CINEMA A peep into what makes well-known Hindi film and tele-serial scriptwriter Kamlesh Pandey angry with the times. DEEPAK MAHAAN
Life has a way of astonishing us with its contradictions. There are examples galore of people who always remain outsiders in an industry they love and like, while there are others who are offered work and high remuneration on a platter by the very fraternity they despise or criticise. Hindi film and tele-serial scriptwriter Kamlesh Pandey is a living proof of this paradox. Despite his contempt for audio-visual industry, he is today one of its highest paid writers and it is indeed difficult to accept him as the writer of Sony TV’s popular serial ‘Kuch To Log Kahenge’ (KTLK), especially when he asserts, Indian television is “anti-creativity, anti-culture and serves crap!”
Pandey’s disgust is startling particularly when he laid the ground rules of serial-making in the sub-continent as one of the pioneers of the satellite television explosion in the 1990s by heading Zee TV. His present revulsion for television even made him refuse ‘KTLK’, inspired by Pakistani serial ‘Dhoop Kinare’, but he relented at the request of original Pakistani writer Hasina Moin who felt Pandey alone could do justice to her vision. ‘KTLK’ may have gone over 300 episodes but the assignment in no way reduces Pandey’s infuriation as he accuses Indian television industry of funding waste by screening content that is “neither rare nor well done.”
The golden age
Pandey contends that Doordarshan of 1980s, despite all its bureaucratic constraints, was the golden age of television as it allowed creative freedom to writers and directors. Blaming interference of channel executives at every level for “mediocrity in television”, Pandey is aghast that from star cast to dialogues and caterer to taxi service, “everything is now decided by people who do not understand language, culture or art.” What seems to appal Pandey is that, like Doordarshan and its much-maligned “approval mafia”, private channels too are now infested with dubious individuals who deal only with their favourites.
Paradoxes have played a major role in catapulting Pandey’s life into the winning stratosphere though this man from Ballia who came in 1965 to study at Bombay’s JJ School of Applied Arts was actually expelled for asking “uncomfortable questions” in class. Insecurity made him take regular refuge within the portals of British Library and American Center for intellectual succour and, in one of his sardonic moods, when he learnt of a vacancy at Hindustan Thompson, he wrote an audacious line, “I need a job to have a haircut” and posted it to the company’s Australian creative director Murray Bail. Bail may have been a comic wit or blessed with a sixth sense since he not only invited Pandey for a meeting but also offered him the job of an assistant copywriter!
Unable to broach the subject of remuneration as he wasn’t even a graduate, Pandey was stunned with Bail’s offer of a salary of Rs. 500 since Rs.150 was standard remuneration for diploma holders. “It was then that I learnt why silence is golden,” recounts Pandey with a resounding laughter, since his silence prompted Bail to raise the offer to Rs.800 along with an assurance to pay Rs.1200 after confirmation! A shot in the dark unfurled a roller coaster ride for Pandey who not just revolutionised the advertising scene but also won its best awards in the process.
Several years later, a chance meeting with old time acquaintance Amol Palekar gave him a golden entry into the film world as a writer and rest, as they say, is history. From ‘Ankahee’, ‘Jalwa’, ‘Tezaab’, ‘Chaalbaaz’, ‘Saudaagar’, ‘Khalnayak’, ‘Aks’ to ‘Rang De Basanti’ and ‘Delhi-6,’ Pandey has contributed to over 25 films as dialogue, script or story writer, winning accolades and awards in abundance. Though there is no paucity of offers, the author of the much acclaimed serial ‘Karamchand’ is today dissatisfied that Indian writers are given a raw deal even when they make invaluable contribution to creative aspects of a serial or film. Pandey’s angst is that while writers are relegated to anonymity, stars are given huge remunerations “despite their many tantrums and abysmal creative contribution.”
“Who do I write for,” asks Pandey, “when except Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan or Aamir Khan to some extent, there aren’t any stars who can even grasp the subtle nuances or sub-texts of a screenplay.” Similarly, his dilemma extends to most film directors as except an odd Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Subhash Ghai or N. Chandra, none can even speak or read the Hindi language properly. Remuneration and copyright issues have thus made him shift gears and direct his energies as a senior helmsman at the Film Writers’ Association (FWA), where along with associates like Vinay Shukla, Sameer, Saurabh Shukla and others, he is providing yeomen services to save writers from exploitation. It was the handiwork of FWA members, alongside MPs like Javed Akhtar, that the new amended Copyright Act allows royalty rights to remain with the writer irrespective of change of ownership of film or other audio-visual content.
Aware that good writing is essential for better cinema, Pandey is today devoted to promoting script workshops for younger writers.
Writing may be the food for soul but as not many take it seriously, FWA is trying to organise workshops to not just improve the screen writers’ skills but also to make them understand the basics of the contractual aspects of the business so as not to be fleeced by the production houses. Convinced that stories are in the rural countryside and cinema will change only when stories improve, Pandey advocates, budding writers must travel and imbibe India’s ‘unity in diversity’ so as to give audience universal stories of humanity. Though disinclined at the moment, don’t be surprised if he contradicts himself to give a heroine-oriented story especially as he feels Krittika Kamra (KTLK’s heroine) is an exceptionally talented actress and should be in films! Surely, none would complain if the paradox results in a new film as it’d be entertainment in all its glory and colour.