AR: What percentage do you get in the end?
SS: Depends. That’s what we are fighting for.
AR: What do they propose?
SS: 20 per cent, 30 per cent.
TH: 40 per cent, sir.
SS: 40 per cent on release.
TH: Before the movie starts, it’s 60 per cent and on release, 40 per cent. So you get 60 per cent in the beginning, 20 per cent once you finish writing, and 20 per cent close to the release or after the release.
AR: When I started my career, it was 55 per cent on the release. Back then, the signing figure was not even 10 per cent.
GW: A writer’s work ends when the film goes on the floors. So they should clear our dues then.
AR: On my first project, I was quite ignorant of all this but smartened up from my second project.
GW: Sir, as you rightly said, we are also learning from our mistakes. Once the trust is broken, we don’t trust the next producer. So every film teaches us something.
AR: ‘Mistrust’ is a harsh word. I am saying there should be healthy caution, you should be vigilant about your rights. Your rights will not be gifted to you. What about termination? Does it say you can be dropped if they don’t like your work? ‘I am entitled to cancel this contract without assigning any reason whatsoever.’ Do your contracts say that?
TH: Another sad thing is that the producer can hire another writer at any point. I have started protesting this and they have agreed.
SC: But there is an NOC for this.
TH: No, I have written scripts, the casting is done, the shooting has started and then suddenly I see a senior writer walking in. Why? Because the actor wanted that writer in on the project.
AR: Are the royalties specified? Does it say that you will not receive any royalty?
HS: It usually says you are giving away all your rights to the producer.
AR: Yes, you do have to assign your rights to the producer to make the film, else he can’t make it. But, you don’t assign your rights to receive royalty. When your work is monetised further, outside of being shown in a cinema hall, you earn royalty. Like when someone makes a TV serial of it, or remakes it in another language, etc.
SS: Sir, I know this but am not fighting for it. Right now, we are only fighting for the money, the 10 per cent that is pending. We want five per cent on the shoot and five per cent once the shoot is over. This is the last instalment and it is in our contract.
AR: But I am talking about royalty.
SS: Royalty tak toh hum pahuche hi nahin sir.
PS: You mean even on commissioned films?
AR: Yes. Even if it is commissioned! Regardless of what was said or who asked you to do it, it is your intellectual property. You’re the first owner and the permanent author of it. Then, by contract, you assign those rights.
PS: Whoa! We were not aware of that.
AR: That’s what I want you all to be aware of. Now, about your future, where do you see yourself five years down the line?
PS: Being a producer. I don’t see myself directing, I want to be a creative producer. I am very lazy so I will not direct. I feel that putting everything together is an art. Once a film does well, you also earn a lot of money. (Laughs)
AR: You want creative control, and keep a share of revenue too?
PS: Yes, but I will continue to write.
TH: I have already moved on, sir. I have become the Creative Head of Balaji Motion Pictures. And then I want to become a studio head. That’s my goal.
AR: Will you quit writing?
TH: No, I am writing but setting up a project is more challenging. I love to do that and I will also continue to write. Whenever I would write my films, I used to make actors listen to the script and get them on board for the film. Like for ABCD 2, I got Varun Dhawan on board. It’s my strength.
AR: What about you, Himanshu?
HS: Writing, directing and producing.
AR: You have a script?
HS: Yes, I have had a script ready since
AR: Really? But now you should have a platform, given that all your films are hits.
HS: It’s just that half the time I am lazy and also scared. I keep wondering whether I should get into it or not. I would say 70 per cent is because I am lazy. The remaining 30 per cent is because I get into these zones once I finish writing. Like I have told Aanand also, koi doosri script dekh lo yaar shayad koi pasand aa jaye. Then I will get a year off. Once that happens, I will start pitching it to actors. So, hopefully, next year, I will be able to do that.
AR: You have done three films and all of them with Aanand. The writing community seems to think that you work only with him.
HS: No, in fact, I have written for nobody. It’s just that Aanand takes it. Of late, I have thought of some projects which I want to share with Mani Ratnam. So I keep thinking of subjects, even for Sriram Raghavan. So I tell Aanand that yeh aapse nahin banega.
GW: Five years down the line, I would want to write and direct my own scripts.
AR: Are you speaking for both of you?
SS: But in a different space. I want to direct.
GW: Shekhar Kapur tweeted a very beautiful line – Ek writer 80 per cent film direct kar deta hai paper pe! Not to take away from the director, of course, but jab hum woh kar sakte hain toh why not give our own vision on screen?
AR: Do you feel that your creativity, your vision, is not properly presented by the director?
GW: Most certainly. There have been times when we have believed in something with full conviction and the director has not been able to translate that. That’s when you think you wanted to present it. It is not rocket science. Chhota muh badi baat, sir, but I think we can do it.
SS: That’s why, overseas, so many writers become directors because they feel they can translate their vision better than anyone else can.
AR: Are you saying that all good writers want to become directors?
GW: He (Siddharth) used to keep saying that we will direct some day and I have always thought otherwise. But when I saw my vision translated into something else, I thought yes, maybe five years down the line I will turn director too.
AR: So is creative frustration the only reason
or is there also a feeling of disempowerment
GW: In my case, it is more to do with creative control. I am okay with being in my own little set-up. I am a private person and I don’t want 10 people around me all the time or pulling out chairs for me.
