On Wednesday evening, Aamir Khan attended the India Screenwriter's Conference at the St. Andrew's auditorium in Bandra, western Mumbai.
The actor was part of a panel that included Delhi Belly writer Akshat Verma, producer Siddharth Roy Kapur, Newton director Amit Masurkar, and Dharma Productions' Somen Mishra, all of whom were talking about the friction and the dependance between writers and producers. The conversation was moderated by noted screenwriter Anjum Rajabali, one of the founders of the conference.
Bollywood is notorious for marginalizing screenwriters. As of today, there's no minimum wage contract, a loophole many producers use to exploit writers that are yet to establish their name in the industry.
A common grievance of the writers was that they are made to sign off their rights, which means unlike other talent involved in the film, they do not get any royalties or a share in the profits, neither do they get to protest if they producer decides to alter the script to suit his vision. There are, of course, legal recourses, but the debate was more about including the writer in the filmmaking process from a creative, ethical standpoint.
Aamir Khan, who's a writer-director himself and also a very successful producer (Dangal is the highest-grossing Hindi film of all time) was asked what he makes of this dichotomy.
Khan said, "Unlike a novel, filmmaking is a highly collaborative process in which the producer engages people from all departments, from the actors to the costume designers to the director to the cinematographer. It is an art form that includes all types of fine arts under one umbrella. In a situation like this, it isn't practical to consult the writer for every minor change that's made to his script. Can I be calling the writer everytime an actor wants to say a line differently? It isn't doable."
The writers in the room were clearly not very pleased. Their broader concern wasn't just that their scripts get tampered with, but that it happens without them being looped in or involved.
Khan said he doesn't ever exclude the writer and pointed out that Verma (Delhi Belly director) was "in every meeting" during the making of the film. "I take suggestions from everybody in the crew. Anybody could have a great idea and one should be open to it," Khan said.
So what's the solution to the turbulent relationship between writer-producer? Can they be in the same room without killing each other?
"Usually, one person takes charge, and that is the director. He becomes the narrator who uses all the tools available to tell the story. If we don't give one person that charge, there will be complete chaos. If you really feel you don't want changes, we respect that, but then I may not be able to work with you because it becomes impossible to manoeuvre."
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