Veteran screenwriter Anjum Rajabali, jury member of Cinestaan India’s Storytellers Script Contest, tells Soumita Sengupta why writers must stand by their vision
Tell us about Cinestaan India’s Storytellers Script Contest?
Cinestaan has launched the biggest script contest that we have seen in India. The prizes being offered are very substantial – Rs 25 lakh for the best script, and a total of Rs 50 lakh as cash awards. This is a great incentive for all screenwriters – aspiring as well as experienced. On top of that, the writers of the scripts that come out on top will get not only a very prominent platform to showcase their talent, but also concrete opportunities to pitch their work at and liaise with major studios and production houses.
What is the criteria for writers to be selected?
There are two stages in the contest. By January 15, 2018, writers are required only to submit a story or synopsis of the script. All stories received will be read and assessed for their creative and dramatic quality by our readers and experts. The quality ones will be asked to submit a full script within sufficient time. All those scripts will then go through three rounds of assessment by experts.
The final shortlisted scripts will then go to our jury comprising Aamir (Khan), Raju (Hirani), Juhi (Chaturvedi) and myself. We will read, assess, debate and decide on who the five winners will be.
This final shortlist will also be asked to prepare a video pitch, which will then be showcased online for public voting. The best five will receive cash prizes.
How will you select new talent? What are the qualities you are looking for in new writers?
Since this is creative expression that we’re looking at, the nature of assessment is always complex. First, the idea should be original. Then, the writer should display the craft of developing that into a story that fulfills the promise of the idea, with interesting, credible, complex characters, that finally grows into a script, the structure of which is organic to the demands of the story, peppered with scenes that are deftly sketched with crisp dialogue.
Will it help us find new writers from across the globe?
Yes. This contest aims to draw Indian screenwriting talent from everywhere, and offer them this very solid incentive to give their proposed script their very best shot. We are also hopeful that those who may never have written a script will participate, and you never know what kind of surprising talent may surface and receive an immediate boost because of this contest!
Do you feel writers are yet to get their due in the industry?
While the situation is definitely better, in some respects, than what it was a couple of decades ago, writers are still being denied their due value, position and respect. One of the reasons this contest becomes important is that it unconditionally recognises that writers need to be acknowledged and valued for their talent and good work. And, more of them need to be encouraged to get into screenwriting with the assurance that their talent will be rewarded. If we continue to deny the importance of stories and screenwriting, the audience will continue to reject our films. It’s as simple as that now.
Has the scenario for writers changed today in our industry?
Yes. Today it’s the script that gets locked first and then producers get actors on board. Earlier, a script would be confirmed by a producer only if and when a star agreed to get attached. And, almost every low-budget independent film happens because it is based on a worthy script.
What makes a quality script worth reading?
While the purpose of the script is to transform into a film, good ones by themselves make for a very gripping read. A well-written script helps the reader see it unfold as a riveting film, and hence is effectively unputdownable! More often than not, factors such as direction, acting and music are played up a lot but we have to remember that the script is the basis of the film. The job of the other disciplines is to ensure that the story contained in the script comes out cinematically, and enhances the audience’s viewing experience.
What are the new things which writers should know before starting their writing career?
Conviction is a critical factor that new writers feel they can’t afford. But, if you’re a writer, then you need to stand by your vision and defend it with honesty. However, you have to also remember that filmmaking is a partnership between the director and the script, so a writer has to allow for the directorial vision and talent to inform the final drafts of the script. After all, it is the director who is going to tell your story to the audience, after it has passed through the prism of his style and sensibility. Screenwriting, like all art, depends on ideas. And ideas are powerful when they are original!