Bindi – An Indian Toy Story

Writing :

Turning back the clock to the beginning of the current millennium, I had been toying with the idea of a character for use in broadcast stings and had built a model in 3D CGI that I dubbed “Bindi”, aimed squarely at the then burgeoning Asian broadcast cable channels in the U.K at the time, and failing that, perhaps the character might inspire a short film.

Neither of these bore fruit, but like many animators, characters you create have a habit of hanging around.

Jumping forward 4 years and a chance meeting with a scriptwriter in search of feedback for his own feature animation script led to series of drafts following my pitch to him and where he laid down the bones and spine of a plot based on some suggestions from me.

I had a rough concept in mind – Bindi, a discarded folk art wooden doll who is superseded by more technologically advanced toys wants to go to “Bollywood” and find her fortune there.

Somewhere in the mix I introduced a secondary character that I’d been developing for many years previously and that I wanted to incorporate into the narrative – not an easy task since they seemed to be from totally different worlds…literally.

But like all good scriptwriters (and he had considerable expertise in that area, having a background in performance theatre) he kept his cool and somehow incorporated the character once I’d offered up a rationale for it be included.

After several creative head-banging sessions that resulted in a situation where it became difficult to attribute particular ideas to either party as we excitedly got involved in hammering out a storyline, clearly the concept seemed to fire the writer’s imagination enough to write a complete 90 page draft and several re-drafts followed, perhaps as relief from years of living with his own idea.

Getting ANY script beyond the stage of being merely words on paper is an uphill climb with no guarantee of success and so the writer’s world is full of still-born or orphan projects, and this is no exception.

In the case of “Bindi”, and as with his own un-produced script, I knew that neither was really “ready for market”, with my background in animation informing that opinion. I could have proceeded with storyboarding for example, as a leveraging tool to convince a funder to put up development funds but my gut feeling was that it would be pointless if I felt a script needed more work, since the script is the backbone of any film project and very often changes occur throughout the production process, if it ever gets to that stage.

Overall, I was delighted with what he had turned in, combining many of my crazy animation inputs with his own ideas and suggestions – writers will often internalize an idea if they like it, injecting their own cherished experiences to give it relevance to themselves and I found the collaborative aspect really sparked off solutions to problems that were encountered along the way.

We parted company without committing anything other than our time over either project and I shelved the idea, until 2010 when, following a heart attack and a sudden spurt of energy that can result from having a heart stent, I decided to look at the writers’ last draft again.

There was a lot that was right about it and a lot that felt hurried, like ideas that he wasn’t totally at ease with (my own) that had been sketched in, eg: the classic faux pas of scriptwriting of “insert battle featuring vast armies here” – in short, to be something worth presenting as a workable script, it needed work.

On the plus side most of the spadework had been done and a solid 3 act structure spine was in place, thanks to the scriptwriter knowing his craft.

So, I set to work rewriting it from the top down, polishing some sections and drilling down into others keeping in mind how they might work as a film since at the time the first few drafts felt like a story and not a film script, and a lot was left to the readers’ imagination. Certain details that the writer claimed ownership for were kept in, others re-worked, also keeping in mind that the script was always going to be the result of a joint effort with a large part of the credit for the basic structure granted to the scriptwriter.

After a furious but enjoyable few weeks I had what I felt was something that could conceivably be the solid basis for a feature animated film, albeit one that had some quirky aspects to it, but then it is for animation, so why not ?

Without professional feedback, you write for yourself and to please yourself and without allowing potential technical or financial constraints to determine what should be retained or discarded but at the same time my background in storyboarding meant that I could apply an editorial eye to what I was writing to keep it as lean and as tight as possible, aiming to maintain forward momentum of the plot throughout.

I’d have baulked at the notion that we were consciously riffing on the hugely successful Pixar film “Toy Story” but in retrospect it has many aspects in common with that film along with a few unique concepts that make it very different, transposed to India, though at its’ heart is a story that draws in commentaries on the nature of life and concerns about the environment, not to forget my own interest in toys and toy design, that go back to childhood.

To read the script send me a message in the comments below for a password to unlock it and in doing so, please respect the rights of the writers in regard to characters, names and plot lines.

The script has been filed with the Writers Guild of America.

Ravi Swami 2021