Chai With Shai: Writers are the most neglected and underpaid lot – Jyoti Kapoor
If the dialogues of Sholay or Mr. India are still popular then you remember the faces mouthing them. When Bajrangi Bhaijaan or Bahubali is applauded for their sheer performance at the Box Office and also connecting with the audiences than Salman Khan and Rajamouli takes the credit so on and so forth. If I have to give you examples then it will take reams and reams of cyberspace.
In the star-driven industry the most exploited creative people are the writers. And who else other than me (a writer) can vouch for it? The saddest thing for any creative person to face is his / her work being passed off as somebody else’s or someone plagiarizing their work. Few months ago one person stuck her head high and challenged one of the most prominent directors of the industry on charges of plagiarism and pleasantly won the case against him in court, giving a ray of hope to the oppressed and over-exploited writer community. Yes friends I am talking about Jyoti Kapoor, the ‘Iron Lady’ of writer community who won the plagiarism case against the mighty Kunal Kohli. Sitting right next to me sipping a cup of hot Chai we talk about the controversy that shook the industry and also about movies in general. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.
Welcome Jyoti to my web series Chai With Shai (smiles).
Thank you Shaiju for inviting me over (smiles) ‘Iron Lady of Writer Community’ huh? That’s a new one (beams).
I am sure there might be few more flattering titles given to you by the media (smiles). Anyway, let’s begin with you being in the news lately for winning a case against director Kunal Kohli for lifting your story idea and turning it into a movie – Phir Se. So how are you feeling about the victory?
Relieved, (smiles) much relieved! I have stopped having nightmares, my appetite is back and I can concentrate on work again (laughs).
(Laughs) That’s nice to hear. Moving on… Plagiarism is a common thing in the industry, why do you think reputed directors resort to such tactics when they can very well hire the original writer and get the script done?
Because they think they can get away with it (frowns). Some of the ‘reputed’ directors have built their careers on stealing. The ghosts of the original writers will come and haunt them if they don’t stop this stealing business (giggles).
I am sure it will happen one day (laughs). After the case was judged in your favor, Kunal went on record saying that he didn’t want to harm the movie’s release therefore he agreed for an out of court settlement. How far is it true?
I’d say he’s becoming a better actor by the day. I wish him all the best for his second innings (winks).
Kunal also went on record that going forward he will never entertain a new writer ever and if he does then he will make sure the meeting is recorded. What are your thoughts about the same?
I am actually worried if any writer ‘OLD OR NEW’ will ever entertain him. I think having meetings recorded is a brilliant idea. Every writer should carry a camera hidden in their script/ purse/ chappal/ eyes/ hands/ underwear, basically wherever they can squeeze it in (laughs). I think, journalists should also have lie detectors fitted in their mics, especially when interviewing ‘reputed’ people (smiles).
What have you learnt from this incident?
Always fight for what is rightfully yours and don’t listen to naysayers.
How has the industry reacted to you? Has this incident done any harm to your career?
So many colleagues have reached out to me with good wishes, strangers (from the industry) have hugged me when they got to know that I was the same person who had fought this case (pauses). I receive so many messages from fellow writers from all over the country who are stuck in similar situations and need guidance with the legal course of action. I’ve been overwhelmed with support from all over and I’m thankful to everyone for that (crosses fingers).
As far as this incident affecting my career is concerned, I can only say that nothing can harm your career if you are good at what you do. If people see any value in your work, they will always work with you.
Absolutely! (Smiles) Do you think writers as a lot is hugely neglected and underpaid in Bollywood?
YES! Put that in Capital Letters (smiles).
Why is it that Indian movies have not experimented in genres that Hollywood has excelled? We still have the stereotypical movies being made. Whom do you blame – the writer / the director / the audience?
Firstly, I think Hollywood is overrated. In terms of experimentation, their TV content is way better than their films; a majority which, by the way, are not any less formulaic than the ones we make. Also, why do we need to conform to the western idea of experimentation? Our films are born out of Indian ethos and are unique in their own way. Bollywood, however, is not the true and only representative of Indian cinema. The Indian Independent cinema, which has always co-existed, is slowly and steadily finding its bearings. Sadly however, we don’t get to see these films as much as we should. The filmmakers are perpetually struggling with their shoestring budgets and don’t have enough backing, especially when it comes to marketing their films. There are a few producers who are putting their money where their mouth is but we are still way behind. In that respect, I think Hollywood is more sorted. You’ll see mainstream actors/producers supporting small content driven films even as they continue to produce their big budget movies.
As far as the mainstream Indian films go, we are “mostly” churning out the same done to death, run of the mill movies except a few gems like ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’. I don’t know whom to blame. But in a star driven system where everything revolves around a handful of Ks – from the epiglottis (say animatedly and giggles) I don’t see things changing anytime soon. Having said that, there’s no dearth of scripts. There aren’t enough people ready to take a risk. And ever since the studios have taken over, things have only worsened (grim). Films have taken a back seat. It’s projects that are made now (frowns).
