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Writers "BLOCKED"
Debarati Palit Singh | Friday, 19 May 2017 AT 09:57 PM IST
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The recent controversy surrounding writer Apurva Asrani,  and filmmaker Hansal Mehta and Kangana Ranaut over the writing credits for Simran has yet again raised the question — do writers get their due in films?



On Wednesday, Apurva Asrani created a stir with his 1000-word Facebook post. The popular writer shared his displeasure over Kangana taking writing credit for Hansal Mehta film Simran.

This not the first time a writer is being denied his/her rights. In the past, writer Jyoti Kapoor fought an eight month long legal battle against filmmaker Kunal Kohli over the script of Phir Se. Filmmaker Abhishek Kapoor got into a tiff with his co-writer Pubali Chaudhuri for taking sole credit for the script of Rock On 2. Chetan Bhagat also accused Raj Kumar Hirani and Vidhu Vinod Chopra of not giving him proper credit for 3 Idiots, which was based on his novel — Five Point Someone. There have been several instances when writers have approached Film Writers Association over stealing of script or stories.

The ‘Simran’ controversy
After keeping quiet for two days, Simran director Hansal Mehta has finally spoken out. The filmmaker in a Twitter post said, “My spine is whatever it is, weak or strong; it is only for my film and nothing else. If I chose to not speak, it is for my film. And when I do speak, it will only be in service of my film.”

Hansal and Apurva have worked together on films like Shahid and Aligarh in the past. Hansal said when he will speak, it will not be driven by any blackmail or any noise on social media where dignity is perceived as weakness and conversation is replaced by allegation. The Citylights director also said that he is guilty of crediting individuals who contribute to making his films very special. “And yes I will be guilty. Not once more. But a thousand times over. Call me names, as many names as you want. But in your desperation to seek attention and gain sympathy, do not try to harm my film,” he said.

Interestingly, this controversy doesn’t end here. On Thursday, writer Sameer Gautam claimed that Apurva had taken away his credit as a writer from the critically acclaimed film, Shahid. Apurva was the co-writer for the film. In a Facebook post on Friday, Sameer wrote, “I was supposed to have a “Written By” credit. Then one day, I got to know from a team member that Apurva is insisting on a screen-writing credit for the film. Sir (Mehta) was happy with this cut and he then spoke to me about this.”

He further added, “At first, I did not know what to say and then I said ‘no’ because I had given the film four years of my life. But Apurva refused to work any further unless he was given a screenplay credit for bringing this ‘fresh approach/ narrative’ to the film. Hansal sir was in a Catch 22 situation and I could see it. He did not want to lose either of us. As much as he fought for me, he finally gave in to Apurva’s demands.”

Sameer even called Apurva ‘bad news’ and said, “Being an insider, I know I am not the only one Mr Asrani has stepped over. He is a regular offender.”

Why are writers not given their due?
There’s no denying that writers and lyricists are taken for granted by directors and producers in the film industry. Screenwriters Association (SWA), previously known as Film Writers Association, receives several complaints either over copyright issues or over non-payments.

“We are treated like shit by the industry. Writers have no value at all here; and we are considered non-existent,” says writer and lyricist Prashant Ingole. “There are no ethics within Bollywood. In Hollywood, technicians are treated with such respect,” he adds.

Screen-writer Anjum Rajabali says that one fundamental and enduring fact has been that writers have traditionally had disproportionately meagre bargaining power, compared to producers, directors, actors.  “There are historical reasons for this. But, quite ironically, while on the one hand, writers have been treated unfairly, even shabbily, on the other, the writing credit is considered so prestigious that many others, especially directors, have been tempted to muscle into it,” says Anjum.

He adds that although he has no knowledge of Apurva Asrani’s case, one must be clear about a couple of factors. “One, in a writer’s contract, credit has to be clearly spelt out and guaranteed. Two, unless the writer has been able to insist on an exclusive credit arrangement, the producer has the right to engage other writers to improve the script. And, they too have a right to co-writing credit. But, only provided that they have actually written a full draft, which has indeed changed the script.

Moreover, as a professional courtesy, one should expect the producer to inform the original writer about this new arrangement, before it comes into force,” explains Anjum.

Writers don’t speak out
Experts says that writers do not speak up for they fear of the backlash from the industry. Anjum says, “It’s true that many writers who feel aggrieved do not speak up, out of a fear of angering the producer or director. Individually, screenwriters, especially new ones, feel a sense of disempowerment. That’s a horrible feeling! The SWA has been making efforts to conscientise writers, making them repeatedly aware of their legal and moral rights, thereby enhancing their individual bargaining power.”

He further adds, “However, SWA is still not strong enough to collectively unify its flock and say, declare a strike. But, we’re steadily getting there, you can be sure of that.”

Prashant agrees and says, “We don’t have the guts to stand up and directors and producers take advantage of that.” He adds that he too has faced the copyright violation thrice in his career. “Last year a song of mine was stolen and I had filed a case against the makers. They copied the hook line and they did not acknowledge it. I won the case,” says Prashant, adding, “ I did not file the case for money but I wanted to prove a point that whatever they had done was wrong. I am happy that I stood up against the makers.”

Director and writer Mohinder Pratap Singh says, “We have a strong association, which is ready to back us up. But the fight is not easy. It is so difficult to prove who gave which idea. Writing is such a personal thing. You spend six to nine months making a film and you build a certain relationship with the producer-director. You don’t want to spoil it. This is an insecure industry after all. However, the truth is the film is as much of a writer, as of a director.”

What needs to be done

To safeguard the rights of writers, Anjum, along with director Saket Chaudhary, had conceptualised a model contract, which provided an equitable engagement between the producer and the writer. Anjum adds, “We are going to now initiate negotiations with production houses individually, to insist on some standardised clauses, which are based on the legal rights of writers — credit guarantee, royalties as per copyright society approved rates, and prevention of arbitrary termination, among others.”

The author can be followed on Twitter @DebaratiPalitSi
 
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