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It’s time to duly pay and credit the writer

ByShuchi Bansal
Jun 09, 2023 12:15 AM IST

I never used to do this but now I’m making a conscious effort. I think it’s important that if you have worked on stuff, people should know about it. Typically, it is the stars and the people in front of the camera who get all the credit,” Vaibhav Vishal says good-humoredly

When IMDb released the list of top 50 most popular Indian web series of all times this week, it included Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story (2020), Inside Edge (2017) and Rana Naidu (2023). On Tuesday, Vaibhav Vishal, who has written all three, took to twitter to thank directors Hansal Mehta and Karan Anshuman for letting him be part of their worlds and the actors who gave life to his lines.

Justin S. Lee, a writer and director in TV and Film, holds a sign in front of Apple's flagship store during the writer-led Apple Day of Action, during the continuing strike by the Writers Guild of America (WGA), in Los Angeles, California, on June 5, 2023. The Apple Day of Action is calling on Apple to come back to the table and help end the strike. Picketing writers say they are striking for better compensation in a field that has been disrupted by the streaming industry. Writers also say they are looking for more stable working conditions and a better share of the profits generated by the rise of streaming. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (AFP)

“I never used to do this but now I’m making a conscious effort. I think it’s important that if you have worked on stuff, people should know about it. Typically, it is the stars and the people in front of the camera who get all the credit,” he says good-humoredly.

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Funny that Vishal should say so at a time when a survey by media research firm Ormax and content and talent management agency Tulsea found that 63% Indian screenwriters are dissatisfied with their pay and 53% with the credit they are given for their work.

Titled ‘The Right Draft: 2023’, the study is being touted as the first published report on the writers’ community in the country.

Vishal’s comment and the timing of the survey are notable since the Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) that represents Hollywood film, TV and OTT writers, has been on strike for over a month demanding better wages and health care.

Radhika Gopal, senior manager at Tulsea, says their survey was not timed to release with the strike as it was initiated late last year. However, its publication has coincided with the Hollywood writers’ strike. The survey interviewed more than 200 writers across Hindi and regional languages between January and March and published the results last week.

The findings are telling. Even though a sizeable section (65%) of writers believe that pay levels have improved in recent years, 63% still believe they are not being paid fairly. Also, payments are not timely, impacting 47% writers directly. 91% writers voted for a hybrid pay model, comprising a mix of fixed pay and incentive/bonus.

“Payments to writers come in tranches. One gets a signing amount and then you get a specified amount on the first and second draft and so on. But a lot of our payment is also linked to the film or show getting greenlit or the last shot being taken. Sometimes 70% of your money is stuck and you may get it after 2 years or not at all,” says Vishal, who has also written the Hindi film, ‘Mumbai Saga’.

The Ormax-Tulsea survey noted that 53% writers are also dissatisfied with the credit they receive for their work, especially in marketing and promotions.

Sadly, there is no standardisation on how the credits should be shared on the screen for a film or a show. These decisions are left to the whimsies of producers and streaming platforms.

Writers in the Hindi film industry have traditionally been treated like second class citizens. On a chat show, writer-poet Javed Akhtar recounted the fight for due credit in the 1970s when he and writer Salim Khan gave many a hit film as Salim-Javed. When the duo asked for their names on the posters of Amitabh Bachchan starrer Zanjeer, their request was declined. Overnight, they hired people to paint their names on Zanjeer posters across Mumbai.

Akhtar said that was the turning point for them as writers after which they didn’t buckle under pressure and sought both credit and fair compensation for their scripts.

The current crop of writers acknowledge that Salim-Javed did an immense service to the writer community by standing up to producers and directors but obviously the fight is far from over.

A lot needs to change on-ground. For instance, most contracts with streaming platforms are skewed in the companies’ favour as they own all the rights to the IP. There’s little headroom for any royalty in case a series written by a writer is made in other languages too.

But there may be hope. The Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS), a body for music composers and lyricists, recently won a court case seeking royalty from FM radio channels. “What the lyricists and music directors have managed to achieve on the royalty front is creditable. Writers’ community needs a strong representative body, too,” says Vishal adding that directors like Mehta or Anshuman are not shy of sharing credit.

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