AR: Siddharth, do you agree?
SS: Sir, writers don’t have a face, they have a name. That is the reason why I want to direct a film. Sir, actually it is because of the lack of recognition more than anything else. I have a vision which translates into scripts, of which 80 per cent is on screen and 20 per cent is compromised. Sometimes, it is a 30 per cent compromise. But keeping that aside, sir writer ki aukaat nahin hai in this industry. If you want to show your capability, then you have to turn director. That’s what motivates me. It’s not only about making a name; I want a vision associated with that.
AR: I am going to ask you something about writers ki aukaat nahin hai.
SS: It is better than before.
AR: Yes, it certainly is. But don’t you feel that one can take this on and change the circumstances rather than bypass it morally? Is that the primary reason you are taking that decision?
SS: No, sir, that is true but this fight wahaan reh ke bhi hogi and the fight will be much better.
AR: Being on the other side will not make it a fight for writers.
SS: Sir, I will always remain a writer.
AR: I hope, as a director, you continue your sensitivity and your engagement with writers’ issues.
HS: As he said, writers ki aukaat nahin hai. Will writers be of some aukaat when we talk about our rights and when we have a say in our contracts? But I sometimes wonder if we are good enough. I am not really sure because most of the stories are star-dependent. Maybe we don’t have enough bandwidth or maybe we are not intelligent enough or maybe we are just not good enough. I feel our work needs to improve. There are small films like Vicky Donor, Dum Laga Ke Haisha and Queen that are not star-driven but are making money. Perhaps that can give writers some aukaat.
GW: It’s already happening. Take a film
like Masaan… does anyone know who wrote
AR: Varun Grover.
SS: We know because he is a fellow writer.
GW: Varun has written the screenplay brilliantly. After writing a small yet beautiful film like Masaan, how much appreciation has he got?
SS: When it comes to ‘good enough’, I think we are ‘better’. ‘Good enough’ is a benchmark or a definition, compared to whom? It is a comparative analysis.
AR: No, Himanshu is right. Siddharth, let’s face it, a lot of our films are not working because the scripts are weak.
SS: They are not made to work. Every film is a vision, a film like Bajrangi Bhaijaan also works, a Kick also works, and a Double Dhamaal also works. So what is the benchmark?
PS: A film is good or bad but it is not solely due to the script.
AR: What Himanshu means is that there are two factors – One which none of us here is denying, that writers are not receiving their due. He is not saying don’t fight for that. But he is also saying let’s shine the spotlight on the fact that there is not enough developed screenwriting talent of a high professional standard in this country at this point. But, the good thing is that new writers are very eager and constantly looking to upgrade their skills.
SS: Sir, a writer always tries to upgrade himself. If he doesn’t, he is not a writer.
TH: Like Himanshu said earlier, I don’t feel like watching my own films. And speaking of aukaat, I would say that aukaat hai. You have to decide what you are worth. No one can take that away.
SS: Apni nazar mein aukaat hai but the world should consider you worthy. We write for the world, not for ourselves.
AR: OK, let’s wind this up. What advice does each one of you have for a writer who is starting their career, one who believes in his skill or craft, who is capable of writing a script lekin uske paas abhi tak professional assignment nahin hai. What advice would you give them?
TH: Keep writing. If you write five scripts, two will be chosen. The more you write, the more you learn about writing. Set aside half an hour or so, to write, every day. It doesn’t matter whether what you write is good or bad. I say this from experience, in that, I didn’t do this and now I can work only for a director. And that’s not how it should be. I don’t want other writers to end up like me.
HS: Don’t try to market, don’t try to impress. If you don’t like what you write, no one will. Just make sure that yeh scene ke baad yeh scene mujhe chahiye. If you like it at least there is a chance someone else will too. If you are writing for the market and are lying to yourself, I can guarantee you that kisi ko pasand nahin ayega.
GW: Two things – one, don’t fall into the trap of trends. Do something your heart truly feels for because when the audience is paying for it, it better be worth it. Second, revisit your work. I learnt this the hard way. I never used to revisit my scripts but woh second round bahot zaroori hota hai. That draft is key for good work. Revisit, improve if you can jitna time aap apne script pe kharch karte ho utna time aapki film theatre mein rahegi that is what we believe in.
SS: Criticise you own work, sabse pehle and then ache se kaato. If you get too attached to your own script, you will never be able to complete it.
SC: Young writers have a lot of energy and passion. They should take any work they get because kitne bhi mahaan ideas ho, when you are hungry, you can’t think of anything else. Remember, we are living in an extremely expensive city, so survival is very difficult and uske beech mein writing ke liye time manage karna chahiye.
AR: Thank you all for your wonderful words of advice. I would like to add that when you are starting out, one is understandably eager to get that one assignment that will change one’s life, but the main challenge starts after you get that assignment. That’s when the process starts, of ensuring that the script shapes up, so that it doesn’t end up causing you any embarrassment or regrets. Also, if you get a sense in the beginning itself that either you or your work is not being treated as it deserves to be treated, get ready to walk away.
If your work is good, they will pursue you to your home, regardless of how many people you may have fought with. This is a commercial film industry and everyone is looking for scripts that will help them make money, so they will come chasing you. Be prepared to say no, be prepared to walk away if you feel you are being exploited. This is very important and it will help you build a long and successful career.
And thank you, Box Office India, for giving screenwriting this platform.