So True! Anyway let’s go back to how you started your journey in Bollywood? (Rubbing my hands) This is one of the most favorite part I like to ask my guests (smiles).
Okay…(laughs). I was a journalist for almost 4 years before I packed my bags and landed at the Film and Television Institute of India. I wanted to go beyond the facts, beyond the five W’s and one ‘H’ (What, When, Where, Who, Why and How) of journalism. After completing my course in screenwriting in 2005, I shifted back to Mumbai and have been working as a screenwriter ever since. My training in screenwriting has definitely helped me understand the craft better but my first teacher will always be the fieldwork in journalism.
Okay… One thing I am very curious to know about is, Habib Faisal is a wonderful writer himself, so dow did you get to write Daawat-E-Ishq for him?
Even the best of writers need collaborators. Plus, Habib has collaborated with newer writers in the past. I met him at one of our screenwriting study circles and was quite impressed with his approach towards writing. Post that I shared one of my scripts with him, which he liked and asked me if I’d be interested in collaborating with him on his next script. He is a wonderful mind to collaborate with.
How I wish such interesting incidents happen with me too (frowns animatedly).
Anyway moving ahead… Did you get to learn anything new with your association with Habib?
Yes, lots. Habib is a hard taskmaster. He will keep pushing you until you have explored all the possibilities in your story, which I think is how we should always approach it. Another thing I like about his writing is his ordinary, everyday, endearing characters, which I could completely relate to.
Why do you think Daawat-E-Ishq failed to connect with the audience?
Nobody can predict what will work and what won’t, especially when it comes to movies. I think we should just keep at it (writing) without second-guessing the audience. The most we can do is to try and enjoy the process of writing and hope that some of that excitement passes on to the audience as well. Too much of analysis makes Jack a dull boy (giggles).
You are looked as a new-age crusader for writers in Bollywood. Any tips for your fellow writers?
My case came out in the open for various reasons that were beyond my control but it was certainly not the first one. There have been so many writers before me who have taken on the big guns and won. Urmi Juvekar for example, who took on CNN-IBN and Kapil Chopra who fought against the Bhatts, won their respective cases among others.
To my fellow writers, my two cents:
a) Do not doubt yourself – except may be two days a week (winks)
b) Do not take yourself too seriously
c) You cannot control the fate of your script, so just enjoy the process.
d) You will always be the unsung hero, so get used to it
e) You will always need to take up commissioned work to sustain yourself but try and take out some time for stories that make you happy, that you are passionate about. Or you’ll get burnt out before you know.
f) Keep your family and friends VERY close to you. On days you are suicidal, they will help you sail through it.
g) Don’t take shit from anyone. Nobody is giving you a break here. People are working with you because they are getting something out of it.
h) Lastly and most importantly, Bollywood is not the be all and end all. It’s just one of the platforms where we can showcase our work. As long as you are writing, whether that’s a book, a play, a story or a poem, you are fine. Diversify, as much as you can.
Wow! Those were really some pearls of wisdom (smiles). Accha… it is normally seen that eventually every writer at some point of time wants to turn director. Do you have any such aspirations?
In an ideal world, I’d rather be a writer; write quietly in my cubbyhole and not deal with too many people and their big egos. However, with each passing day I am realizing that you can’t trust many people with your stories and it’s frustrating to see your work getting butchered. So unless you find that perfect collaborator, you are left with no choice but to go ahead and direct your scripts yourself. So yeah, never say never! (Smiles).
So what’s the future ahead for you?
A movie each with Junglee Pictures and Landmarc Films which are in the pipeline (smiles). I’m hoping that my projects see the light of day soon.
It will I am sure (smiles). Okay Jyoti I think we have done a lot of serious talking and we need to brighten up. What do you think?
True… so what’s in store for me next?
Haha! If you are a regular reader of my series then you will know that next is where I will throw few questions at you and you have to answer in short (grins).
In the industry there are no permanent friends or foes. So will you work with Kunal in the future?
Only if I can manage to carry a hidden camera inside! (winks and burst out laughing)
Funny (joins laughing)… Okay… YRF or Dharma the best production house to work with?
Haven’t had a chance to work with Dharma. So can’t really say.
So for now YRF huh?
The most underrated actor in Bollywood?
The most overrated actor in Bollywood?
Oh there are so many!
Come on… One name, please…
You will put me in trouble… so no comments (giggles)
The most underrated director in Bollywood?
The most overrated director in Bollywood?
Actor / Actress to watch out from the present lot?
Radhika Apte looks promising among the newer lot.
Parineeti Chopra or Priyanka Chopra the better actor?
On a wild date whom would you like to go with?
TV or Films?
Any advice to upcoming writers?
That’s Interesting (laughs). Alright Jyoti it was a pleasure chatting up with you.
Same here (smiles).
I wish you all the very best for your future and I hope you inspire more and more budding as well as established writers to stand for their rights and the situation definitely changes for the writer community of which even I am a part of (smiles).
Hopefully (fingers crossed).
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