Roundtable – Writers

AR: Himashu, is there any genre that you think you will not be able to do?

HS: I don’t know if you have watched a film called The Ghost And The Darkness. It’s about two lions. I think I have watched that film more than 25 times but every time I watch it, I feel ki yeh main toh nahin likh sakta. So there are several films which I think I am not capable of writing.

AR: I have attempted some which did not get made. But people assume I have this inclination for intense drama, internal conflicts, internal dilemma and a struggle for change, because I write on these subjects. I did attempt a children’s film, which was commissioned, but it was never made. Then I wrote a horror film for a British producer and I did a pretty scary job with that. Then came a musical drama. I have written so many different types of films but I simply cannot write comedy. I enjoy good comedy, whether Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro or Vicky Donor but I cannot write comedy. I have worked for 20 years and it’s confirmed, nobody offers me comedy. If someone wants a dry film to be written, they call me!

Let me ask you another question on working with a director. Tushar has already spoken about it but the rest of you have not. Himanshu, you write your own stories and the rest of you work largely as co-writers. Even I have written with directors like Govind Nihalani, Rajkumar Santoshi and Prakash Jha. So what are these dynamics, can we elaborate on that? Given the nature of the process, it is true that the final storyteller is the director because you’re offering the story to him. Eventually, he is the one who is telling it and you can’t control his sensibilities, capacity, limitations, anxiety. You might write the best script in the world but if it doesn’t fit into his creative framework, it’s worth nothing. Tell me your experiences.

PS: First, when I choose a director, I look at whether I can get along with him or not. As a co-writer, I will be spending around six months to a year with the director and if we don’t get along, how will I write with him? I have met directors from whom I haven’t got good vibes and I immediately bid them goodbye. Director Tony D’Souza, who made Blue and Boss called me one day and said, ‘I am Tony and I have delivered two flops. Will you work with me?’ I instantly said yes. Now we are good friends and I am writing something for him. So whether it is Raj Kumar Gupta, with whom I wrote my first film, Vikas Bahl or Kabir Khan, I am good friends with all of them. There is a struggle, so sometimes you need to convince them and sometimes they need to convince you. At the end of the day, he is the captain of the ship. So you have to play by the director’s rules.

AR: That’s precisely my point… does the captaingiri kick in in the co-writing arrangement or does it kick in during the final draft?

PS: I think it naturally kicks in initially but only as a director, at least in my case.

AR: That means he is not coming in purely as a co-writer. He is coming in as a director who is also involved in the writing process and that becomes problematic. Because it’s your duty and the co-writer’s duty to ensure that the script is explored to its maximum.

PS: That happens anyway. It doesn’t happen, like, I can’t shoot it, so let’s not do it. It’s never happened with me, at least.

AR: So you have not found them pulling rank?

PS: It’s always a give-and-take. I convince them and they convince me.  There are discussions but, finally, everything is a consensus.

AR: Siddharth-Garima, what is it like working with Mr Bhansali? You know, there are several scriptwriters in Hollywood who have written books on their experiences with a filmmaker, and they are largely full of lament. Accounts by scriptwriters are always about terrible experiences.

GW: On the contrary, we are a classic case of really big director, big banner and two newcomers. We could so easily have been intimidated but Sid and I are very independent.  Each one has a unique personality and when you co-write, you have to share the same wavelength. So the two of us were co-writing and his (Sanjay Sir’s) involvement could have caused confusion but from the day we met him, he gave us a few ideas and asked us what we wanted to write on. We picked up GKRRL since it was an unadulterated love story.

AR: So it was your story?

SS: He gave us three options and we chose this one. It was not called GKRRL, of course, it was just an idea of a violent love story set against the backdrop of Gujarat. So that was the one line, that’s how we stitched the story together.

GW: Working with him was contrary to everything we had heard from various sources. We had heard stories on how he apparently breaks phones…

AR: This phone incident is very famous and everyone keeps hearing about it.

GW: He is the most fun person to work with. I don’t think we could have got a better break than this. He didn’t interfere at all when we started scripting the film. We were given our own space to do the research, for which we went to Gujarat.

SS: It was he who suggested that we travel to Gujarat as the film is set there and it was important for us to be familiar with the culture. But he didn’t give us any more suggestions. All he said was that we should visit Gujarat.

GW: He let those layers grow in our minds. He does not stifle your creativity. In fact, he enhances it. What I loved about him was that he told us, ‘Don’t think you’re writing a film for Sanjay Leela Bhansali write for yourself.’ That was such a wonderful thing to say! He didn’t burden us. He eventually combined our sensibilities with his art. I believe GKRRL was a great marriage between a great visionary director and new writers.

AR: He also got credit as a co-writer. I am more interested in that.

SS: That’s true. His involvement began after we finished the draft. He started incorporating his directorial inputs, which is natural because he had a vision since it was his directorial venture.  As for his involvement, that started once we finished the screenplay and dialogue of the film. He added his aesthetics once the script was ready. We saw eye-to-eye on 80 per cent and disagreed with 20 per cent. In the final product too, there were things we didn’t agree with. But all’s well that ends well.

AR: Did he write a draft?

