Film industry has learnt to value scripts: Anjum Rajabali

By Nandita Dutta • Published on February 25, 2013

anjum rajabali

[T] he 3rd Indian Screenwriters’ Conference begins in Mumbai today, where 800 screenwriters are expected to deliberate on the creative and legal facets of screenwriting. Ahead of the conference, screenwriter Anjum Rajabali (Rajneeti, Pukar, The Legend of Bhagat Singh), the convener of the conference talks to DearCinema about some of the most pressing issues for writers:

How far have writers been successful in getting the Copyright Amendment Act implemented?

Right now, the new Copyright Board is being formed which will then confirm the rules that will make the amended Act operational. So really speaking, it is not in the writers’ hands. We have made our presentation to the Registrar at the meetings of stakeholders that were convened a few months ago. And we are ready with our flow-chart and plan of action, as soon as the Board calls us for that final meeting to confirm the protocols involved.

See, this is a new step for India. Totally unprecedented. Hence, perhaps it is taking time because everyone involved – the government, writers, music composers, lyricists, producers, studios, music labels, other stakeholders – is taking slow steps to be clear and sure of the implications of each decision, as it can have long-term effects.

As it stands, I imagine, in the next couple of months the implementation should begin.

Is the Indian film industry forthcoming in accepting writers’ rights?

Actually, that has been the biggest change! There has been a two-pronged struggle from our side in the last three years: one was on the Copyright Act front, where originally there appeared to be an adversarial equation between writers and producers. Initially, there was some antagonism, based on suspicion and anxiety as they believed that the amendments would harm their position, undermine their future. However, as the dust settled, and the implications for their business model became understood, they were immediately forthcoming in their acceptance of the amendments, and now, we are moving in a spirit of mutual cooperation. And that is how it should be. Both producers and writers are effectively equity-holders in the filmmaking process; we just come in with different inputs, that’s all.

The second struggle  on FWA’s part was to push for some regulation in the writer-producer contract. Here too, it took some time for the mindset to change, and for the initial antipathetic reluctance to dissolve, but dissolve it did! After some dogged attempts on our part to bring them to the table, the negotiations began. And, we’re happy to report that we have agreed in principle on all the important clauses, and if we can get the legal terminology done in the next couple of days, we hope to announce it in its final form at the Indian Screenwriters’ Conference.

Both these struggles served as catalysts to pave a path of communication and mutual trust, which is so essential for us to work together with commitment, dignity and respect.

What’s next on the agenda of Film Writers’ Association?

There are a series of initiatives that have been going on for the last four years. FWA’s approach to the writers’ cause has been two-pronged: Developmental, and rights-driven. On the latter front, as I have answered above, we have made some significant breakthroughs. And yet, since these moves don’t have a precedent – meaning that we haven’t had a tradition of collective bargaining vis-a-vis writers – it does seem to move in the Leninist way of the revolution. Two steps forward, one step backward!! But, effectively forward. What is immediately on the cards is a Minimum Basic Contract for TV writers. FWA has already drafted one, and negotiations with producers ought to begin shortly.

On the developmental front, I’d say some sizable work has already been done, and is continuing. Regular workshops for new writers for cinema and TV, fellowships for writers, mentorship programmes, seminars on writing, adaptation, masterclasses with veterans, and of course a regular national conference. Apart from this, in a more non-formal format various study-circles are going on. Generally, I’d say, there is quite a bit of vigour in the screenwriting community.

Content-driven films are being recognized in Hindi cinema lately but are writers getting their due you think?

They are beginning to. What is significant is that the recent slew of non-star cast films that have enthused the audience have been recognized for the merit of their respective scripts. And that has raised the confidence of the film industry in scripts. The search for good scripts has acquired more pointedness, and this has also helped in producers wanting to make the deal fairer for writers, in a bid to attract the best talent towards them.

Have things improved for writers after corporatization?

Frankly, not in the way expected. You see, the hope was that when corporates stepped into the film industry, they would bring in their professionalism, their contractual transparency, their fair and good business practices from their original industry into filmmaking. However, unfortunately, so steeped was the film industry in its own conventions, and so intricate were those norms, that the corporates just slipped into that, more or less. On some fronts, like production efficiency, financial transparency, and other such protocols, things did change. But writers were left disappointed, as their contracts turned out to be even more elaborately in favour of producers, denying writers their basic rights. However, now that things are moving towards much more professionalism, they are changing too.

What, according to you, are the highlights of the upcoming Screenwriters’ conference? Reasons screenwriters should look forward to it?

Oh, lots of highlights, I’d say. Some collective reflection on the social responsibility of screenwriters and the disconnect that our narratives seem to be experiencing from what is happening in this country, showcasing of new writers and the fresh new approaches to screenwriting that we are seeing which are challenging established imperatives, and of course an extensive discussion on the implications of the amended Copyright Act for film and TV writers.

We expect an attendance of around 800 screenwriters and writer-directors from around the country, with established names as well as the young turks who have recently attacked the citadel! So, you’ll have Javed Akhtar, Gulzar, Ashutosh Gowariker, Rakeysh Mehra, Anurag Basu and other seniors, as well as the new ones like Abbas Tyrewala, Habib Faisal, Urmi Juvekar, Bejoy Nambiar, Reema Kagti, Juhi Chaturvedi, and many many others.

Also, this time we have a fairly good contingent of writers from Marathi cinema who have been doing some stellar work, like Ravi Jadhav, Girish Kulkarni, Sanjay K. Patil, Paresh Mokashi, Umesh Kulkarni. And then a superb lot from TV writing including Rajesh Dubey, Satyam Tripathy, Gajra Kottary, Vivek Bahl, and many other exciting senior and new writers. It promises to be a fun conference!

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