This is an open letter to all my author and writer friends, all over the world, who hope that one day their writings might be translated into film. Consider it as an outpouring of feelings rather than a letter. For, someone really had to say what I am saying here.
In all my days as a writer, and now as a short film producer as well, I have seen no part of the creative crew of the film being shortchanged as much as the writers are. This is thoroughly appalling because the writer is the person where the entire thing starts from.
Think about the biggest, hugest, most classic film that you know. Probably having the largest star-cast and a really, really big name director. One that has won several awards all over the world. Now, that film, that spectacle of splendor, would not have happened if a writer would not have bled his or her eyes out to create the story in the first place. It is the writer – the slightly potbellied crouched being on the computer desk, the one with the disheveled hair, the one whom family and friends look upon with strange curiosity, the one who’s probably addicted to coffee and a few undesirable things, the social introvert, the shy, soft-spoken person who is only too happy to take backstage everywhere – who has given birth to this grand spectacle.
Most grand creations of art, regardless of how much finance it requires to make or how much revenue it earns at the end of the day, begins in a small café or a similar place somewhere, where a writer turns up coyly, probably worrying about how to pay for an extra cappuccino if it is ordered, and has a “meeting” with someone better-placed than he or she is. Of course, some writers hit the bulls-eye, and then work comes chasing them, but these are few and far in between. And even then, these successful writers will never claim that they have received their fair due in the industry that’s all about translating their creations on screen.
If you think genius has a better standing in this industry, think twice. Most of the greatest writers of our times have died in penury, some of them without any relations or even friends to attend their last rites. Yes, some of them won awards posthumously, but in a few cases there was no one to claim those awards. I personally saw this at a writers’ conclave last month, where one of the greatest Hindi cinema’s songwriters was given a posthumous award, where there was no one to collect it for him.
So, why am I ranting here? My rant is targeted at the mechanics of an industry that places its actors and probably directors at a much higher pedestal than the writers who give these people the grist to work with. Most of the actors I have personally met vouch for the fact that the actor’s job is the easiest on a film set. And yet, it is always the actors who walk away with all glory. Even with beautifully written songs in Hindi cinema, not many people except film-buffs will really know who wrote the songs. The songs are always identified, even on music channels, by the name of the actors. So, we have classifications as ‘Rajesh Khanna songs’ and ‘Dev Anand songs’ and ‘Shah Rukh Khan songs’, but ask people who wrote these songs, and you will be shocked. Probably you don’t know it yourself.
Why should writers be shortchanged in this manner? Why should they not get their due compensation and credit? When they are the creators of the art, why are they relegated to the backseat, or sometimes even shoved in the bonnet? Why can’t there be a concept of show-runners here as has already become popular in the West?
It is sadly because, like the fabled Shekhchilli, the writers are cutting the very branches of the tree that they are sitting on. Every time a writer gets shortchanged, he or she paves the way for a hundred more writers to be shortchanged. It gives production houses the gumption to try their nefarious tricks with other writers as well.
As a writer, I had a sad and deplorable experience when someone told me they could buy “stock” writers off social media groups for their content needs. Are writers so dispensable? A media house that can invest 10 million rupees on a show balks when it has to pay a fraction of that to the writer based on whose work it will be created?
Writers, stand up for your rights. Be cognizant of how the Western world respects its writers. There’s no fairness there as well, but the situation is a tad bit better than it is here. In our starry-eyed film industry, writers are given the weakest spot. Their ideas are copied spinelessly and when they protest their faces are blackened. It only happens because we are spineless ourselves.
Ask for your credits. Make sure you are mentioned the way you want to be. Ask for adequate monetary compensation – whether it is in terms of royalties, upfront payment, or profit-sharing. Understand which model suits you best. Be part of film writing associations because they will work for you when needed. And, most importantly, do not let anyone take you for a ride. Everyone on the film set has work because you wrote it, even the production houses who might put money into your vision. They will only do it because they have faith in it.
Let us stand up and claim our dignity in this industry.