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Event Review 1 – Has the Indian Script arrived? – 2nd All-India Screenwriters’ Conference – 13th & 14th Dec 08, Mumbai –

January 6, 2009

On the weekend 13th & 14th Dec 08 the 2nd All-India Screenwriter’s Conference took place at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research located next to the gate to the Bollywood Film City, Mumbai. While the 1st conference in Aug 06 was hosted by FTII in Pune, the 2nd was hosted by FWA, the Film Writers’ Association of India. While the 1st Conference was named “What is wrong with Indian Scriptwriting?”, the 2nd was under the title “Has the Indian Script arrived?” The conference was dedicated to late filmwriter/playwright Vijay Tendulkar and had well-known guest speakers like Rajkumar Hirani, Amole Gupte, Prakash Jha, Rakeysh Mehra, Kamlesh Pandey, Kamal Haasan, Amol Palekar, Govind Nihalani and Nasreen Munni Kabir.

From the Introduction of an email-send-out:

“There is little doubt in the mind of anyone associated with Indian cinema – film industry, audience or the media – about two clear facts.
i.    That the script is the bedrock of filmmaking. The ability of a film to connect with its audience depends firstly on the quality of its script. In that sense, a film derives its primary creative force from the script.
ii.    That scriptwriting has been the most neglected craft in Indian filmmaking.

However, there is another emerging fact that everyone is beginning to acknowledge. That the quality of Indian screenwriting is rising rapidly, with a large infusion of fresh professional talent into the field that takes screenwriting very seriously. This has been especially evident over the last few years. Every year we’re beginning to see a number of films that are courageously exploring newer themes, that are re-interpreting screenwriting craft, and that are frequently and convincingly challenging the adage that without certain fixed conventional elements and techniques scripts can’t work in India. These precedents are increasing in number and are beginning to expand the bandwidth of screenwriting aesthetics.

And yet, and yet, screenwriting quality continues to be a cause for concern to directors and producers. This is hardly the time for the screenwriting community to rest easy. If anything, it is imperative for us now to be much more concerned about our work. We must identify, acknowledge and confront the issues that we face – on the creative and professional fronts. We have to squarely address the issue that knowledge and skill of screenwriting craft does tend to lag behind often. What can be and should be done about that? This is also a forum where writers get a chance to look at problems bogging down the profession, where senior writers share their understanding of the craft, where we all examine ways to expand the bandwidth of creative possibilities for us today.

Likewise, the time has come for us to seriously address the issue of our professional rights. What are a writer’s legitimate rights? What should be the standard of remuneration? What about credit protection? How does one deal with royalties? What are the problems confronting the writer-director and the writer-producer relationship?

This conference is the very first of its kind for any craft in Indian cinema. It is very significant not just for screenwriters but also for filmmakers, especially directors and producers, since we do seek here to strengthen the creative and professional collaboration between writers and them by identifying and discussing important contours of these relationships in a straightforward and constructive manner. In short, Indian screenwriters are taking their work very seriously. It is also time to get the world to take us seriously!

At the last conference at FTII in August 2006, many of these issues were raised and addressed to an extent. It’s time we took these forward now. Keeping that in mind, the following topics will be covered during the conference.”

Anjum Rajabali, Conference Convenor

Before I want to give the program details, I want to say that it was a very inspiring weekend full of valuable inputs, the personal highlight for me being a short interaction with Munnabhai-director/writer Rajkumar Hirani, said to be the most friendly person in the industry.

Check out this link for a sum-up from Anurag Kashyap’s passionforcinema-webpage:

“Programme details in brief

1.    Opening session: Introduction, welcome and keynote address. Plus an update of happenings between the previous conference and this one, including FWA elections and several initiatives that have been taken thereafter.

2.    Vijay Tendulkar and his work: An exposition of and discussion on the screenwriting work of Vijay Tendulkar. His art and craft, so to say, with a special focus on his ability to take up socially relevant themes and incorporate political observations, insights and critiques into dramatic situations within the story.

Chairperson: Govind Nihalani
1st speaker: Dr.Jabbar Patel
2nd speaker: Amol Palekar
3rd speaker: Imteyaz Hussain
Observer: To be finalized

3.    The uniqueness of the Indian script: Its evolution from indigenous narrative traditions, how the accent on screenplay is increasing, modern structuring, the use of music, song and dance, the Indian melodrama, contemporary influences including those of Hollywood on Indian screenplays, the segmentation of the audience and its implications for the script, etc. How the Indian script differs from its international counterpart. Also using examples of recent films that have reworked traditional elements and how these films have connected or not with the audience.

