Karan Johar’s move of including the names of his writers on the poster of Takht was applauded.
Karan Johar has hogged headlines for reasons ranging from nepotism accusations to book confessions, but this time, the director has been propelled into the limelight for a reason many in the industry are calling benevolent. A few days ago, when the filmmaker shared the official poster of his magnum opus, Takht, on Twitter, many found it heartening to see that it included the names of the film’s screenplay writer, Sumit Roy and dialogue writer, Hussain Haidry. The move was applauded by many, including screenwriters like Varun Grover, Neeraj Ghaywan, and Saiwyn Quadras, who have been vocal about the problems faced by writers in the industry.
In the past, writers in the industry have received the short end of the stick, as often, their names find no mention in a film’s promotional material. The most recent instance was highlighted by Varun Grover, who called out the makers of Helicopter Eela for forgetting to credit lyrist Swanand Kirkire in the film’s trailer. One also remembers director-screenwriter Apurva Asrani’s indignant Facebook post that called out the director of Simran, Hansal Mehta, for awarding disproportionate writing credit to him. For those unaware, the screenwriter found himself sharing credit with ‘additional story and dialogue writer’ Kangana Ranaut, whose name was placed before his in the poster. Screenwriter Anjum Rajabali, who has been lobbying for the rights of writers in the industry for many years, highlights the discrepancy between Bollywood and it’s overseas counterpart: “Hollywood has a norm that wherever the director is mentioned, the writer’s name is also mentioned, because these two are considered the absolute basis of the film, without them, there is no film. Unfortunately, in India, not just the scriptwriter, but also the whole scriptwriting process itself has been historically neglected. Only the director is given prominence as being the author of the film.”
Apart from not receiving due credit, writers also face issues of copyright infringement, plagiarism, and paltry pay. Anjum notes, “Writers are hardly being paid anywhere near enough. I also believe that the contracts that are offered by producers are largely one-sided. Their rights are not accorded to them that easily.” Screenwriter Ishita Moitra feels that pay isn’t the only thing that matters to a writer, for recognition is what they are in pursuit of. “Writers are creative people. If our goal were to only earn money, we would have taken up regular jobs. We have given up that life because of our creative instinct. So, what you want more than anything else is recognition. Also, the writer works for almost a year-and-a-half before the film goes on the floors. Writers take that risk of being with a story, knowing that it might not actually be made. So we deserve that credit,” she reveals.
Director, producer and screenwriter Vikramaditya Motwane, highlights how what is now an exception, was once a trend “Actually, we’ve gone backward. In the 70s, films used to sell on Salim-Javed’s name. But eventually, films started depending on formulas. Producers weren’t allowing writers to write anything new. Even in the 90s, a host of romantic films were made that were driven by stars and not the script,” he observes. Ishita believes that it is the nature of the profession too that hinders a writer’s chances for recognition. “When you’re working on a story, you’re working in isolation before it becomes a project that involves 200 more people. Secondly, once your work is done, you hand over your work to the director because a film is a director’s medium. So, you’re not involved in the filmmaking process. So many times, you get forgotten,” she says.
And that is why, when a prominent director chooses to share the spotlight with his writers, the move comes as a pleasant surprise. Apurva highlights this when he says, “Every filmmaker talks highly about how writers should get their due, but look at most of their film posters, the writer's name is among a sea of names, with the producer’s/director’s credits in the largest fonts. Many directors are so focussed on their leading actors that they forget that their films are only as good as their scripts. I admire directors like Shoojit Sircar and now, Karan Johar, who give the writer’s credit pride of place in the film's communication.”
Anjum, however, feels that, for writers to get their due credit, just including names on a poster isn’t enough. For a lasting change to occur, the industry has to change the value it ascribes to scripts. “The film industry should be developing script readership, the calibre of script assessment. People need to be able to understand the value and importance of scriptwriting. Once you start paying importance to the script and treating it seriously, then it naturally follows that the person who’s writing it will also be taken seriously,” he opines. The screenwriter also feels that directors should not be hailed for including the names of their writers on promotional material, for it is what they should be doing. “When a Karan Johar mentions the names of his writers, what I find extremely dismaying is that everybody jumps on to applaud like it’s the most fantastic thing. But it is actually the most ordinary thing possible,” he says, adding, “we have yet to reach a stage where this becomes a norm, like in Hollywood.” Apurva echoes this thought when he says, “I’m waiting for the day, where like Hollywood, the screenwriter finds his/her place at the top of the filmmaking hierarchy. Writers should be at par, if not above the actor and director.”