Bollywood’s method to the madness

The corporatisation of screenwriting in Hindi cinema is both a good and a bad thing, according to industry stalwarts

Published: 13th March 2018 11:20 PM  |   Last Updated: 14th March 2018 07:02 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

All-night sittings over whiskey and fried treats, full-throated narrations in the boisterous ‘padusar’s’ (producer) living room, and at all times, an informal interpersonal rapport... all vestiges of a time now gone that Bollywood old-timers still can’t but reminisce about. The trend has changed. A breed of young corporates equipped with high-profile academic qualifications have taken over production houses, as creative teams promising efficiency and professionalism decide the fate of every proposed story.  

Despite more transparency and a sense of assured security about the screenwriter’s intellectual property, along comes some reservations from India’s budding screenwriters about what they see to be ‘corporatisation of art’. “Although corporate creative teams at renowned production houses claim to open more avenues to new screenwriting talent, it is in fact the other way round. Many are strictly averse to narrations and rely on written material, which we believe cannot convey the essence of a story fully. The style of working is cut-and-dry, secretive and impersonal,” laments a struggling screenwriter, who prefers to be unnamed.

These creative teams, he says, mainly comprise of over-confident, immature, raw, out-of-college youngsters with bookish training and ‘limited exposure’ to the world and to cinema. “They often reject stories without even explaining why,” he says, adding that despite its polished façade, corporate culture ‘works against creativity’.

Considering the massive influx of scripts and stories, creative teams grappling with time constrains are often unable to do justice to every story, a lament of many a budding screenwriter. On the bright side however, many are convinced that the perils of plagiarism have been greatly reduced, thanks to a more secure, systematic and methodical approach. Registering stories and scripts with organisations like Mumbai’s highly respected Screen Writers’ Association (SWA) ensures protection of the writer’s work and rights. Corporate teams also apparently are reassuring in matters of confidentiality and are sometimes considered more trustworthy than industry professionals.

Of late, Hindi cinema has been witnessing quite a few box-office duds. While many in the industry hold the corporatisation of the industry accountable for the drop in good content, it is seen by some to be a refreshing gateway into a bright future. We asked some eminent personalities about their takes on the topic:

‘It’s a difficult world in Bollywood for screenwriters’ R Madhavan, actor
As far as budding screenwriters are concerned, unfortunately, there is no legit method they can follow. It has always been a hit-and-miss situation where you’re hoping to be at the right place and time with the right people. I wish there was a more judicial process to submit scripts. In the West, they have found a method. You have to become a member of a writing group. If there is no tangible value in what you’ve created, I’d suggest that you get down to the bottom rung and join a group of writers writing for a web series or a film.

‘Perhaps it’s not such a bad thing’ Vikram Bhatt, filmmaker
The problem, to my mind, began long ago. Producers are always invested in stars, not in good writers. You cannot look for a story because you have money; it ought to be the other way around. When you have such a history of disdain for content, corporates will obviously tell you that you don’t know good stories.New ideas are, often more than not, in new minds. So getting young talent to curate your content is not a bad idea. But they should be used as the audience rather than as experts. The idea should be to ascertain whether the youth would like the story.My advice to screenwriters is, just write! Writing will find its way; you don’t have to. Don’t work towards an end. Write because you’re aching to tell a story and it will find a way to publish itself.

‘It’s a myth that creative minds shouldn’t be disciplined’
Ajit Andhare, COO, VIACOM 18 Motion Pictures
Over the last decade, quite a few significant films have been produced by corporate film makers. When there is an incoming pitch, our young creative team listens to it. They might be fresh, but are gaining from our decade-old experience. There is a definitive method here to train them. It’s not fair to say they only read one or two paragraphs. We go through the full script if there is quality in it, but scripts are screened initially to contend with the numbers. That’s the process worldwide.  Creative people perpetuate myths that if a person follows a method or is disciplined, he is fundamentally not creative. We strive to combine method with madness. Putting yourself in a method, you free yourself from being pressured by brand names or reputations which don’t guarantee good scripts.

‘Big names sell, not scripts’ Komal Nahta, Trade analyst and TV host
The corporates have built a wall between the writers and the producers/directors. Producers, not willing to spend enough, hire a team with very few people. But serious teams need more individuals who can do ample justice to the story than a few who  judge a story by a few pages.I don’t think any production house is interested in changing this system as they already have several scripts by existing writers. They don’t feel obliged to introduce new talent.On the flip side, many think they are writers, but lack talent. How do you separate the wheat from the chaff? Although we see films nose-diving at the box office, they are still written by industry writers; so it seems to me that the big names sell, not scripts.

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