By Arun Fulara. Posted on
October 30, 2015
There has been quite a dispute over the screenwriting credits of Rock On 2, the much awaited sequel of the 2008 hit Rock On. A fresh FTII graduate in screenwriting, Pubali Chaudhuri was approached to work on the Rock On script in 2007. Eventually the film came out and was a huge success. However, as work started on the sequel of the film, there was a fall-out between the director and the producer which led to Abhishek Kapoor dropping out of the project. And things took a complicated turn when Kapoor went to court claiming credit as a co-writer. Kapoor claimed that both he and Pubali had started working on the script of the sequel, and so, he too should be given credit as a writer.
Before going to the High Court, the dispute first went to the Film Writers Association (FWA), which initially gave Kapoor a ‘Story By’ credit. Later, when Chaudhuri challenged the verdict, an appellate board altered the credit to a ‘Story Idea By’ credit for Kapoor. Unhappy with the decision, Kapoor decided to move the court over the issue.
In recent turn of events, after a 7 month court battle, the case at the High Court of Mumbai has been settled by a ‘decree of consent’ amongst the three parties involved in the legal suit. Now, Kapoor will be given story credit for the movie along with Chaudhuri, while the screenplay credits will be Chaudhuri's alone.
After the recent case of Jyoti Kapoor, Chaudhuri's case is another example of the lack of clarity and fairness in the industry. In contrast to the tremendous respect that screenwriters receive in Hollywood, in Bollywood it's a different story altogether. Barring a few respectable names, writers in Bollywood are often overshadowed by the directors and producers.
Though the scenario is changing slowly due to the revival of the FWA and the new Copyrights Act (2012), there's much more that needs to be done to bring clarity and justice in terms of copyright. Nobody should be denied the due credit for their creativity, nor should anybody be able to take advantage of the loopholes in rules.
Pubali Chaudhuri has been working as a professional screenwriter in Mumbai since 2006, and she's best known for writing Rock On (National Award for Best Hindi Film, 2008) and Kai Po Che (Filmfare award for Best Screenplay 2014). She has also been a faculty member for Screenwriting department at Whistling Woods International Ltd and a visiting faculty at FTII.
After the settlement, Pubali Chaudhuri has come out in the open with her side of the story, which she has shared on Facebook.
Here's what she wrote...
“After reading a lot of overheated puffery about your new cook, you know what I'm craving? A little perspective. That's it. I'd like some fresh, clear, well seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that?....
….Very well. Since you're all out of perspective and no one else seems to have it in this bloody town, I'll make you a deal. You provide the food, I'll provide the perspective, which would go nicely with a bottle of Cheval Blanc 1947.”
Yup, I have to echo Anton Ego’s sentiments from Ratatouille to explain what I am doing here. Since nobody seems to have a perspective and I don’t have the Cheval Blanc 1947, we will just have to settle with some facts .
Fact #1 – ‘ Writer- director’ – the term has a ring to it, doesn’t it. Makes one sound like a ‘complete Raymonds man’ of filmmaking. There’s just a small catch there though – ideally, you may have to actually do all the writing to qualify for that much aspired for epithet.
If instead, one has made a new writer, fresh from her film school training, work on a story outline to develop the screenplay ( for a princely sum of Rs.1,00,000, no less !) and then gone ahead and signed up as the ‘sole story and screenplay writer and director’ with a production house to make one’s career changing film - well, one can still indulge in the wet dream of being a ‘writer – director’ as far as world is concerned, but one measly lowly writer knows you for who you are.
But then, who cares about lowly writers… typists them.
Fact # 2 – So what does one do with that one little thorn on one’s bed of roses? You treat her like a ghost writer, of course – never including or introducing the screenplay writer to the film unit, much less to the Press. And hey, much later, when the tides change and you are the one seeking credit, one is well aware of how credit can be suppressed in publicity material and makes sure that one is not served the raw deal that one has dealt out himself in the past. Yup, fair play and due recognition of creative people indeed…
Fact # 3 - Yes, such writers are guilty. Outsider to both the city of Mumbai and to the machinations of the film industry, the foolish writer is guilty of not protesting earlier. Guilty of continuing to work with a collaborator who refused to acknowledge the collaboration in public. Guilty of hoping that people can change and things will improve over time, now that she believes that she has earned your trust through her hard work. The writer is wrong, of course. Seems one may even get away with murder in this world, but never ever with naiveté.