GW: He gave us ideas and we went back and came up with a screenplay.

AR: All I am saying is if a director wants writing credit, he has to write. When a director comes in and discusses the script, that’s his job. The directorial input is his job, you don’t get writing credit for that.

GW: But sir Sanjay sir’s involvement in the script was natural as the germ of the idea was his. But sadly, in our industry it’s something we have encountered with many other people. Like, sometimes people just toss around ideas, and expect credit. It doesn’t mean everyone who has an idea will get credit but we have to compromise as we are just starting our careers.

SS: He is the only person we have shared a credit with and we’ll cherish that forever.

GW: (Cuts in) But we constantly encounter this (credit) issue with other people.

SS: Yes.

PS: Because you write the draft and then they weigh in on the process. That’s unfair.

GW: But this is the norm everywhere if a director commissions you to write something, even if only the concept comes from him. Then you develop it into a story, you write a script around it.

PS: (Cuts in) So you guys used to meet him
how often?

GW: We used to meet him after every stage of writing and then we would discuss it together.

AR: But that’s a director’s job! You discuss it with him, he gives his feedback and then you go back home and write it accordingly. Unless we take a stand individually, no changes take place. You have to make it clear, your contract also must specify that only you get credit.

GW: We are learning and what we realise after working with various production houses is that Sanjay sir is inarguably the fairest when it comes to credit.

AR: All I am saying is if the director says, ‘I will also be the co-screenwriter’, he too has to write. If he doesn’t write, he shouldn’t get credit. I am sorry but you will get your due only if you protest.

GW: Sometimes, we finish writing a script and send it to a director. The script comes back asking us to make a few changes. And then, on top, there is opening title, which we had never written. It mentions screenplay by so-and-so (director’s name) and then our names. And we are, like, who did this? Who wrote the script? The director hasn’t written anything, so why does it have his name? Here on, we will need to mention it in our contract.

AR: Yes, you also need to clear it verbally before you sign the contract. Once you sign on the dotted line, I am afraid it’s done.

SS: Sir, woh contract mein ek aur clause hota hai which reads, the credit and its placement will be decided by the producer.’

AR: Then don’t sign it! Learn to say no. How dare they write that? If you’re engaging me as a scriptwriter, that should be my credit, thank you very much!

When you write a script, you should get credit, even if the script has been reworked and the final edit is differently structured than your script. The director has his skill, the editor his, and I don’t have an issue with their prerogatives. What I do have an issue with is the writer’s rights. Your right to your credit has to be specified and honoured. Even your money, your payment, has to be made based on a particular schedule. You cannot be thrown out halfway. Your contract cannot be terminated. There are certain clauses and implications about when the termination will take place and its consequences. Credit is your right, like is copyright. Siddharth, you were telling me that, these days, royalty is included in the contract. It is just not illegal, it is stupid because royalty has a different definition. Royalty is a percentage of the revenue which you have earned on platforms outside the cinema hall. How can you predict that? So my next question is, how aware are all of you about your legal rights? Don’t be offended, be clear because we need to spread awareness. What is it that you can fight for?

TH: I want to answer this question. I know you’re fighting for a cause, you’re fighting for us. I have done 22 films. Of these, I signed a contract for my last seven films, I didn’t for the first 15 films and I didn’t have a problem with that. These problems began to arise only once they started making contracts. My point is, it used to be all about trust. I am happy that contracts are being made but I also feel we have stopped trusting. What we are actually saying is that because you don’t trust them, you’re signing on paper. We have never signed contracts and I am sure, Anjum sir, you too didn’t sign contracts in the earlier years.

AR: Yes, I did. Always.

TH: Even though we are senior writers, we don’t know anything about contracts. Imagine what it must be like for those who are starting their careers! I feel there should be one simple contract for writers. The remuneration can keep changing but not the rest of the contract.

AR: I understand your point but to say that problems began to arise when contracts came into the picture is wrong. Even when you get married, whether an arranged or a love marriage, there is a registration process one needs to undergo. Why? Because there is an understanding that you’re committing to something. It is an arrangement with your spouse; similarly this too is a legal arrangement. I can give you countless examples where the last instalments to the writer were never paid in the days of no-contract. As regards credit, take the instance of this big filmmaker, the writing credits in whose films were as follows: Story by so and so writer, screenplay by so and so, dialogue by so and so, and then, written and directed by the filmmaker himself! If you have written and directed the film, what were the other writers doing? Who suffers due to this ambiguity? Not the director but the writer.

What credits like these seem to suggest is that aapne jo kiya hoga thanda tha, it is I who actually wrote and directed the film. This is precisely what we need to fight. We are not here to be stenographers, and not merely to execute someone else’s vision. We come in with a vision of our own, even if it’s commissioned work. It is our vision, our work, our voice, our expression that comes into the picture. So how aware are you of your contracts? You are in a position where people are demanding you, calling you for work.

PS: I now have a lawyer who educates me about contracts but there is still a lot I do not know.

AR: Let me ask you a direct question. Is your fee specified in the contract?

All: Yes.

AR: Is the schedule of payment specified?

All: Yes.

SS: (Cuts in) The schedule is unfair, sir.

AR: Haan!

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