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Write & Wrongs

As the entertainment landscape evolves, it is more important than ever for the people writing content and those telling the stories to work together

Kamlesh Pandey

Hon General Secretary, 
Screenwriters Association 
(formerly Film Writers’ Association)

Let me begin with a few lines from our member and poet-lyricist Shakeel Azmi’s poem Parde Ke Peechhe Ka Andhera, which aptly and briefly describes the state and status of a screenwriter and lyricist in Hindi cinema:

Isee jahaan mein hai ek kalam bhi

Ki jisse nikla tha ek Gabbar

Ki jisne likha tha ek Mogambo

Ki jisne socha tha ek Birju

Ki jisne parde par ek Vijay ki talaash ki thi.

Isi kalam ne villain ko maara

Badi par nekee ki jeet likhi.

Rivaz nafarat ka kaat daala

Nayi muhabbat ki reet likhi.

Kalam ne actor ko jaan di hai.

Khamoshiyon ko jabaan di hai.

Kalam ne likhe hain geet aise

Kamaati filmen hain jinse paise.

Magar kalam ki nahi hai izzat.

Magar kalam ki nahi hai keemat.

Milega kab iss kalam ko chehra?

Woh daur aayega kab sunehra?

The motive of the Film Writers’ Association is to first get a recognisable, respectable face to the ‘kalam’ and bring back that golden age, when screenwriters and lyricists found a well-deserved place in the Indian film and television industry and their legitimate right to respect, remuneration and credit.

So the first thing I did when my team and I took charge of the Film Writers’ Association back in 2008 was to put this line boldly on the door of our office:

‘The screenwriter is the first star of a film or television show because before the screenwriter, a film or a television show is just a blank piece of paper.’  

Add to this, no one except the screenwriter knows how to fill up that blank piece of paper or a blank computer screen – not the superstar who gets paid crores; nor the producer who would not hesitate to pay crores to the star but preaches simple living and high thinking to the screenwriter and often cheats him/her of their due remuneration; nor the director who insists on sharing writing credit for just offering feedback on the script but wouldn’t dare share credit with a cinematographer, art director, editor, music director, singer, etc., for doing the same.

It is not that there never was a golden age for screenwriters and lyricists. The ’50s, the golden age of Hindi cinema, was also the golden age of screenwriters – Raj Kapoor perhaps spent more time with Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, VP Sathe and Inder Raj Anand than with his family; Guru Dutt and Abrar Alvi were virtually inseparable; Bimal Roy could not do without Nabendu Ghosh. K Asif surrounded himself with four of the best screenwriters – Amanulla Khan, Kamal Amrohi, Vajahat Mirza and Ehsan Rizvi – to deliver an immortal classic like Mughal-E-Azam. Mehboob Khan had Ali Raza and Vajahat Mirza as his regular screenwriters; B.R. Chopra had an entire story department consisting of writers like Akhtar Mirza and Akhtar ul Iman; Shantaram often depended on the literary talents of legendary Marathi writer GD Madgulkar.

However the golden age did not continue, and over the years, with the exception of Pt Mukhram Sharma and Salim-Javed, the screenwriter was reduced to a ‘munshi’ at best.

Luckily for us, the Film Writers’ Association was born with the right DNA. It amuses me no end and in fact thrills me that back in 1950, when most of us were not even born and a few like me were still in our nappies, on a Sunday afternoon in the humble Matunga flat of music director Anil Biswas during an open house of their weekly cultural and literary meeting with KA Abbas, Ramanand Sagar, Dr Safdar Shah, Mahesh Kaul, Pt Narendra Sharma, Chandrashekhar, Madhusudan, PN Rangeen and Amritlal Nagar, the seed of the Film Writers’ Association, Bombay, was planted.

What is important to note here is the fact that the names associated with the birth of the Film Writers’ Association more or less defined its DNA – social concern, a progressive and secular outlook, literary mindset, high professional standards, awareness of a writer’s fundamental rights, and creative excellence in whatever a writer and lyricist is expected to deliver.

This is what the Film Writers’ Association has always stood for and continues to stand for.

Back Story 

Till the early ’50s, most craftsmen and technicians worked with studios and were considered permanent employees of the studios. There were no freelancers. The need to have a trade union body was never felt. It was only when producer Chimanlal Trivedi started the contract system in his production company that cracks developed in the relationship between the writers and directors, who were considered the two most important two wheels on which the industry moved.

The change in the system led to a dispute between the producers and directors on one hand and directors and writers on the other. Apparently the director could no longer pick a writer of his choice. The same held true for writers. They now felt the need to have their own trade union bodies.

Adoption of A Constitution

May 29, 1954

On May 29, 1954, another meeting of writers was held at Shree Sound Studios. Nearly 80 writers had enrolled as members by then and an appeal was made to all film writers to join the association. At the meeting, 24 writers were present. The Constitution of the association was adopted in the General Body Meeting held thereafter. The membership enrollment drive had been a success.

On formation of the association, it was in the fitness of things that one of its main initiators was elected as its General Secretary. There was no post of President or Chairperson as the Constitution did not have any provision for the post(s). Vishwamitra Adil and CL Kavish were elected as Joint Secretaries while Pt Sudarshan became the Treasurer. The council of members included stalwarts such as KA Abbas, DN Madhok, PL Santoshi, Mahesh Kaul, IS Johar, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi, Shailendra, VP Sathe, Shakeel Badayuni, Krishan Chander, Kamal Amrohi, Rajendra Krishan, Ali Raza, and Nabendu Ghosh.

Though the Constitution was adopted in 1956, the Film Writers’ Association, Bombay, was registered as a trade union under the Trade Union Act 1926 with Registration No 3726 only on May 13, 1960.

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