Where Have The Writers Gone?

There was a time in Bollywood when the name of a writer or a twosome found prominent place in the publicity and title sequence before the story actually unfold. But with the advent of Gen X filmmakers, that commodity has vanished. Why? Is it because of the general belief that every individual has a story to tell, and every articulate person a novel in him which is wholly or partly autobiographical? What is true of a written word in print does not necessarily hold good for cinema? Once upon a time in Bollywood it was not the same with a potential filmmaker though each one of them (educated or uneducated especially in the Indian context) had or evolved a narrative style.

                Many of them had vague concepts and definite ideas which they passed on to a professional writer to incorporate in the screenplay. Similarly, many ambitious writers too would become filmmakers. Many, like Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Ramanand Sagar, belonging to the Progressive Writers’ Movement also provided stories and screenplays to other eminent filmmakers. Even thinking actors, like Bhisham Sahni for instance wrote screenplay with or without a message, but nevertheless rich in content. That sort of a commodity now just RIPS.

                The wholly and truly screenplay/dialogue writers: Pundit Markham Sharma, Salish Bhavnagar, Rah Mason Reza, Inver Raj Anand, Sachin Bhomick, Prayagraj, Gulshan Nanda, Kamleshwar, and ultimately the combination of Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar, who elevated the tribe to a respectable position, demanding unheard of price, and getting it. But all that is a matter of the past. The successful team also broke away more than two decades ago. But the professional writer, good or bad, continued to be in demand because while the filmmaker knew how to mount a film, he did not really have an idea to take an idea forward, and give his characters words to communicate amongst themselves, and then to an audience in a darkened theatre. But has anyone heard or seen a Gulzar or a Javed Akhtar in the credit titles of a Bollywood masala film? They are there for their extraterrestrial value as lyricists.

                But all that changed towards the end of the 20th century, and continues in the same refrain. The new age young directors, educated and ambitious, became their own spokespersons in delineating a thought. They were/are full of ideas, passion, emotions, gags with which they infuse their films but devoid of a narrative pattern. The content is generally missing. Most of them, with honourable exceptions like Karan Johar, who lasted much longer than his contemporaries, have largely remained a one hit filmmakers. The box office success of their maiden directorial ventures straightaway sky rockets them into a different horizon. They feel they have got the formula for a hit. But then the initial hit is followed by a string of flops.

                Aditya Chopra came up with colossal hits like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayege, Mohabbatein after which going into an exile of sorts but shadow-directing and giving breaks to young talented guys like Kunal Kohli (one hit Fanna, three flops Mujhse Dosti Karoge, Hum Tum, Thoda Pyar Thoda Magic) Siddharth Anand (one hit Salaam Namaste, three disasters like Ta Ra Rum Pum, Bachna Aai Haseeno, Anjana Anjani), Shamit Amin (Chak De India, Rocket Singh Salesman of the Year), Shaad Ali (Saathiya, Bunty aur Babli, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom). Only Sanjay Ghadvi has thus far managed to keep his good track record (Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi hai, Dhoom and Dhoom 2) returning only with a dud, lacklustre Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. These are just a few examples

                “We don’t have good scriptwriters,” is the common refrain echoing in the studio corridors. But then there are scores of ambitious new writers making the rounds of production houses without ever succeeding in getting the director’s ear. At the same time many of these stories and scripts were by relatively new writers. While on the one hand is the example of factories like Ram Gopal Varma churning out one half-baked idea after another, the script following no logical progression, on the other there is a banner of Vidhu Vinod Chopra with directors like Rajkumar Hirani and writer Abhijit Joshi who take their time on scripts and make blockbusters like Munnabhai MBBS, Lage Raho Munnabhai and 3 Idiots.

                The younger brigade has now tossed up another formula. Make sequels of earlier hits, whether by themselves or other directors. The idea that first struck Farhan Akhtar who reworked the script of Amitabh Bachchan-starrer 70s hit, Don and made a big hit with Shah Rukh Khan in the lead. Rakesh Roshan has been on a similar track with son Hrithik making the Krishh… series.

                Coming up in the next twelve months will be Farhan Akhtar’s Don 2, repeating the combination of Shah Rukh and Priyanka Chopra. Putting Munnabhai Chale Amerika for which a promo was actually shot sometime in 2009, Rajkumar Hirani and Abhijit Joshi are working on Munnabhai 3; Tarun Mansukhani on Dostana 2, Indra Kumar on Double Dhamal, and Masti 2. Ekta Kapoor proposes to carry on the track of Once Upon a Time in Mumbai and Kya Kool Hai Hum to five a fillip to brother Tushar Kapoor’s career to name just a few. And there will, of course, will also be a Golmaal 4, and Race. Frankly, there is nothing wrong with sequels or a tried and tested formula. It was common in Hollywood, encashing a franchise to the extent possible, but not at the expense of fresh ideas. After all, there is a curiosity element to a sequel. Ram Gopal Varma did it with Sarkar. He even played havoc with his version of Sholay, and Manmohan Desai took the lost-and-found formula to death.

                Unfortunately, most sequels in India have generally been comedy flicks, a sort of laugh riot entertainment for the front bencher, and not serious stuff. They are not even slapsticks. The tragedy with Bollywood has always been that it suffers from herd mentality. If one kind of flick succeeds, everyone goes for it blindly. The same has to a certain extent been true of actors like Akshay Kumar. A succession of bad movies clicking, and he thought he was infallible. But look at the great fall now. Bollywood will have to recall the scriptwriter from his grave for its survival. It does not have Hollywood kind of structure, or money to survive without it.

By Suresh Kohli

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