In a candid on-stage presentation at the 53rd International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa, “RRR” screenwriter, V. Vijayendra Prasad discussed looking to Indian epics for story inspiration.

Prasad was speaking on Tuesday at a well-attended session titled ‘The Master’s Writing Process’ that reviewed the octogenarian’s Telugu and Hindi language filmography. This includes “Magadheera,” “Bahubali,” “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” – and current hit “RRR,” which was failed to be picked as India’s Oscar contender but is nevertheless a favorite to join the Academy Awards race.

“I go to our epics for inspiration,” he said, referencing the Indian epics “Mahabharata” and “Ramayana,” said Prasad. He argued that while there are no new stories, there are many emotions and ingredients which are reused and rewritten.

Vijayendra Prasad

Prasad began screenwriting in his late 40s, motivated by “hunger.” Watching films was his film school. “I needed a shortcut to learn the craft. I am a big fan of ‘Sholay’ and [screenwriting duo] Salim-Javed. I learned by watching my favorite movies again and again and picked up a lot. If you watch [1957 title] ‘Maya Bazaar, even now, you won’t find a single wasted frame,” he said.

Currently working on the sequel to “RRR” and a screen adaptation of the “Mahabharata,” both for his director son S. S. Rajamouli, Prasad said, “My story must create hunger in the audience.”

He pays close attention to structure and rhythm, always thinking of delivering a twist at the midway interval. “Then you can think about what would happen before that incident and what happens after. I think of high points and then connect them. You have to create something out of nothing,” he said.

He then shared his technique of creating a graph with a number of “clapping points” and recounted how he takes the audience from one such point to another.

“You have to carry the viewer from one clapping point to the next, till the crescendo. Within five minutes the viewer should be hooked to the movie, they should know the nature of the movie and where it is going to end. This is the mental map I follow. After the advent of OTT and COVID, people are only watching the best from around the world, so don’t waste any scenes. Just run as fast as you can,” he said.

When asked why his films have strong female supporting characters but no female lead, Prasad joked that he would willingly reduce his writing fee if someone would back one of his female-lead story ideas.

Prasad had one further twist of his own, when he admitted that he doesn’t actually write his stories. “The entire story formulates in my mind and then when the director and producer approve of it, only then do I dictate the story. I don’t write myself.”