Kangana’s ‘Simran’ Credit Row: Star Intervention Vs Writer’s Value
Why Kangana Ranaut’s top billing as co-writer on ‘Simran’ needs to be questioned.
The Film Writers Association, a venerable institution to protect the rights of Bollywood’s screenwriters hasn’t uttered a word – on the Kangana Ranaut-Hansal Mehta versus Apurva Asrani face-off on the imbroglio over the credit titles for Simran, whose first look and promo have just been launched.
Any screenwriter worth his salt would be dismayed by the cavalier manner in which producer-director Hansal Mehta has handled the ugly situation. And if the Film Writers Association has remained indifferent, blame it on formality. Asrani presumably has not approached them to argue in his defence. The association must abide by rules, you know. Presumably too his contract for the film as its writer and editor isn’t watertight enough to raise a stink.
In any case, the writer is a mere cog in the wheel, undervalued to the point of being a mute spectator to the addition of Ms Ranaut as additional story and dialogue writer. Her billing precedes Asrani’s by the way.
She had popped up in the credits as co-dialogue writer of the widely-laureled Queen. So what’s the big deal? Moreover, please do remember that the era of the don’t-mess-with-us Salim-Javed has gone defunct.
One way of looking at the Simran fracas is that a screenwriter has no rights. In addition, efforts have been on – justified or malicious – to point out that Asrani is not faultless. Reportedly, there was a to-do over sharing the writing credits for Mehta’s Aligarh. Ishani Bannerji had been shortchanged, billed as co-writer of the story, although according to anonymously quoted sources the film was her baby.
If this is a fact, why didn’t Mehta stand up for her and give her the deserved credit. Obviously because she isn’t a star, she’s a laptop pusher, a tiny fish in the Bollywood ocean. Incidentally, Bannerji has opted to go the “no comments” route.
Indeed, the writer and the director today are hopelessly vulnerable to star intervention. It starts off as inputs and then to a downright muck-up of the original scenario. From the stalwarts to the A-lister newbies, I have to still meet an actor who won’t butt his or her sharp nose into a script, starting off at the first story narration itself.
“But what is my character’s motive?”, “But don’t you think my character will come off in a negative light?”, “But why should there be an item number? Why can’t I do it myself?”, “But what will my fans say?” I could go on with the thousands of “buts” of the wacko kind which still ring in my ears.
A senior artiste, reputed to be ‘non-interfering’, to my horror, I found was a control freak. Every morning on the day of the shoot, hours had to be expended on whether the dialogue was correct, those damn ‘motivation points’ in place and was the costume was cool? It was too baggy, too tight, too downmarket. Fret, fret, fret. More than enough to arouse my suicidal instincts.
The star is the centre of the cosmos. Understand that, aggravated by the frequent arguments during the mid-phase of the shooting. It’s much too late to replace the star. And it’s much too late to disagree with the Mr or Ms Know-it-All since even half-a-day’s delay of the shoot means lakhs down the drains. Not surprisingly technicians, assistant directors and spotboys have scant regard for the so-called captains and authors of the story. Those who can afford to brook no nonsense must have at least a couple of Rs 100 crore-plush case-earners in their portfolio.
In the context of star inverventionists, Kangana Ranaut is not alone. She has enough soul sisters and brothers for company, only right royal controversies have eluded them. But for how long? Maybe forever. Can the screenwriters of apna showtown unite, tell all? Silly question.
Ms Ranaut, however, unlike her peers has thrown caution to the wind. If Simran is a hit, she will have her last laugh. If not, she’ll avoid uncomfortable questions, thanks to her omnipresent PR machinery. To date, she hasn’t explained why Ketan Mehta who was to direct her in the role of Rani of Jhansi has been scuttled. And now she’s also set to do another biopic on Laxmibai called Manikarnika, not to forget her statement that she will now direct herself in her future projects. Good luck.
Kangana Ranaut’s acting calibre is extraordinary. Her attitude, stange. Some five years ago, I had the fortune or misfortune of narrating a script I had written to her. The reading went on for two hours and some more. Throughout, her face registered no expression. She likes it? She likes it or not? I shuddered.
At the end of the two longest hours of my life, she finally looked me straight in the eye and quizzed seriously, “But what is my character’s motivation?”
Silence. I wasn’t about to go into psycho-graphing for a disinterested listener. To wind up that forgettable evening, announced Ms Kanaut, “The film seems to revolve around me entirely. If it flops, then I will be blamed by everyone.”
“Everyone?” I interjected.
“Yes, everyone. The public, the critics, my friends, your friends, everyone.”
She was right. Since I respect her as an actor, no matter what her off-screen attitude may be, Simran had better not flop. Or she will be blamed by everyone.
(The writer is a film critic, filmmaker, theatre director and weekend painter.)
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