Step Treatment

Karan Johar has stated in an interview that filmmakers are forced to look towards foreign films for content, because there is a lack of writing talent in India.

He is entitled to his opinion,  but if producers paid writers even a fraction of what they pay for the rights of foreign films, they might get better scripts. It has been said before, that producers in India either do not invest in script development—even though they all admit that content is king—or do not give writers the respect/remuneration they deserve. In the old days, most big production houses had writing departments; today how many do?

For many years films were made without ‘bound’ scripts, with scenes and lines being written on the set, and stars putting in their own two bit. Now, at least some production houses and stars insist on bound scripts, which means nothing since hardly any of them care to read. Many production company executives just chuck the scripts submitted to them in some forgotten corner, or worse, steal them. At least two major production houses are notorious for simply stealing the ideas they like, making small changes and passing them off as their own.

All this while, there was little or nothing the poor writer could do about it, if he/she wanted to continue working in the industry. Now the Film Writers’ Association has reportedly acquired teeth, and it is not so easy to gyp the writer of his/her credit or dues.

The other thing is that very few producers have the courage to experiment with original ideas and stories. They are happy adapting regional hits or stealing foreign films, because those plots are tried and tested. Again, now they are being caught and penalized more often, so that avenue is also drying up. So they have to cough up for buying rights.

That still does not solve the problem of not being able to generate scripts. It is simply not true that there is a shortage of writers in India. If our filmmakers could or would read, they would be aware of the profusion of talent in Indian literature. A lot of those books—not just Chetan Bhagat—can be turned into good films. But then the original writer should be given respect and paid well. Bhagat is successful and supposedly on Asia’s power list, but see how he was treated by the makers of 3 Idiots, who grudgingly gave him credit (and shamefully little money) and then happily accepted awards nominations (and wins) for best story.

Look at our ad films, documentaries and some TV serials, and you can see, writers have gone to media where they get returns either in terms of money or appreciation. Make writing films worth their while and talent will follow.

PS: Karan Johar thinks writers in India are not good enough and then waves a soppy Stepmom as an example of good cinema?

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  1. Unfortunately, we do not have enough producers who actually realise what a good script is and in most places, we have people sitting in positions, where they have to take decisions on scripts, having no clue about it either. Little wonder then that they are unable to understand or appreciate fresher/original ideas. And yes, the filmmaking community has to realise by action that content is king and not merely mouth the words for effect. A writer must be well paid; after all he lays out the blueprint of the film. But, ours being such a star oriented industry, one wonders if things will ever change…

  2. Of late I have begun to feel – there are two kinds of people in Mumbai Mainstream Industry wanting to make films – one who want to make films because they have stories to tell….and there is another breed – who want to make films for lifestyle they want to lead…so that they can dominate Page 3 of Bombay Times….those wanting to be on Bombay Times will never see stories within them nor around them….so can’t really help it…

  3. Most of the producers are not exposed to literature or oriented to appreciate and understand dramaturgy and literature. The script advisers to the Corporates are also equally ignorant. In the west most of the producers study Film Production and are exposed to good cinema and literature during their course.
    Even the agents are graduates of Film Schools and hire fresh film graduates as assistants so that they can evaluate a script.
    Recently a script advisor of a big Corporate did not understand an Indian classic which has been translated in 40 languages including French and Russian. They may not produce it but they should understand the power of the classic.

  4. Hi Deepa. Good you brought this up. It’s such an old debate. What works here are coteries. Name of the game is ass-licking. Coteries and gangs are self-feeding and impenetrable. Still if you manage to do that… I should know as most top stars heard my script, loved it and turned it down! : ) I asked a now big star – Beta if you don’t listen/ read new scripts what are you going to b choosing from?
    I am sick to my teeth with 2 cliches. Writing talent nahi hai. Hai!! Just give it a fair hearing. Even a bruce Willis read sixth sense so why don’t our primping kids do the same! Please to notice where Mr B catapulted when he became avilable to new ideas. 2) Story hi nahi hai. Rather strange for a civilization which has Mahabharta embedded in their psyche. We don’t have stories?
    About associations, not being cynical I really have noclue what will they achieve.

  5. studios that HAVE a script department (and they will ALL tell you we have one) are manned by CHILDREN who wouldn’t know a story if it came to them with an ID hanging around its neck. and they have the gall to ask you to hang around until they find time (after they make an appointment with you!). and if they do keep an appointment, they want you to add a murder to a love story you have just narrated or vice versa even. i am not saying karan johar is justified, but he is not the problem, the sycophantic team they cultivate is.

    the last time someone said, ‘our canteen is famous for its food and coffee, so you can wait, right?’ i was dying to say mebbe after another flop that is the business you should be sticking to…

  6. @ Deepa – REF ‘At least two major production houses are notorious for simply stealing the ideas they like, making small changes and passing them off as their own’ –
    If it is possible, you should do us all a favor by naming the two production houses… Others can pitch in too in this list.

  7. Thanks all for your comments… I can completely understand your rage…
    Ramchandra… about revealing the names here, I don’t want to get sued, but anyone with any experience in the industry would tell you.

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