Bollywood blockbusters goes for 1000 crores, but the writers barely sees the money

Beneath the glitz and glamour of Bollywood, a whisper of discontent stirs. While actors bask in the limelight and directors orchestrate cinematic tapestries, the silent architects of stories – the screenwriters – struggle in the shadows, often battling unfair contracts and financial uncertainty.

Writing for Bollywood, they say, is akin to a gamble – a game where success hinges on landing a blockbuster while navigating a labyrinth of exploitative contracts. For many, it’s a lonely journey, marked by uncredited drafts, meagre fees, and constant anxiety about the next pay check.

“Most contracts are designed to protect the producer, not the writer,” asserts Anjum Rajabali, a veteran screenwriter and senior member of the Screenwriters Association (SWA). With over 55,000 members across India, the SWA serves as a beacon of hope, tirelessly advocating for fair treatment and equitable contracts.

The Unequal Equation

Rajabali paints a stark picture of the typical film contract: “They dangle paltry fees, especially to newcomers, and wield arbitrary termination clauses like swords. Reworking drafts? Don’t expect compensation. Credit for your work? Entirely at the producer’s whim.” Shockingly, some contracts even gag writers from seeking the SWA’s support in case of disputes.

Echoes of Hollywood

Buoyed by the recent success of the Hollywood writers’ strike, Indian screenwriters are finding their voices. They see the strike, which brought Hollywood to a standstill, as a testament to their collective power and a roadmap for achieving fairer treatment.

But a Bollywood strike? Experts deem it unlikely, at least for now. Relationships reign supreme in this industry, and rocking the boat can mean career suicide. The sheer number of aspiring writers desperate for a break further complicates matters.

From Oral Promises to One-Sided Contracts: Bollywood

Bollywood

The entry of corporate money changed the game. Contracts emerged, but with them came clauses tilted heavily in favor of the producers. Driven by profit maximization and risk aversion, these contracts became weaponized, squeezing writers with paltry fees and exploitative terms.

One particularly alarming clause – the writer’s indemnification for losses due to protests or controversies – sends shivers down Rajabali’s spine. He blames rising religious extremism and the targeting of films for “hurting sentiments” for this draconian measure.

“They get lawyers to nitpick scripts,” he complains, “then ask the writer to foot the bill if protests erupt. How is that fair?”

The Struggles of a Script-Writers

Hitesh Kewalya, a Mumbai-based screenwriter, knows the sting of financial insecurity firsthand. Quitting his advertising job to pursue his passion, he soon found himself scribbling scripts while dodging rent deadlines.

“Seven scripts,” he recalls, his voice laced with bitterness, “but with none seeing the light of day, I went unpaid. It’s a tough industry, one that breaks many before they even get started.”

The Fight for Fair Contracts

The SWA has a clear roadmap for reform – a minimum basic fee for all writers, consistent crediting, and the elimination of exploitative clauses. It’s a long and arduous journey, but Rajabali believes in the tenacity of his tribe. “Writers are fighters,” he declares, “and this fight, however long it takes, will be for the stories we craft, for the dreams we weave, and for the respect we deserve.”

The fight for fair contracts in Bollywood continues, echoing through corridors of power and resonating in the hearts of aspiring writers. While the odds seem stacked against them – the entrenched power dynamics, the constant influx of fresh talent willing to work for peanuts, and the ever-present shadow of financial insecurity – the embers of hope still flicker.

The SWA remains at the forefront of the battle, a tireless advocate for its members. They organize workshops and seminars, educating writers about their rights and equipping them with the tools to navigate the treacherous terrain of contracts. They lobby producers and studio heads, urging them to consider the human cost of exploitative practices. They offer legal support to writers wronged by unfair contracts, and they amplify their voices on social media, building a groundswell of public support.

One by one, small victories are being won. Independent filmmakers and niche production houses are starting to take notice, crafting contracts that value writers and acknowledge their contribution to the creative process. Some established studios are also making concessions, revising clauses and offering fairer remuneration, albeit hesitantly.

The success of streaming platforms has also thrown a lifeline to struggling writers. With the demand for content skyrocketing, platforms are actively seeking fresh voices and original stories. This opens up new avenues for writers, offering not just financial security but also creative freedom.

Not Everything is about Money

However, the journey is far from over. The big production houses, the bastions of traditional Bollywood, remain largely resistant to change. They cling to outdated models, perpetuating the cycle of exploitation and stifling the creativity of a generation of talented writers.

But the writers are not backing down. They are finding their voices, connecting with each other, and forging a community of support. They are sharing their stories, not just of struggle, but also of resilience and hope. They are learning from the successes of their Hollywood counterparts, drawing inspiration from their collective action and unwavering spirit.

The fight for fair contracts in Bollywood is not just about money or credit. It’s about respect, recognition, and the fundamental right to be valued for one’s creative contribution.

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