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Writer’s block

Writing is the only film-related job that does not require technical training,” says Jalees Sherwani,meditatively smoking in the narrow passageway outside the office of Film Writers’ Association in Mumbai’s Andheri.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul D'souza |
May 13, 2011 3:43:14 am

Apart from addressing plagiarism and giving legal help to its members,the Film Writers’ Association office is also a networking hub for writers

Writing is the only film-related job that does not require technical training,” says Jalees Sherwani,meditatively smoking in the narrow passageway outside the office of Film Writers’ Association (FWA) in Mumbai’s Andheri. “So,even the guy who can write a beautiful letter to his girlfriend or mother considers himself a writer,” laughs the lyricist,who is also the president of FWA.

The FWA office,with its run-down look,elderly staff and musty smell of old files,is reminiscent of government offices. It is 1.50 pm and work goes on in hushed tones. This scenario,says Sherwani,is merely the lull before the storm. As if on cue,the reception fills up within the next five minutes with members from across the country — mostly men — holding sheaves of paper.

The FWA register lyrics,concepts,stories and screenplays for ad films,television and movies for its 10 lakh members between 2-5 pm on weekdays. But registering content is just one of FWA’s primary functions. “Apart from giving members legal guidance,the association acts as a union to safeguard member interests,” says Sherwani. For example,the committee has been instrumental in pushing for the implementation of the Rights (IPR) law for writers and lyricists recently.

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But newspaper clippings on the notice board indicate one of the more important functions of FWA — to resolve plagiarism claims. According to one of the clippings,the FWA presided over a plagiarism case where Ram Gopal Varma was made to cough up Rs 8 lakh for “stealing” the story of Agyaat from a struggling screenwriter.

In a similar claim,noted writer Aabid Surti accused the makers of Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? of “lifting” his Gujarati novel Bautar Baras Na Babo and demanded Rs 1.15 crore as compensation. Though Sherwani doesn’t divulge the outcome of the case,he admits that the matter was resolved “amicably”. “We don’t take people to court but instead the committee helps resolve matters using whatever evidence the two parties can produce and if the defaulter is our member,we suspend their membership too,” explains Sherwani.

This is the point where registration of content,which may otherwise not hold any legal value,helps. “Whenever someone registers such a case,we send a notice to the accused and resolve the matter by checking who got the material registered first,” he says even as he admits that the method isn’t foolproof.

“Though the plagiarism cases are more rampant in television,it’s the newcomers,” says the FWA vice-president BR Ishara,“who mostly end up as victims.” This explains the crowd that fills up the FWA reception every weekday. Members,hoping to become the next Gulzar,come from all over the country,their writings sometimes bound in school notebooks.

Accompanied by their dreams is a lurking fear that their writings will be stolen by the mighty members of the fraternity.

Harun Rashid is on a week-long visit from Madhya Pradesh’s Katni. Carrying a thick file,he tells the official on duty,that there are lyrics of 50 songs that he recently wrote. Once every page of the file has been stamped,he goes back at the end of the queue and awaits his turn again. “I have seven ad film concepts,three film scripts and some more writing that needs to be registered.” One cannot get more than one item registered at a time and no more than three items registered in a day. So he will be coming to the office every day this week.

Plenty of these visitors are known to the association’s employees. Though the task of registering the material is a highly impersonal job — they merely check it for the formatting,stamp and sign the papers and return them to the person — years of familiarity bind them. Gurbaksh Pandey greets half-a-dozen people in the room before shaking hands with the association’s joint secretary,Sudhakar Sharma. With 23 registered scripts,numerous stories and lyrics over 18 years,Pandey is a veteran here. Yet,none of his works,barring a few lyrics,have made their way to the big screen. “The success rate here is a mere two per cent,” comments Sherwani.

But this bitter truth about the FWA,hardly deters its optimistic regulars. Once the registration is done,the buildings stairwell becomes a venue of their informal gathering. “Networking is another unofficial function of FWA,” Sherwani winks. From there,the visitors move to the nearby coffee shop. Some of them would leave Mumbai the next day,with the satisfaction of securing their writing,while others would be back to get their’s stamped.

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