‘Writers are meant to be irreverent’

Parallels were drawn between the fears under which film writers and journalists work at the fifth Indian Screenwriters Conference, which began in the city on Wednesday. Panellists said that for film writers, it could be the fear of disapproval from the producer, market, star, audience or peddling formulae and cliches, while for journalists it would be the fear of attacks by the powerful people they cover.

Last year, senior journalist P. Sainath, and Sahitya Akademi award-winning poet and writer Ashok Vajpeyi had addressed participants at the inauguration. Mr. Sainath had then spoken about how the Indian mass media was at odds with the country’s mass reality.

‘Pervading sense of fear’

This year, media personality Vinod Dua provoked the much-needed thinking, discussion and debate on the conference’s theme ‘Where The Mind Is Without Fear: Challenges Facing Indian Screenwriters Today’. Mr. Dua began by quoting Allama Iqbal’s poem
Tasveer-e-Dard
(The Portrait of Anguish) to underline how a sense of fear is permeating the world of news. He said, “
Ye Dastoor-e-Zuban Bandi Hai Kaisi Teri Mehfil Mein
;
Yahan To Baat Karne Ko Tarasti Hai Zuban Meri
[Why is there this custom of silence in your gathering, when all my voice longs for is to be able to talk?].”

Mr. Dua said writers and journalists are both meant to be fundamentally anti-establishment and irreverent. He rued the the “narrow domestic walls”, which Rabindranath Tagore wrote about in his famous poem, have become walls of caste, class and religion in the contemporary Indian context. He said equal partnership and social contract between the government and the citizens had come to a point where the citizens have begun to see themselves as “
praja
” (the ruled). Mr. Dua said in such situations “you either become a ‘yes’ man or confront issues with courage”. He urged writers to control their fears and boldly speak their mind. He ended with a quote from G.B. Shaw, “Majesty of mind alone at its intensest”.

Aamir Khan’s policy

Another highlight of the day was chief guest Aamir Khan’s transparent talk, on a public platform, about the compensation package he gets from a film. Mr. Khan said he doesn’t charge a penny at the start of a project, not even as late as when its ready for release. It’s only after the film has run a while, recovered all its costs, and profits have started flowing in that he takes a percentage of the profits. Mr. Khan said, “I make the film I want to, that the audience wants to see.” He assured there were no losses to the person putting money in it.

He spoke about the importance he gave to the script, the persistent questioning he puts a writer through and the creative risks he is prone to taking. Mr. Khan said he did not suffer from the fear of failure but a fear of not trying. He said the first credit in his productions was always for the director, second for the writer and only after that for himself as a producer.

Focus on southern films

Over the next three days, the conference will have a variety of panel discussions on issues such as dispute settlement and lyrics writing to new voices in TV and digital platforms. There will be a special session called Southern Waves devoted to southern cinema with director Vetrimaaran as a key panellist. The session moderated by writer Shridhar Raghavan will look at how and why some of the most exciting films and screenwriting across genres is coming from south India. At least 800 writers are attending the event presented by Mumbai-based Screenwriters Association.

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