Introducing, The Hero’s Journey Project

You know how things fall in place when you least expect them to? That happened to me! 

Lemme tell you a story. Because of the lockdown and general joblessness that I had, I decided that I would try and use this time to become a screenwriter. Now, how do you become a screenwriter? I had no clue, except maybe, to write an actual screenplay! 

Lucky Strike 1 

And while I was mulling it, luckily I spotted this initiative by writer-direction Satyanshu Singh where he got Anjum Rajabali to take sessions for people wanting to be screenwriters. I attended a couple of lectures from him (one was on Mahabharata and the other on Hero’s Journey) and the two lectures OPENED my eyes to the method you need to get your madness pouring out on a screenplay. I instantly decided that I want to make The Hero’s Journey my life’s work. Ok, that’s hyperbole. I have a million life’s works like that. Lemme not digress. The point is, I want to learn as much about Hero’s Journey as I can. And I believe in learning by doing. But then, I was stuck. I had no freaking clue about it (apart from an academic interest I had in it) and what Anjum Sir taught me in those 4 hours. 

Lucky Strike 2

On Twitter, I bumped into Shreya of the Green Grandma fame and somehow we got talking and somehow one thing led to another and somehow we realized that we could do this together. This? Learn about Hero’s Journey! 

She of course is far more informed and read compared to me and partnering with me would be meaningless to her. But I think I played my cards right and talked her into it! 

She recommended that if I wanted to learn about Hero’s Journey, the best way would be to watch some films like Star Wars and The Matrix Trilogy that follow the Hero’s Journey to the T. 

But then we decided to check if the Monomyth structure was followed in Indian films as well! 

Hero’s Journey

For the uninitiated, The Hero’s Journey was an outcome of the work of Joseph Campbell who studies myths, lores, and stories from across cultures, times, religions, regions, places, and found that the most compelling and memorable stories tend to follow the same path. Their stories tend to have the same structure! 

The chart below describes the Hero’s Journey… 

While a short-note on Hero’s Journey is literally impossible, lemme try and explain! 

A primer on Hero’s Journey 

For starters, there are two worlds

  1. The ordinary, current, existing, comfortable where the Hero currently lives. He is unaware of trials and tribulations that await him in the other world. 
  2. The unknown, new, special, unnatural, supernatural world where rules from the ordinary world cease to exist. There are new rules, new norms, new reality. The world is full of dangers that the hero does not even know of! 

Then, there are three distinct stages of life in the Hero. Different scholars and writers have used different terms for this. I will stick to what Joseph Campbell used.

  1. The departure from the ordinary world. 
  2. Initiation into the supernatural world 
  3. Return to the ordinary world where the hero originally came from 

Of course these stages are further divided into various substages. And each time the hero transitions from one stage to another, he has to go through a battle of sorts.

And if I were to create a story to explain the Hero’s Journey, it would go something like this… 

Once upon a time there lived a prince in a cocooned world where he had absolutely no clue about the harshness that life has to offer. All was well till one day while playing cricket, he makes a wild swing with his bat and instead of making contact with swings hard and breaks his father’s favorite vase. What more? The vase actually contained his father’s life! He suddenly is petrified. He doesn’t know what to do. And just then, the wise old courtier tells him that he can undo the damage and save his father’s life if he could go to the dungeons protected by the scariest dragons and retrieve this magic potion. Of course the prince is scared about it – after all he’s been warned all his life to not even talk about those dragons!

But then he has to save his father. He takes the courtiers’ blessing and a cloak of invisibility and goes on the adventure. Along the way he meets people – some good and some not so good. He does a lot of good deeds, after all, he is a good prince. Like while he is thirty and he just has one sip of water left, he gives that to an Eagle that has been shot down by an unknown hunter. 

As he heads towards the innermost cave where the pot of magic potion is hidden, he has to battle with the monster, the size of a Jupiter. The battle is ferocious, sparks fly off in all directions and it seems that the monster will have the upper hand. And while the prince is struggling, news comes from a home that his father is on the verge of dying. 

All is sort of lost for this young prince. He questions his choices and decisions and is about to give up. Just then the Eagle that he had given his last sip of water to comes with a magic sword that can kill the monster! 

And thanks to the superpowers and allies that our prince has gathered on his journey here, he prevails! All he needs to do is, go back home and save his father. 

But just when he starts to head home, he gets tempted to stay back – after all, he will be a prince if he goes back to his ordinary world and here, in the extraordinary, he is the mightiest of them all – after all, he is the one to have defeated the monster! He decides to not go back and enjoy the riches of this world. He starts to settle down till he sees a picture of his father in his wallet. He pines for his affection and he decides that a kingdom is not greater than his father’s health. 

He goes back and as he is on his way, everyone of importance from this extraordinary world decides to tag along. The prince has no choice but to listen to his new-found followers, disciples.

Once he reaches his father’s palace, of course the father is back to the pink of his health, thanks to the magic potion. Father then decides to let the prince ascend to the throne. And the young prince now rules over both the kingdoms and lives happily ever after! 

Phew! 

So yeah. That. The Hero’s Journey! 

And here we are! 

Shreya and I. 

With a series of posts on films in Bollywood that have followed the Hero’s Journey. Hopefully a post every two weeks. 

But before that, Some disclaimers… 

  1. These are our interpretations. And not the thoughts of the original writer. So, we may be off. PLEASE DO TELL US IF WE ARE ON POINT. OR ARE OFF. The idea of doing this is to learn and your input helps! 
  2. Since we would analyze these films end to end, we would have to narrate the story end to end. So, can’t really “hide” the climax, etc. 
  3. Of course not all stories follow the Hero’s Journey. And the stories that do follow the structure, don’t have to follow it to the T. 
  4. These pieces are not film reviews. We are not here to judge the film, the plot or the story. We are here to find traces of Hero’s Journey in the story. And try and learn lessons as scriptwriters ourselves. 
  5. All the work for the posts was done collaboratively by Shreya and I. But for the ease of writing and narration, I am the one who’s writing the post. 
  6. Please do note that the Monomyth is not the only structure that screenwriters and storytellers follow. There are more like the 3-act structure, the 5-act structure, and the nonlinear structure. Plus there are many more variations of this model itself. For example, there is one by Vogler that uses just 12 steps (unlike Campbell’s 17). And of course, there are more. In one line, this model (Campbell’s) is NOT the holy grail! But as Saurabh says, it does come close 😉 And Shreya disagrees. She is of the opinion that modern screenwriters do not use this at all. You decide and tell us 😀

We’d start next week, with Raju Hirani’s Munna Bhai MBBS.

Till then, over and out!

Shreya + Saurabh 

May 2020