Article Hindi

Kangana vs Apurva Asrani & what it means for writers in the industry

Writer-editor Apurva Asrani's recent post regarding Ranaut's demands for 'co-writer' credits on Hansal Mehta's Simran only underline the hierarchy in which scriptwriters are placed in the industry. 

Shriram Iyengar

Writer and editor Apurva Asrani's long post on Facebook on Wednesday morning raised more questions than just about the importance of writers in Hindi cinema. Asrani wrote a detailed narration of the entire controversy which led to Kangana Ranaut being named 'additional dialogue writer' for the film. While Asrani, who was removed as editor from the film, has blamed Ranaut for 'stealing' his hard earned credit. 

In his post, Asrani wrote, 'She says that the story was dark & gritty thriller at that stage and that she herself developed it into a light, fun film. This completely discredits me and my efforts, and I have to call out this lie at the cost of so many of her fans turning against me.' 

However, spoke to Anjum Rajabali, a writer himself and member of the legal sub-committee of the Screenwriters' Association. Rajabali said, "There are some fundamental rights which are inalienable. If you have written the script, the law gives you the right to have it attributed to your name. It is called the law of attributability, which refers to the right to be called the author of the script. That is not under debate in this issue. He is getting his credit." 

Writers have never enjoyed clout in the Hindi film industry. Javed Akhtar has often recalled the time when he and Salim Khan would hire a painter to write their names in bold over posters, to get credit for the film and its story. Four decades down, it seems not much has changed in the industry. 

To be fair, Asrani has not raised a major hue and cry over the position of the credits either. In a tweet to fellow writer Saiwyn Quadras, writer of Neerja (2016), Asrani wrote, 'I appreciate the support @SaiwynQ, but positioning of credits is @producer/directors discretion. It reflects how much they value writers.'

His objection lies in Ranaut's demand for 'co-writer credits. A co-writer credit is applicable when the writer works jointly on the script with another writer for the duration of the film. An additional writer or assistant writer often implies that the second writer has only improved upon, or added to the original script. 

Ranaut's credit of 'additional dialogue and story' though surprising, is not unusual. Not even Asrani debates that. The objection, though, is to the increased demand of 'co-writing' credits. This implies the importance to the star power and brand of Kangana Ranaut, rather than her writing skills. 

Writing in his post, Asrani said, "I was thrilled to see that it was exactly the story and screenplay that I had registered at the Film Writer's Association. I noticed that Kangana had improvised many dialogues, and I thought those improvs were excellent; in keeping with the lines/thoughts, I had written...At no stage did I see this new narrative of theirs coming. It was only the day after I finished the first cut of the film that Hansal called me to meet. He informed me nervously that Kangana is turning director and therefore has demanded a co-writer credit." 

Ranaut announced her decision to turn director at the launch of her film Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi. The actress has previously received credit for additional dialogues for Vikas Bahl's Queen (2014). Ranaut had reportedly improvised on several lines of dialogue in the film. 

Kangana Ranaut to turn director, will only act in her films

Rajabali, who has been a vocal exponent of copyright protection for scripts, says, "I think what he is hurt by is that the actress is being given credit for the additional dialogue of the story. That is the prerogative of the producer, unless and until it is an exclusive contract in which the writer has clearly said that I and only I alone will get the credit for this, and nobody else will write. In which case, the producers' hands are tied. Otherwise, if the producer so wishes, that there is somebody else who can improve that script, and that person actually writes to improve the script, the producer has the prerogative to accord credits to that writer. What the nature of the credit is also depends on the nature of the work the person has done, and the arrangement made. This is determined by a contractual obligation between the new writer and the producer. They decide that you will do this x amount of work, for which you will be paid x rupees, and receive x credit."

It is this very contract that might deal the final blow to Asrani's claims to the credits, if he decides to take legal recourse. In a tweet, the Aligarh writer admitted that he was 'guilty of signing a contract that only protects the producer, because in this case I believed the producer to be my friend.'  

Rajabali adds, "As I said, unless the writer's contract specifies clearly that the credit will be exclusive to them, then I don't think they can object. The only thing he can protest is that if he believes that the other writer has not written, but by some partiality he/she has recieved credit. Then he can certainly contest it."

However, he adds that in order to receive a joint credit, any 'writer' has to prove that he/she has worked on a complete draft of the story or the script.

As for the recourse left to Asrani, if he chooses to take it, Rajabali states, "He can approach the Screen Writers' Association or the court. The court will also judge the issue. Credit indicates copyright, which makes it a legal issue. If credit has been given without copyright being created, then what you are doing is that you are taking the writer's right away. By reducing his right, you are allowing someone to encroach on it...if the other person has not written. If the other person has written, and the original writer did not have an exclusive contract, then in which case the producer has the right to go as per he thinks." 

While there has been complete silence from both, director Hansal Mehta and Ranaut, there is an increasing discontent among writers at this treatment of a National Award winner. It only reflects a growing tendency to bow down to star status, rather than content. The irony of it is that the film is being directed by Mehta, who is known for making content-oriented films. 

While it is unlikely that Asrani might win this battle over Ranaut, it is necessary that the writers in the industry find a way out.