Taming the Dialogue Beast

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“Dialogue is like science fiction, when it is bad it is the worst thing ever. But when it’s good, careers can be made!” A writer can shape spectacularly descriptive passages, breathe life into their characters, pen down heart pounding action scenes but if the dialogue fails to deliver the punch…everything else pales in comparison and falls flat! So what makes dialogue such a tricky beast? “Well, you need to have an unequivocal understanding of the workings of the character’s mind, their thought process”, states Ishita Moitra, the expert who has given us some memorable conversations through her vivid dialogues. Tinsel Gupshup talks to Ishita to find out just what it takes to nail the dialogue and create a conversation that crackles!



TG: Can you tell us a bit about your journey – how did you start writing for movies and TV? 

IM: I always knew I wanted to write. I studied journalism in graduation and then did my MA in Mass Communication from Delhi's prestigious Jamia University. However, I figured soon enough that I wanted to write fiction and not nonfiction. More than journalism, Scriptwriting was where my heart lay. So I did an internship with an acclaimed scriptwriter in Mumbai and that's how the journey began.  



TG: You write dialogues for “Bade Acche” and “Dekha ek Khwab” Can you explain the dialogue writing process to us? (You are narrated a scene, you sit with the director, creatives and actors, write…) 

IM: For a daily show - things are very "cut to cut" (as we call it here in Mumbai :) ) So mostly there is a separate writer for the story, another one for the screenplay and a third one for dialogue. As the dialogue writer - when I get a screenplay - it has all the scene descriptions - and then I have to give words to the characters and make them speak.  I try and make it as conversational and real as I can. 



TG: I read somewhere that writing a screenplay equates to architecture and writing dialogues is similar to interior designing – what would you say? 

IM: Absolutely agree. Screenplay is like mathematics. A thing that you plant in one particular scene will have a dramatic payoff several scenes or maybe even episodes later. However, dialogue is very spontaneous. It brings color and life to the characters and the screenplay.  



TG: In this day and age when most of us tend to converse, write in English…what is it like to write dialogues or a screenplay for a movie or show where the mode of communication is mostly Hindi? 

IM: We write our stories and screenplays in English. But the dialogue is written in Hindi (obviously!) I have always been multilingual. I speak English, Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi and a smattering of many other languages. To me dialogue writing is not really about linguistic skills as much as it is about observing how real people speak. You have to make your characters relatable. That's how people will identify with them. 



TG: You have written for television and for films? Which do you prefer and why? 

IM: I love both mediums. Films are an indulgence. You can work on the same screenplay over and over until you get it right. Films are immortal. That one good film can turn around everything for you. Many years after you are gone…your film will live on. And if it was popular then people will still watch it and discuss it for years.

TV, on the other hand is totally different. It’s very 'now'. The minute an episode is over - its history. TV is an all pervasive medium. Soaps become part of people's routine. A lot of people tell me that when their favorite shows air - they don't even take phone calls! Working in TV has helped me grow as a writer and the discipline of daily writing even helps when I am writing my films too!



TG: How involved are you in the character development? For example, the on screen Ram Kapoor has a certain personality, certain character traits, speaks in a certain way, emotes in a particular way etc. So what is your thought process when you write dialogues for him? Apart from the circumstance, scene etc…you will have to pay attention to all the factors mentioned above….how does that process work? 

IM: BALH has been on air for a long time - most of the character traits and mannerisms are now set. But when we start a new show - for example when Dekha Ek Khwab started - we all discussed every aspect of our characters in great detail.  



TG: Can you share some of your most memorable dialogues – written by you and written by someone else? Might have left an impact on you? 

IM: I think Moniya's 'Haan Nahi Tou' in DEK and Vijay Bhai's lines got very popular.  I like writing for Peehu in BALH too. She makes everything sound adorable. 



TG: “Characters make the story” or “The plot makes the story”…your thoughts? 

IM: It has to be a combination of both.  



TG: Have you ever written dialogues for a character that has been quite similar to you? Have you ever seen yourself in any of the characters you have written for? 

IM: I have never written about anyone like me - but I try to put a bit of me into every character I write. So it’s usually, "would I react like this? Would my mother say this? What if someone said that to me?' 



TG: “What counts in dialogue is not what is said, but what is meant.” I suppose that is easier said than done but have you ever been given a complicated scene or situation where you have just not been able to find the right words to get that right meaning across?

IM: Happens many times. It is a creative process - so sometimes you get the "sur" or the tone right immediately, and sometimes you have to struggle a bit before the right voice emerges.  



TG: What is the best piece of writing advice you have been given? 

IM: There is an "art" and a "craft" to screenwriting. The "art" you were born with. The "craft" you have to work at.  



TG: What has been the best compliment you have received about your work and the worst criticism? 

IM: There is so much feedback on the shows every day. :) Some days they love you some days they hate you.  But what I love is the fact that the audience is so involved. 




TG: Apart from dialogues and screenplays do you write for yourself? What inspires you? 

IM: Occasionally, write a poem or so. But mostly when I am chilling and not working - I just switch off my laptop and do things other than writing since I write for a living anyway. :)



Dialogues are an integral part of a show. They move the story forward, develop the character and help actors look good! Imagine a world without – “Bond, James Bond”, “I’ll be back”, “Life is a box of chocolates…” So, here’s looking at you Ishita…the words you pen down do not just lie about on the page…they bring our favorite characters to life. Your words speak to us!


Photo Credit: Ishita Moitra


©Tinsel Gupshup

Sonali Bhattasali
Sep 11, 2012
great article - good questions which then resulted in informative, interesting answers. thanks

Piu Chatterjee
Sep 11, 2012
Thanks for the wonderful and detailed Interview TG ..Loved the "haan nahi to " punchline in DEK....Wonderful job again TG :).

Sep 11, 2012
wow very nice n different interview...got to know so many things about how it actually works in tele industry. thanks TG.

Sep 11, 2012
Wah Wah!! Wonderful insight...smallest and infinite details gathered...She writes for Peehu as Well?? Wow...she has indeed created the cutest character!!

Sep 11, 2012
Gr8 interview, all your hard work n dedication is paying not only in kind but also in d way of ur success ....may u go a long way...luv u

Sep 10, 2012
Thank you for a v.informative interview! Never knew there were different writers involved for the screenplay & dialog, nor that the process was so recursive.

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