very special project. Mr Bachchan was working on different kinds of films, and he loved my script so much that he asked me what I was smoking while writing it. He agreed to do it immediately. Manoj was also just coming out of Bhiku Mhatre. It was a great feeling, and also ironic that it took 20 years for them to come together again.
You turned novelist with Kohinoor Express. How did that transition happen?
Back in 2006-2007, I was very intrigued with the Kohinoor, which is in the Tower of London. It is a fascinating tale, and it took me 14 years to research. The novel traces the journey of the diamond over 4,000 years. As Indians, we have always heard about the Kohinoor, but we don’t know much about it. We only know that the Britishers took the diamond away from us. When I started researching, I discovered that it is a cursed stone, and only women can wear it. Whenever men have tried to wear it, kings or emperors have died very severely. It is a blood diamond. History has proved repeatedly, especially among the Mughals, brother has killed the brother, the son has killed the father for it. This is one project that I would like to make before I hang my boots.
How would you sum up 20 years of your journey in showbiz?
I think God has been very kind, and so have people. I’ve been lucky that I met some very good people, and sometimes I feel I’ve missed out on all the hardships as a writer. The ’90s was not a great time to be in Bollywood. Apart from Ram Gopal Varma, there wasn’t anyone pushing the envelope. There was a star system.
In advertising, a writer and creative director are valued and paid right. I spent a lot of time learning, improving on my skills, and becoming technically sound. I always had work, and now I’m running between the writer-director-showrunner-creator dynamic because streaming services have taken content creation to another level.