In search of the perfect script

Written by Sudipta Datta | Updated: Nov 30 2009, 02:59am hrs
When Anupam Kher heard the script of first-time director and recluse Neeraj Pandey for A Wednesday, he was bowled over and knew that he had to be a part of it because it is one of the 10 best scripts I have ever worked in. Pandeys A Wednesday, about two individuals response to everyday terror, went on to earn him many accolades and still gets revenues on the home video sector. But scripts such as A Wednesday, Aamir, Dev. D, Delhi 6 (unsuccessful at the box office) are a rarity, not the norm.

Theres a crisis in Bollywood, and its not all about money. True, with the industry still under meltdown pressures, its going through a cash crunch unheard of in the past two years, but theres also the bitter fact that apart from a handful of films, there have been more misses than hits in 2009. It has been an unprecedented year with a series of events, like IPL, a two-month strike, swine flu and bad content to top it all, sure to dent the industrys growth figures. We are unlikely to see double digit growth this year for the film industry, says an analyst.

Why is Bollywood in a crisis A lot of the reason for films failing to ignite the box-office is being attributed to basics, like the story or poor scripting. Particularly when big films like Chandni Chowk to China and Blue have failed, the industry is asking itself some difficult questions. For instance, how much did Blue, produced by Shree Ashtavinayak (the same that produced Jab We Met), supposedly made at a budget of Rs 100-odd crore, spend on the writing. We know for a fact that it didnt stop short at spending crores on its actors (Akshay Kumar, Lara Datta), music (AR Rahman), even roping in Aussie act Kylie Minogue for one of the songs. How much did it spend on the script How important is a script to a Bollywood film

While there are no easy answers, Bollywood producers are doing a reality check on all films at hand. This is a distinct difference from two years ago when a lot of money was chasing too few films and nobody questioned how things were functioning. Admits Vikas Bahl, Chief Creative Officer, UTV Motion Pictures: The failure of the boom is hitting us now. No ones going to go out and make a Rs 100 crore film.

Good movies never fail, budgets fail. One of the basic aspects of that will be laying greater stress on writing, the foundation of a film. Which brings us to the next question, is there a dearth of writers in Bollywood and whether they are ill-paid. Insiders admit there is a lack of good writers and they are not well-paid; and hence the paucity of good scripts. For a film with a Rs 20-odd crore budget, not even Rs 50 lakh is spent on the writer, less if the writer is relatively unknown. There are many writers who are roaming around, struggling to find place in the industry. We get about 15-20 scripts every week. There are some talented writers, but many incredibly mediocre ones too, says a production house executive.

But some point out that the worth of a writer depends on several factors. If you are a newcomer, you cant expect to be paid a lot, but once you make a name for yourself, money is not a problem, said a director, who didnt want to be named.

Ram Mirchandani, Chief Creative Officer, at Eros who was earlier with UTV says a production house can spend Rs 50 lakh to Rs one crore on a script if it is the hero of the film. At Eros and other production houses, the stress is getting at the perfect script before clearing a film. Unless the script is 100%, scores 9/10, we are not locking it, says Mirchandani. He had started a script factory while at UTV, which petered out, but he plans to revive it at Eros. We want to involve directors in the script-writing, he adds.

Anuj Saxena, CEO, Maverick Productions, points out that with Bollywood flush with funds in the last two years, not much thought went into content, but he says that things are changing now. The multiplex audience too has become more aware and are rejecting poor content, he adds.

Production houses are now looking at writers outside Mumbai to bring in variety. Says Bahl: A lot of writers from everywhere else are now doing a lot of writing. Even director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, who directed Rang De Basanti and Delhi 6, is urging his production house to launch writers from the hinterland. We are looking for stories in Rae Barelli, Patna looking beyond Delhi and Mumbai, he says.

Bahl says the best thing to happen to Bollywood is the meltdown. We have begun to look at the basics, beginning with the story and the script. For the past two years, the industry has been putting projects together, now we will go back to making movies, he adds. Bollywoods search for the right script continues.