Bombay Showcase

The write stuff

Actor Rishi Kapoor and lyricist Javed Akhtar at the meet.  

After a successful third edition in 2013, the Indian Screenwriters Conference (ISC) returned this year, bigger and well attended by more than 800 writers, producers and youngsters who want to pursue writing as a career. The Film Writers’ Association (FWA) with its dedicated and passionate office holders did a commendable job of organising it, ensuring well-chosen topics and a stellar list of panellists, including some of the best known names from the film and television fraternity.

What’s entertainment?

The legend on the invite read “So near, So far. Do our stories reflect India’s reality?” A very timely focus, for the conference lasting over a period of two days with the panellists putting forth their views on problems plaguing our writing, the chasm between fantasy portrayals of our nation and its people and the ground reality, in a time where films like Masaan co-exist with Great Grand Masti. Are we hiding behind glamour? Is the TV show, Naagin our only escape from dreary life? Or is there a chance in cloudy skies of pushing the content envelope and make people sample stories which require them to sit up and think, participate and not just chomp down on anything that is served with a golden “Entertainment” Tag?

The topics ranged from a tongue in cheek “Serial Killer” on the state of television shows, to what one imagined (going by the panellists) would be a heated discussion on “Changing Gender Equations in Film” to a session on “Digital Explosion” and “The Little Big films”.

Though, the best was served right in the beginning with veteran journalist P.Sainath’s keynote speech, in which he laid bare the gaping rural-urban divide in our country and he didn’t mince words when he spoke about the need to wake up to the reality.

Focus on the small screen

Television writing has boomed over the years with the advent of daily soaps. So it’s no wonder the largest turnout was from the television writer fraternity. Understandably the session which had excited everyone was the one that promised to bring broadcast rivals on the same platform. Unfortunately it didn’t take off as expected, the only real big name there was Gaurav Bannerjee (Star India Pvt. Ltd). Danish Khan (Sony) and Anooj Kapoor (Sony SAB) could not attend. Other panellists were Ravina Kohli (Epic), Ved Raj ( Writer Saath Nibhana Sathiya) and Purnendu Shekhar (Creator Baalika Vadhu) The session was moderated by Saurabh Tewari who himself is a writer and also ex-fiction head Colors and ImagineTV.

The session began with Gaurav Bannerjee giving facts and figures to demonstrate how powerful television is as a medium, and his disappointment at the kind of programming that is on air right now. What followed was an extremely interesting discussion, the highlight for the writing fraternity being the Bannerjee’s announcement, that of Star TV rolling back the seven days a week telecast of dailies. The post discussion takeaway seemed to be that the ‘serial killers’ will remain – but hopefully sensible programming, which is closer to the many realities of India would be given a chance to breathe. This gave hope to the writers present that Star and other GEC channels will not give up on shows owing to low TRPs. As Purnendu Shekhar said rightly, we need to help evolve our viewers.

Making movies

Another discussion of note was “The Little Big Films” where Masaan director Neeraj Ghaywan moderated a frank debate on the struggle to survive if you are an indie/small film maker who has to fight hard for every seat, every screen. That is, even if the film finds a producer and sees the light of the day. The competition, quite obviously, is the juggernaut of commercial blockbusters. One could see the passion in each of the filmmakers on the panel—Meghna Gulzar ( Talvar), Shonali Bose ( Margarita with a Straw) Rajat Kapoor ( Ankhon Dekhi ) and Ashok Mishra (writer Welcome to Sajjanpur). Their commitment to make films which tell the stories they want to tell, in their own way, without compromises, was transparent. The fight is hard, from beginning to end, and can leave you broken, as Ghaywan said. Despite Kapoor’s view that nothing will change, and the struggle will not become easier, most people seem to agree more with Meghana Gulzar who was very positive that the time is favourable for such independent voices and “brave” films as she calls them. For the writers it gave hope that one can write stories which may not be in the “commercial” mould and may still get a chance to be made.

The commerce of writing

“The Business of TV writing” was another extremely important discussion. In an industry plagued with plagiarism battles it becomes urgent that writers know their rights and the ways and means to safeguard their ideas. Writers and Writer-producers of repute — Aatish Kapadia ( Sarabhai vs Sarabhai) Sonali Jaffar ( Bau Hamari Rajnikanth), Jayesh Patil ( Kumkum) Shashi Mittal ( Diya Aur Baati Hum), Farhan Salaruddin ( Hum Pardesi Ho Gaye), Raghuvir Shekhawat ( Balika Vadhu) shared valuable insight about the business of writing, of protecting concepts and how to pitch to a broadcaster. The panel was one of the best, moderated by the veteran writer Vinod Ranganath. Such panels provide real and useable information and I am glad the panellists gave focussed answers, yet keeping the tone light and made it a fun session.

The panel on the ‘Digital Explosion’ was an eye opener for many, and it was commendable that FWA decided to have this timely discussion.

A lack of questions

While most sessions achieved their aim, one session which was much looked forward to yet turned out to be a damp squib was “The Changing Gender Equations in Film”. With Juhi Chaturvedi (writer Vicky Donor, Piku), Swara Bhaskar (actor Nil Battey Sannata), Sudip Sharma (writer Udta Punjab) and Tushar Hiranandani (writer Great Grand Masti, Ek Villain) on board the session was moderated by Sanyukta Chawla Shaikh (Dialogue Writer Neerja). With such a powerful and relevant theme and a varied panel, the expectations were of a frank, free flowing discourse but the discussion kept veering from the topic. At a time when the world is talking about breaking gender barriers, some pertinent questions were not raised. Surprisingly despite having the writer of films like Great Grand Masti not one pointed question was asked to him regarding how some of his films blatantly objectify women. In an auditorium full of industry folks, including a large number of women, this could have been a perfect forum to talk about how gender inequality plagues our film industry. Alas!

The ISC has come a long way, but certain areas need improvement. Moderations need to get better, the question and answer sessions need to be well organised rather than remain rushed as they were this time around. The delegates just didn’t get a fair chance to interact with the panellists, at times stopped unceremoniously from putting forth their queries. The panellists also need to understand the concept of a timed schedule. Delegates were left exasperated owing to spill-overs and late breaks, long queues for tea and lunch left. One can only hope all these issues will be ironed out in the future. And the FWA will return with a bigger, better, more provocative fifth Indian Screenwriters conference.

Anuradha Gakhar is a television show creator and screenwriter

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Printable version | Jun 20, 2021 3:59:13 AM |

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