Chairperson: Kamal Haasan
1st speaker: Nasreen Munni Kabir
2nd speaker: To be confirmed
3rd speaker: Vinay Shukla
Observer: Vishal Bhardwaj

4.    A substantial session on writing for TV: This session is at the moment being redesigned and as soon as the perspective and content are clear, we shall mail you the details.

5.    Are Indian screenwriting standards a cause for concern?: There is a frequent complaint about script quality. Despite being a civilization with the richest and longest of narrative traditions, the script has been a neglected aspect of our cinema.  Are we lagging behind in evolving and developing modern screenplay structuring, which seems to be the need of the hour? It is often true that we see many really wonderful and original ideas, but often the script-crafting seems to let them down. What should we be doing about this? Do our writers need to upgrade their understanding of and skill in writing? If so, is regular training or education in the craft the answer? Should there be other more modular creative ways of making new writers more aware of the uniqueness of the craft of Indian screenwriting? How has FWA taken cognizance of this? Do we have any initiatives planned to at least address this lacunae and help younger/newer writers?

Chairperson: Rajkumar Hirani
1st speaker: Abbas Tyrewala
2nd speaker: Abhijat Joshi
3rd speaker: Subhash Ghai
Observer: Imtiaz Ali

6.    The politics of the script: Does the screenwriter have a social responsibility towards the themes that s/he takes up or does everything go under the overriding objective of entertainment? How does one approach the issue of ethics of storytelling in cinema? Catering to the dominant ideology of the public seems to have usually been the guiding purpose of popular culture. Fulfilling superficial impulsive desires and addressing knee-jerk anxieties was always justified in mainstream films, as it was argued that it is not the purpose to popular cinema to give a message or to educate or to raise disturbing questions. It is to ring box-office registers. And yet, we have had always had successful mainstream films that have taken up political themes and seem to have generated considerable debate about their content. Of late, ‘Gangaajal’, ‘Rang De Basanti’, ‘Black Friday’, ‘Aamir’, ‘A Wednesday’ among others come to mind. What has been the impact of these? It should be interesting to hear the writer’s point of view on the politics underlying the story.

Chairperson: Prakash Jha
1st speaker: Atul Tiwari
2nd speaker: Jahnu Barua
3rd speaker: Anurag Kashyap
Observer: Kamlesh Pandey

7.    Writers’ Rights: What are our rights really? An extensive discussion on what governs the professional status of the writer and what are his/her legitimate rights? An educative session on copyright with intensive Q&A. Plus and elucidation of the model contract that FWA has been drafting. Also, a brief introduction to the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) which is the apical body that oversees 22 unions within the film industry and an understanding of the unionization within the film industry.

Chairperson: To be confirmed
Legal speaker: Two senior lawyers
1st panelist: Robin Bhatt
2nd panelist: To be finalised
Observer: FWICE President/Secretary

8.    The Writer-Director Relationship: A moderated interface between three writers and three directors exploring the contours of the relationship, creative collaboration, evolving a joint vision, roadblocks and problematic dimensions, mutual expectations, issues of credit and protection, and the need to form a joint force.

Three writers: Shridhar Raghavan, Shibani Bathija and Pubali Chaudhuri
Three directors: Rakeysh Mehra, Anurag Basu and one more (to be confirmed)
Moderator: Sriram Raghavan

9.    The Writer-Producer Relationship: What has this relationship really been like all along? Apart from fees, the producer also governs several aspects of the writer’s working conditions – including writing schedules, creative instructions via interpreting audience expectations, making a writer write to a given production budget, etc. It has traditionally been regarded as an uncomfortable or even inimical relationship, and yet we’ve seen some heartening durable collaborations. Moreover, given that many producers are now beginning to hire writers first and get the script written before engaging a director, it is important to see how this new relationship is shaping up. What are their mutual expectations, mutual frustrations, complaints on either side? How are producers (who are not directors) providing feedback and instructions along creative lines? What are the new systems that are forming within production houses to deal with the creative part of this relationship?

Three writers: Amole Gupte, and two others (to be confirmed)
Three producers: Rohan Sippy, Vipul Shah, and one other(to be confirmed)
Moderator: Anjum Rajabali

10.    The way forward: An intensive discussion of FWA’s plans and initiatives for the next one year. Participants’ suggestions regarding what needs to be done now, and how it can be possibly done. Points that they feel should come onto FWA’s agenda urgently.

Chairperson: Javed Akhtar
On stage: The Executive Committee of the Film Writers Association”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. pickedout permalink
    January 6, 2009 7:31 pm

    wow – pretty good page!
    helps a lot findig good movies amidst the mass of nonsense and odd stuff!
    thanks & LG

    • Mad Professor permalink*
      January 6, 2009 7:48 pm

      Thanx! Intend to update it regulary.

  2. January 7, 2009 5:11 pm

    Great blog, Professor!

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