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Writers Blocked

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Actor-filmmaker Amir Khan has said that writers should be paid more in the Indian film industry. It’s been said before, more than once, by several persons of eminence, but change has yet to take place. It must be noted that Amir’s comment has come after the disastrous showing of his ‘Thugs of Hindostan’, which was a failed attempt to rip off the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise. In his own role, he tried unsuccessfully to replicate the box office charisma of ‘Captain Jack Sparrow’. Considering that he has made big money from movies based on Chetan Bhagat’s novels, it is strange that he tried to plagiarise Hollywood. Was he trying to cut out the writer’s role altogether in his latest movie? Or, by writers does he mean those who can adapt foreign screenplays successfully?

Whatever be the case, it is the viewers’ lack of response that forced him to accept the need for originality. He is hoping that the Chinese viewers will be kinder to ‘Thugs…’, in which he case he might forget about writers for another decade, maybe.

Despite all this, Bollywood has had great writers in every generation since film-making began in India, as also hugely successful copycats. However, its economy has not developed over the years in a manner that gave a substantial living to the writers. Even the expansion of entertainment into TV has not led to the development of the necessary depth in availability of writers. This is strange for a nation with such a large population and an enormous diversity of culture and experience. It cannot be that there are no writers available; it is just that filmmakers have been allowed by the market to get away with what they do.

On the filmmakers’ behalf, it can be said that there has not been the necessary range of viewership to allow for experimentation and new things. The famous ‘formulas’ were developed because audience tastes were perceived to be in a narrow band, which, of late, have been reduced to spinning a story around elaborate wedding dances and item numbers. Making movies has been too much of an expensive gamble, with only the passionate among directors coming up with what came to be known as ‘art’ movies.

With the advent of the digital age, it is possible for those with new ideas to make movies much more cheaply. Cinema can expand at the regional level beyond the traditional base. It also requires the expansion of screens in multiplexes and cheaper tickets, so that advantage can be obtained from volume, rather than just quality. The industry should not be expected to run merely on the back of mega-blockbusters. The advent of the internet age, which is replete with the work of brilliant amateurs, also gives reason for hope. The age of the writer might yet dawn.