Fact # 4 - Even though one has established himself as director of repute, sometimes things go wrong. Directors can fall out with producers and find that they are not necessarily part of the sequel of a film that they had made previously. Frustrated, what does one do ? Well, there’s always the soft target - train your guns on that lowly writer again and claim that one is ‘co writer’; promptly taking up a screenplay draft written by the writer and register it at the Film Writers Association, claiming that it is written by him.
Fact#5 – The writer approaches the FWA and lodges a complaint against the wrongful registration of a screenplay draft that was clearly authored by her. ( as also for non payment of dues on another project where the director turned producer had made the writer work on a project and not paid up for work done But well, that’s another story, another legal case, for another day ! ). And just before we lose it all to the trumpet call of publicity machinery at the disposal of our more privileged colleagues, the writer must humbly point out that the director has never ever won his claims on co authorship of screenplay. Not at the FWA and neither at the High Court subsequently, where a lawsuit was filed against both the writer and the producers.
Fact#6 - The case at the High Court of Mumbai was settled by a ‘decree of consent’ amongst the three parties involved in the legal suit . In short, it was a settlement agreed upon by all concerned. You can hang the writer for agreeing to settle the dispute after 4 years of consistent work. Really, nobody has worked on this project for as long as the writer has – not the director who had quit the project 3 years ago, neither the director who is currently helming the project. In the interest of the film, it was thought prudent to put the matter at rest by agreeing to a settlement, before the case was adjudicated, or went in to trial, so to say. Not sure therefore whether terms like ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ are applicable to such an arrangement.Phrasing this agreement in the language of war and claiming it to be ‘victory’ points to the underlying hostility and the liberty with truth that is so easily taken.
There, I have said it, the perspective or ‘back story’ as we screenwriters call it, to whatever version that is being published across media currently.
Film writing is about letting go. I have often said, screenwriting is akin to being a surrogate mother – you gestate an idea for anywhere between 6 months and 6 years, you give birth to a baby that carries your DNA but you give it up to others to nurture and rear it.
In an ideal world, or rather in the rest of the world, renowned directors like Steven Soderbergh, Danny Boyle, Alejandro Innaritu – to name just a few, have successfully made stellar films on scripts written by screenwriters ( Erin Brokovich written by Susannah Grant, Steve Jobs written by Aaron Sorkin based on a book by Walter Isaacson, 21 Grams written by Guillermo Arriaga ) and have had nothing taken away from their directorial credentials.
Wait, did I just attempt to compare my meager talent to that of stalwarts like Sorkin and Arriaga ?! No, I dare not. Screenwriters can only excel in an environment where directors are potentially their best friends. But sadly, too often, instead of partnership, we are left grappling with huge doses of competitiveness and I daresay even hostility. If instead of encouraging and appreciating the work we do by burning the midnight oil, we writers find ourselves to be cornered, questioned and humiliated by the very collaborators who will build on our written word, then there is very little to motivate screenwriters to suffer the pangs of giving birth to the film on paper.
Between the first film and its sequel, I have spent a decade in Bombay trying to eke out my place as a screenwriter.
No, I refuse to graduate to be a director just so that I may prove my writing credentials of being the solo writer of a film.
The last decade has taught me several important lessons – it has tested my patience, my creativity and most importantly, my trust in mankind. I have discovered that truth and trust are concepts that may have gone out of currency in the last century.
I am disheartened at the kind of hostility I have faced from my oldest collaborators in the industry, but I have not forgotten the mantra of letting go.
With any luck, the sequel of Rock On will not be the last film for any of the parties concerned. My Johnny Walker wisdom says ‘ move on from rock on’!