Screenwriters in the Indian film industry have for long been treated by producers and directors as a necessary evil. Most have had to fight for their dues (both in terms of screen credits as well as their fees) and few have had the voice or influence to resist attempts by production houses to dumb down scripts.
The Film Writers Association (FWA) hosted its third screenwriters conference in Mumbai (25th-27th Feb 2013) in a bid to give screenwriters the recognition due to them. The conference held presentations and discussions on copyright laws, writer’s rights and setting up of a Minimum Basic Contract for film and TV writers. On the creative side, writers debated on the connect/disconnect between popular cinema and social reality.
Dolly Ahuja, a Mumbai-based writer who pens stories for a radio show, Yaadon Ka Idiot Box with Neelesh Misra, and is also writing her debut Hindi feature film, blogs about her experience at the FWA conference…Thanks Dolly, for sharing…
It’s not often that one gets an opportunity to hear masters like Gulzar and Javed Akhtar talk about their journey as script writers. So, when the FWA announced its third screenwriters conference in Mumbai, I was first among those who packed into the large hall in Bandra, Mumbai. And it was indeed a wonderful experience.
A fiery session on children’s programming was in progress when one of the panelists got distracted. It was only after some time that the convener realized that Gulzar Sa’ab had arrived but was patiently waiting at the entrance of the large hall as he didn’t want to interrupt the discussion. The audience burst into applause at the humility of the master writer-director who is one of the living legends of the Hindi film industry.
Talking about the current scenario of children’s film and TV programming, Gulzar Sa’ab pointed out that with sexual abuse cases on the rise we, as a nation, need to be more sensitive to our children. We need to respect children as people. He lamented the fact that today a majority of parents have no time for their children: “When a mother allows the ayah to feed her child, while the child is watching TV, she is literally feeding television to the child.”
Reminiscing about the making of his popular television series based on the life and times of Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib, Gulzar Sa’ab said that the producers wanted to extend the series to 26 episodes. To which he had responded: “Mirza Sa’ab guzar gaye, ab bataiye kya karein” (Mirza Sa’ab has passed away…now tell me how I can extend the story?)
The soft-spoken, self-effacing Gulzar Sa’ab recalled how he would even hesitate to ask the producers for money that was due to him. “Humne toh ek dafa darte-darte poochha, ki “paison ka agar kuchh ho jaata toh…” Unhone poochha, ‘tum kahaan rahte ho’ humne bataaya ‘Andheri’… unhone apne production manager se kaha, ‘inko monthly pass banwa ke de dena, taaki aane-jaane mein koi pareshaani na ho’.” [Once when I mustered up the courage to ask for money, the producer asked me, ‘where do you live?’ I replied, ‘Andheri.’ At that he called the production manager and said, ‘Get a monthly railway pass made for him so that he can come to work without any problems’. And that was where the matter rested!”]
Javed Akhtar, another veteran scriptwriter who along with Salim Khan has written some of the most popular films, recalled how they had decided to raise their price after they had three hit films to their credit. So, instead of Rs 40,000, they decided to ask for Rs 2 lakhs for a script. “On meeting the producer I said, “Dekhiye, ye main aapko pehle bata doon, nahin to baad mein agar script pasand aa jaayegi to aap kahenge ki blackmail kar raha hai… agar script pasand aayi, to humlog do laakh rupaye lenge.” [I would like to tell you upfront that in case you like the script you will have to pay us Rs 2 lakhs. Or you might think we are trying to blackmail you because you like the script!”]
The producer asked one of his people to send in his partner. Javed Sa’ab thought to himself, well he must wish to consult. When the partner came in and asked him brusquely, “Kya hai, kya bol raha hai?” [What did you say?] the producer turned to me and said, “Mereko jo bola, isko bhi bol!” [Tell him what you told me.] He wanted him to hear it from me directly, or else the partner wouldn’t have believed that a writer could make such a ridiculous demand.” But luckily for them, some other producers did think they were worth paying that kind of money.
The ever-so-graceful Hema Malini presented FWA awards to Gulzar Sa’ab and Salim-Javed. She shared how she had always loved acting in Gulzar sa’ab’s films and wished they could work together some more. She recalled how she had to be convinced to work as a talk-a-mile ‘taangewaali’ [horse-chariot driver] in Sholay. She recalled that since she had long lines of dialogue, she would insist that Javed Sa’ab show her how she should deliver them. “I just copied the way he acted it out for me,” she said.
The FWA organizers had also arranged for lawyers who volunteered to help writers with understanding the technicalities of the Copyright Act Amendments that have become operational since June 2012. The PPT will be available on the FWA site shortly (along with the full recording of the conference.)
The FWA is currently working on the minimum basic contract. We were also joined by producer Vipul Shah who has been supporting the film writers’ fraternity in negotiating our rights with the producers’ fraternity. The FWA also roped in members from Writers Guild of America to give their suggestions and share their experiences.
There was some bashing of TV writers for giving in to producers’ demands and churning out low quality programmes. One lady on the panel shared how she had so far refused to write saas-bahu dramas. She was lauded for advising writers to have spine by none other than Javed Sa’ab.
The congregation wholeheartedly felicitated Late Manohar Shyam Joshi. He is considered the Father of Indian TV soap operas who wrote classics like Buniyad and Humlog. His wife and daughter-in-law (incidentally a copyright lawyer who also promised to help whenever required) came to collect the award. Director of Buniyad, Ramesh Sippy presented the award. He came along with his wife Kiran Juneja who had acted in the same series as ‘Veerawaali’.
On the last day there was also an announcement by a director, Shiv Kumar Sharma, who is currently looking for a script and is willing to pay Rs. 5 lakhs to the writer. The ebullient convener, Anjum Rajabali, convinced him to double the fees to Rs 10 lakhs to which Mr. Sharma agreed. Those interested can send in their synopses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best wishes everyone and thanks, Adite, for inspiring me to write this piece. 🙂
Oh yes, the wonderful poem on Gulzar by Kamlesh Panday will also be uploaded on popular demand (and on posting of comments!)