Finally, an age of meritocracy is showing signs of dawning, and I couldn’t be happier
Disclaimer: Salim-Javed were exceptional. Salim-Javed were an exception as well. All experience is personal.
Prologue: Maybe eight things have really changed in the field of writing because I surely have noticed some changes. Maybe nothing has changed at all and I am coming up with all this because I am supposed to come up with all this and as a writer I always want to come up with what I have been told to come up with.
From Friend To Writer: During the first 10-odd years of my forever-not-taking-off career, many a time before the beginning of a narration, I found actors, especially female actors, glaring at me because I had just been introduced to them as a friend. They used to think of me as a hanger-on who had come to ogle at a star, taking advantage of the fact that the director or producer was a friend of mine.
Only when the time came to narrate Hindi dialogue (where I would automatically become operational) would the actor realise that the ‘friend’ was actually a writer and they would immediately smile respectfully and probably say their hearts, ‘Maine tujhe kitna galat samjha, dost’. I had noticed that other writers who were helping with the script were also introduced as friends. Now, almost all writers including me are introduced as writers who are also good friends. Friendship is still important, not the role.
Chipka Poster, Nikla Real Hero: I found my credit on the hoarding of my second film. I have not been credited on the posters and hoardings of all my films, but at least on 80 per cent of them I have been. My fellow writers have also started consistently getting credited on the posters. If not, almost all writers have started getting credited at least on the end slate of the trailer. Some production houses still don’t put the writer’s name on the posters. Nobody
wants to die unsung in the movie business; why presume your writer is super-human?!
Iruvar – The writer And The Reviewer: The reviewer would even praise the spot boy’s aunt but was completely reluctant to name the writer unless he or she wanted to blame everything on him. Here the writer would be named and shamed and actors would rise above the screenplay and directors would be plagued with bad material by the all-powerful WRITER. This has changed. Many of my fellow writers, like Juhi, Himanshu, Rajat, even Hitesh who debuted this year, have been generously praised in reviews.
One Line Is Not A Screenplay: Screenwriters who could write Hindi dialogue would be told that they were supposed to write ‘dialogues’ and that the screenplay was ready. Instead of a 90- to 110-page screenplay, the dialogue writer would be handed a three, five or at max a 10-page step outline where sometimes scene number 90, a pre-climax scene, would just read: ‘Build up Build up More Build up’. Story, step outline, treatment, screenplay, most of the times these now turn out to be actually what they are supposed to be.
The Whole Thing is That ‘Sabse Bada Rupaiyya!’: Has pay changed? Yes, immensely. Now you are sometimes paid significantly more than a make-up assistant, which I wasn’t being paid in the year 2009 on my sixth film. Am I demeaning that profession? No, but c’mon!!!
A top star’s pay after the entry of Studios has multiplied by about 40 times. Has a top writer’s pay also increased? The good news is that the answer is yes, but by 20 times. Consider this piece of trivia: Salim-Javed were paid 2 lakhs for the screenplay of Majboor when gold was Rs 278.60 a tola (10 gms). It is about `29,450 now. But even now, no writer will be paid 2.10 crore upfront for a ready screenplay.
It is rumoured that a bonus amount of 2 crores was paid to Abhijat Joshi for 3 Idiots (I wish he would confirm this and even double the figure, in order to encourage us, even if it’s untrue). The Hollywood average for a well-known writer is about $400,000, although you end up losing half of that to taxes, agent’s and lawyer’s fees, so yeah we need to increase the pay to 40 times of what it used to be, if any one of us has any notions of being as talented as the famous duo.
Chupke Chupke Raat Din toh Khamosh Adalat Jaari Hai: A fairly well-known director wrote on a now-shut film buff site that his father was robbed of credit on a super-hit big-star comedy film released in 1983. He wrote that he had often seen his father crying alone at night. I lived to see two or three of my fellow writers being compensated by the courts. I have also been advised repeatedly by my producers to register all my drafts with the screenwriters’ association. Credit and property theft have lessened to some extent, with everybody insisting on proper paperwork.
Interview Shinterview: The press was largely disinterested in the movie writer. You had to have a sufficient body of work before you were considered a candidate for an interview. But I work in times when even a first acclaimed hit has seen the movie writer get a lot of good press. All the top screenwriters of today have repeatedly been interviewed about their much-acclaimed films, and deservedly so.
Ek Baar Jo Maine Commitment Kar Di: Is all change good? Sometimes it is not. There was a time when the big movie star would okay an idea or story presented by the writer and it would get made. Today such a word means nothing. Producers, writers and actors often change their minds. Writers also sometimes don’t wait as they had promised to. This is a change for the bad.
Epilogue: Merely ruing the absence of writers won’t do. Salim-Javed had to ask for it, but producer directors like Shoojit Sircar and Aanand L Rai have given their writers so much love, space and praise that they have been encouraged to excel. It is no
wonder that Himanshu Sharma and Juhi Chaturvedi have such an incredible and consistent record. May the tribe of such secure producers and directors grow! For the other things that one wants to change – one will have to be that change I guess.
– On changes he has witnessed over the years as a writer, Ritesh Shah, Writer