July 8, 2010

For aspiring film-makers: Jab We Met – an analysis of its screenplay and structure

I forget which Screenwriting guru said this – probably Syd Field… you know a movie will work for you, or not, in the first ten minutes itself. In these crucial first ten minutes, the protagonist is usually introduced; the dramatic premise of the story is laid out and the mood of the film is established. Does that happen in “Jab We Met”?

First 10 minutes:

* Protagonist is introduced: Aditya introduced in first shot, Geet in the next 6 minutes
* Within 14 mins: dramatic premise of the story: Geet has lost her luggage, has no money. Aditya has to reach her home
* The dramatic premise actually doesn’t end with Geet reaching home – because, as the audience learns post-interval, she has gone missing and no one knows her whereabouts for the past 9 months. So the dramatic premise continues till the end – when Aditya brings her home, along with Anshuman
* By 7 mins into the story you know this is going to be a boy-meets-girl love story – so what is it that “hooks” the audience’s attention. That Aditya and Geet are obviously a case of opposites attract. Aditya is quiet, depressed, a loner. Geet is very talkative, full of life and very optimistic. So what engages the audience is – how the two will fall in love.
* Mood: Romantic comedy (notice the lively background score when Kareena makes her entry – when she hops onto the train)

One of the many definitions of a screenplay is: “The story of a character who is emotionally engaging and who at the beginning of the screenplay is confronted with a problem which creates an inescapable need to reach a specific goal. The attempt to do so inevitably generates almost overwhelming obstacles which are finally overcome by the transformation and growth of that character.”

If we study the screenplay in the above light, we find:


(1) Aditya is an emotionally engaging person. He might be quiet, withdrawn, depressed but he has a wry sense of humour which slips out in that one night in Hotel Decent. He is also obviously the “good” guy, because the heroine trusts him implicitly – we know he will not take advantage of her (which he puts across humorously as “main (rape) karna chahta hi nahin hoon”. He is also impulsive, as when he steals a bicycle ride in the song “hum jo chalne lage”, and more so when he helps Geet run away to Anshuman.

(2) Confronted with a problem: his personal life is in shreds. His father is dead, his mother is going to court against him (and has run away with another man) and his girlfriend is marrying another man. He does NOT have the will to fight. So obviously the GOAL is to get back the will to fight and get his life in order. On another level the problem that needs a solution is that Geet needs to reach home safely.

(3) overwhelming obstacles: the first problem gets subsumed in the second problem – so the obstacles faced are really only in the second problem. He and Geet miss the train, catch a taxi, hire a car, hitch a ride on a delivery truck and finally reach Bhatinda. But that is just the beginning of the problem – because the main problem is that Geet intends to run away to Manali. So next they have to escape without getting caught. Aditya leaves Geet in Manali and comes back to surmount his personal obstacles – a sinking company, his embittered relationship with his mother. Only to be told by Geet’s father and uncle that she has been missing since the past nine months. So he traces Anshuman, finds Geet, overcomes her stubborn reluctance to return home disgraced, overcomes his own deep need to be with Geet and willingly hands her over to Anshuman. So in his case the obstacles are both external (reaching Geet home, reaching Geet to Manali, finding Geet) and internal (sacrificing his love for Geet, overcoming his fear of failure to revive the company and launch new ventures and forgiving his mother for leaving him behind for a new life).

(4) transformation and growth of character: same as above


(1) emotionally engaging: obviously! effervescent, a die-hard optimist and romantic, very transparent and open in her dealings with people, eager to help (she gets down from the train worried that Aditya would miss his train).

(2) confronted with a problem: she wants to run away from home. But before that she has to reach home first – and she has missed her train and all her luggage.

(3) Goal: to get married!

(4) overwhelming obstacles: misses her train, loses her luggage; her parents have fixed her marriage to a childhood friend; she is discovered as she is running away; the man she loves turns her down; she cannot return home, she desperately wants to win his love; after nine long months the man she loves comes back to her saying he loves her, but by then she loves someone else – so there is still an obstacle to overcome – she has to learn to recognize her own feelings.

(5) transformation of character: not as much as Aditya. But she does mature through suffering – those nine months that she is alone in Simla


I know, I know! Most people scoff at Syd Field’s Three Act Structure! Since I am new to screenplays – I don’t have much knowledge of other forms of screenplay plot. So here goes!

