"Sorry, but I am not optimistic at all. I think we are f*****. There’s no dearth of writers in India, but there’s a great lack of writing that has the life and smell of this nation," said celebrated screenwriter Abbas Tyrewala.
He dug into the root of this decline. "Before the 60s, we were telling stories. Major stars worked with the films instead of merely acting in it. Problem started during the Bachchan era. Amitabh Bachchan’s persona started towering over everything. Suddenly it was okay to not have a story as long as you had him since people were in awe of him. If you just got his dates, you could make a film and recover money," Abbas said.
Abbas believes that even when Amitabh took a sabbatical from films, producers devised new tricks of having multi-star films to compensate for the same. "In the 90s, the three Khans emerged. However, someone suddenly discovered the NRI market. Again, shooting in foreign locations became more important. A film could recover its entire money with just its music, satellite rights and overseas market. Where was the need for a story and thus a good writer," he rued.
While Abbas’ interpretation of Indian cinema’s history drew large cheers from the assembled audiences, his other panel members were more optimistic.
Dev Benegal said: "I am positive because change is happening in Indian literature. New voices are emerging. And though most Indie films are bad copies of European cinema, ultimately we will find our own cinematic voices."
Writer and actor Saurabh Shukla said the only solution was to create cutting-edge writing. "Instead of constantly feeling that you are beaten, just go home and write. Better yourself," he said.
Veteran writer Vinay Shukla, who is part of a venture to find and train new scriptwriters, said: "I have read some of these new Indian screenwriters. They inspire me. There are new, authentic voices who talk about their own place and people. But they have no way to go. No stars would work on a script that does not have them playing larger than life roles."
Despite playing the role of a doomsday prophet, Abbas Tyrewala was sympathetic to the producer community. "It is easy for writers to make scapegoats out of producers. In reality, producers have a lot of guts. They risk everything. They keep playing and gambling with their lives."
Candid and frank, he elicited a lot of response when he said: "Perhaps it is the biggest lie that audiences are smarter. The truth is that maybe they have become stupider. And maybe they are getting what they want and deserve."
Despite the witty attempts of moderator Atul Tiwari who tried diverting the discussion to a solution, there was no hopeful solution in sight. Yet putting the problems at one platform might just end up proving cathartic to Indian script writing and hopefully it will emerge stronger and better.