Studio to Studio
It is interesting to quote the late KA Abbas, who has recorded that’ “Someone got forms printed in the ‘thaila’ (bag) of Qamar Jalalabadi, who during his professional work as song-cum-dialogue-writer, went from Studio to Studio enrolling members. For one or two years the Association remained not in the womb, but in a bag which Qamar Sahib was carrying with him”.
What started with only 200 members is now 16,000 strong, out of which 8,000 are Regular, Life and Associate members and the rest Fellow members.
Ironically, despite the efforts and commitment, the association became defunct after a year or two. That the association did exist in 1951 is corroborated by a news item published in Screen in its issue of November 9, 1951. The issue was published immediately after the release of the Film Enquiry Committee Report. It is important to reproduce the said news item, which stated: “The Film Writers Association, Bombay, has passed a resolution deploring the lack of representation for screenwriters on the proposed Film Council. It asked the Central Government to provide adequate representation to them.”
Growth & Development
The Initial Years
During the initial period, the association’s office was at Famous Studio, Mahalaxmi. The office shifted to a small room adjoining the masjid near Roop Tara Studios in Dadar. Thereafter it shifted to Shree Sound Studios and then to Ranjit Studios and finally to Richa Building, Andheri West.
Issues At Stake
1.A few pertinent issues that the association took up immediately upon its formation can be categorised as under:
2.To fight for dignity and rights of writers and to secure representation on national and international organisations and develop fraternal relations with them
3.To seek representation of writers on panels/committees instituted by the government to debate on cinema and issues connected with it
4.To submit memoranda to the government to enact a comprehensive copyright law for safeguarding the rights of writers. Back in 2008, we restarted the fight for the Copyright Amendment Bill to recognise screenwriters and lyricists as authors deserving royalty on their work. Producers and broadcasters, many of whom were film stars, had all the resources, a battery of lawyers, clout and access to top politicians, while all we had was Javed Akhtar who, with luck, happened to be a member of the Rajya Sabha. History was made when the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha passed the Copyright Amendment Bill unanimously without a single vote against it, on June 21, 2012, when it became the law of the land. It is a unique Copyright Amendment Bill which gives screenwriters and lyricists completely non-assignable right to royalty on their work.
5.A committee set up to formulate three types of standard contracts. So far, contracts with screenwriters and lyricists had been totally one-sided in favour of the producer. So the Film Writers’ Association drafted one for film writers, one for television writers and one for lyricists. We sent the proposed drafts of these Minimum Basic Contracts to producers and broadcaster five years ago and we are still waiting for a mere acknowledgement that they have received them. I have sent at least 50 reminders, but have received no response. Meanwhile, producer-director Vipul A Shah has gone ahead and complained to the Competition Commission of India against the trade union associations of 20 crafts (he has conveniently exempted his own association, IFTDA, and Mahila Kalakar Sangh, being an association of women junior artists, from the list) and the Federation of Western India Cine Employees and All India Film Employees Confederation, that the MoU that producers associations on behalf of producers and the Federation of Western India Cine Employees on behalf of its affiliated 22 craft associations had been signing for the last 60 years is anti-competitive. So right now there is no MoU in existence, which used to lay down the rules and regulations for the working conditions between producers and workers and technicians of the film and TV industry. As a result, producers now often pay whatever they want to and whenever they want to and shoot as long as they want to beyond the time limit allowed in earlier MoUs. The Federation of Western India Cine Employees gets dozens of complaints against producers.
6.Formation of a Dispute Settlement Committee to settle disputes between writers and producers, writers and directors and also between writers. Right now, due to a heavy rush of complaints, the Film Writers’ Association has two teams of Dispute Settlement Committees. On average, we get about four to five complaints a week. This is the volume of injustice and exploitation against screenwriters and lyricists, who are often denied their legitimate remuneration and credit. Violation of their copyright has become quite common in the television industry. But at the same time, when we find our own member guilty, we never fail to take action against him/her.
6.Formation of a Welfare Committee to offer medical help to members, pensions to writers who are too old to work, educational funds to members’ children. Currently, 20 per cent of the annual revenue that the Film Writers’ Association makes in membership fees (the lowest among all associations) from new members and renewal fees from old members goes into welfare of its members, including about 21 members who get a monthly pension.
1.Parivarik Sahaeta Kosh (Family Welfare Fund)
2.Hrishikesh Mukherjee Educational Fund for Bedi Rahi Scholarships (Education Fund)
3.Emergency Relief Fund (Medical Assistance)
5.To help members hone their craft, the Film Writers’ Association regularly organises seminars and screenwriting workshops. A workshop for lyricists is also on the agenda. It also participated in the pitch-fest organised by FICCI last year, to offer its members a chance to pitch their ideas, stories and scripts to over 40 film and television producers and broadcasters. It plans to organise a pitch-fest of its own and is working towards this.