Act I (Set Up & Information)

* Point of Entry: Aditya Kashyap is at the lowest point in his life – his mother wants part of his business and is ready to go to court, his girlfriend is getting married to someone else
* Exposition: The board room (where Aditya’s lawyer and his mother’s lawyer argue) and Aditya’s girlfriend’s marriage
* Hook: A hook is something that grabs the audience’s attention, draws them into the story and makes them want to watch on. This is going to be a girl-meets boy love story – but here the two are poles apart. One is gregarious, chirpy, very transparent in her interactions, the other is silent, morose, guarded. The audience’s attention is “hooked” by “how” the two fall in love – especially since the girl declares right at the beginning that she is madly in love with someone else and will be running away and getting married.
* Inciting Incident: This is a moment or scene that confronts the protagonist with a problem and creates a crisis. This crisis forces the protagonist into a decision or choice which then causes a change in that character or story (ultimately leading to the climax at the end of Act I). The Inciting Incident here is definitely Geet missing the train. This causes Aditya to drop everything else and accompany Geet to Bhatinda. Of course along the way he falls in love – which hadn’t featured anywhere in his plans!
* Turning Point 1: something in the plot that grabs the story and turns it around in a whole new direction. It normally pushes the story forward towards the Act climax, and thereby into the next Act. It helps in increasing the momentum by making the outcome uncertain – so the audience is kept wondering – what will happen next. This turning point dramatically alters the protagonist’s motivation. I’m not so sure about which is the Turning Point in the movie. I think it’s when Aditya helps Geet to run away to Manali. Until now the single point agenda was – reaching Geet safely home. Now, by helping her to run away, he gets inextricably entangled in her life. For, from now onwards Geet’s family will think Geet has run away with him. So they blame him when she goes missing for nine months. Because he helped her run away, he is in fact responsible for her whereabouts – if she has not get back in touch with her family after her marriage to Anshuman, he feels morally bound to reunite her with her family. And then…he discovers she never married Anshuman. She ran away from home just so that she could marry him. Why didn’t she? What had happened to her?

Thus TP 1 turns the story around and sets up a new problem. It pushes the story forward to the next Act. It increases momentum by raising the stakes – by making the resolution more uncertain (where is Geet? why didn’t Anshuman and Geet get married? ). Turning Point 1 dramatically alter’s the protagonist’s motivation. Geet is now his responsibility; her happiness is his responsibility.

* Climax: Not sure of this. Is it when Geet finds Aditya in the dark alleys of Ratnam and hugs him (after being propositioned at the railway station)?
* Set Up and Pay Offs: Something that is introduced early in the plot or dialogue or characterization that is used for greater dramatic effect or plot resolution in the second half of the plot structure. (1) When Geet meets Aditya for the first time in the train and gabs non-stop about herself she mentions she has been living in hostels all her life, and rattles of the names of her various hostels, including “St Teresa’s boarding school hostel in Shimla”. This is where she returns to – when Anshuman refuses to marry her. (2) Station master’s famous line “ek akeli ladki ek khali tijori….” is used with humourous effect – by Geet when she convinces Dadaji that Aditya was a knight in shining armour – who had rescued her when she missed her train. She was all alone in the station, and as he knows, “ek akeli ladki ek khali tijori ki tarha hoti hai…”!


* Focus Point 1: This focuses on some development or change in the major character. Approximately 1 hour into the movie (so, Act II, since Act I is over by 30 mins. approx), Aditya decides to run away with Geet – to help her reach Manali. And here we notice the character transformation that is happening. Aditya reprimands Geet for taking everything as a joke. She retorts back by saying he took everything so seriously, did that help in anyway? She goes on to say – she would like to do exactly whatever she felt like – and take ownership for whatever happened to her in her life – that her choices in life would be her’s alone. She wouldn’t want to blame anyone else for it. This becomes a turning point in Aditya’s life – all this while he had been letting circumstances control his life. From now onwards he will take charge of his life.

Another change we find in his character – is when they have come down from the terrace and are running way into the darkness. Geet looks back at her house wistfully and asks him if he thought what she was doing was wrong. Aditya replies – it might be wrong – but after all everything is fair in love. And if he could now understand (and forgive) his mother, her parents too, in time, would understand and forgive her.

* Half-way point (Point of No Return): Usually the scene preceding the interval – a point in the story when the protagonist needs to reassess his goals, sometimes give up his quest or journey. In some films this is the lowest point in the film – when the protagonist thinks he has failed. In “Jab We Met” the half way point occurs when Aditya leaves Geet in Manali. He thinks Geet is now forever out of his life. He will now go back to his corporate life in Mumbai and Geet will only be a beautiful memory.
* Focus Point 2: Further transformation in Aditya’s character. Aditya’s now a happy, dynamic person – the sky is the limit for him and in everything he does he sees Geet’s guiding hand. “Insaan jab kuch really chahta hain na – actually – use hamesha wohi milta hai”. That was Geet’s philosophy – and now we see that Aditya has made that his own mantra. In the Aditya-Mrs. Jaya Khanna scene in the conference hall in the 2nd half – the scene is identical to the 1st scene – only this time Aditya is ready to accept all his mother’s claims. He looks the lawyer in the eye, his body language has changed. He is in command.
* Act II Climax: When Geet’s father and uncle barge into Aditya’s office and rough him up – demanding to know where he had abducted Geet to.


* Turning Point 2: At TP2, the protagonist feels he has failed – it is the crisis point for the whole film. It leads logically to and ‘causes’ the final confrontation scene. In “Jab We Met” this turning point is when Anshuman tells Aditya that he had turned away Geet. He is callous and so obviously unworthy of Geet’s devotion. The audience now knows that Geet will ultimately choose Aditya over Anshuman (we’ve known all along of course, but this is the turning point in the film when the audience knows that Geet simply needs to outgrow her infatuation and recognize true love)
* Climax: Geet realizes she loves Aditya and not Anshuman. She tells Aditya that the biggest favour he has done her is to get back Anshuman in her life – so that she could recognize her true love.
* Resolution: Geet and Aditya get married. Aditya’s mother participates in the marriage (so no longer estranged from her son).
* Afterlife: Any good movie has an afterlife for its protagonists, at the end of the movie. It’s that “something” that the audience mulls over as they walk out of the theatre. Here it is Geet as a mother of two kids! Quite unimaginable! The director wraps it up neatly by having dadaji comment on Aditya and Geet as a couple – before they got married.


* Backstory of characters: some background history about the characters. This helps them appear more three dimensional – gives depth to their personalities.

* Geet: we get to know almost everything about Geet in the first few minutes of her entry. She is going to Bhatinda. She has been living in hostels all her life. She hates hostel life. She loves the mountains. She is going to run away and get married. She came to Mumbai when Mumbai was called Bombay! Her friends confess all their problems to her – she is their agony aunt.

* Aditya: We get to know of his background in bits and pieces. The girl whose wedding he attended in the first few scenes – we learn that she is his girlfriend (he shows Geet her picture in Hotel Decent). We learn that his mother had run away with another man (Aditya discloses this in the dhaba scene when they are both changing after having jumped into a stream). Much later in the film, Aditya tells Geet that his parents had never loved each other (this is disclosed when Anshuman walks back into Geet’s life, in the hotel in Simla).

It is interesting how the characters introduce themselves. Almost half-an-hour into the movie, and after several heated exchanges between the two of them, they finally introduce themselves to each other. Ratnaam ki galiyon mein – just after Geet has run away from a roadside Romeo who thinks she is a prostitute.

* Character is revealed in a very natural manner – never in a forced expositionary fashion. For example – we hear for the first time about Aditya’s failed relationship in Hotel Decent. When Geet warns him to keep his hands off her, because she was a one man woman. And she announces in a flourish – that her heart was Anshuman’s. “Anshuman – one and only, hamesha ke liye”. Exasperated and quite infuriated by her high opnion about herself and her love life, he finally allows his defenses to break down, ever so slightly, by saying, if she was a one man woman, he was a one woman man! “Tumhein sun ke khushi hogi ki main bhi one woman main hoon. Okay? Aur ye (takes out wallet) ye dekho.” This is the first time that he actually shares anything about himself with anyone, in the film.
* Transformational Arc: The protagonist is usually a better and wiser person by the end of the movie. The transformational arc represents a character’s growth in the movie. In “Jab We Met”, Geet and Aditya are two sides of the same coin. He becomes like her, she becomes like him. The key to Geet’s character is she loves herself. “Tum apne aap ko bahut pasand ho, nahin?” asks Aditya, very amused by her declaiming that had she not been madly in love with Anshuman, she might have fallen for Aditya. Geet replies, in such a self-assured, top of the world manner – “Bahut…Main apni favourite hoon.” Whereupon he says, “I wish main tumhare jaisa hota.” Which is what he becomes when he returns from Manali. Every action he takes, every decision he makes, is by putting himself in Geet’s shoes.
* Also neat structural plotting. She saves him twice: (1) He was about to jump off the train – she saves him by shouting at him (2) She turns around his life. He does the same. (1) She was about to be molested – he saves her, reaches her home. Then he reaches her to her beloved (2) Her life had come to a complete standstill. He rescues her and brings her all the happiness she had dreamt of.