Anjum Rajabali


Treat filmmaking like a craft

Anjum Rajabali is a prolific Indian screenwriter. He has spent over 20 years in the Indian film industry with films like Drohkaal, Ghulam, The Legend of Bhagat Singh and Raajneeti to his credit. He is also known for his leadership and contribution to various writers’ rights initiatives in India, most notably recognized for lobbying with other prominent writers and activists for amendments in the Copyright Act in favour of writers.

He began his career in the film industry as an associate scriptwriter for the critically acclaimed Drohkaal (1994). In 1998, Anjum wrote the screenplay for the film China Gate along with writing the story and screenplay for the hit crime-thriller Ghulam. In the following years, Anjum is credited with writing for prominent films across a variety of genres, including the action film Kachche Dhaage (1999), the drama Pukar (2000), the biographical film The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002) and the horror Naina (2005).

He was the script consultant on Prakash Jha’s crime-drama Apaharan (2005) and Anjum’s association with him extended for the next four successive films that Prakash Jha directed, with Anjum writing for Raajneeti (2010), Aarakshan (2011), Chakravyuh (2012) and Satyagraha (2013).

He visited the Annapurna College campus recently and held a session with students and spoke at length about screenwriting; developing an idea, concept into a feature film treatment, how to explore dramatic conflict and characterisation as per the Indian film industry. The students interacted with him and greatly benefitted for the session.

Speaking about how the film industry treats its creative pool, particularly the screenwriters, he said that “The attitude of the film industry has improved towards the screenwriters and writing, but it is nowhere where the status should be. If you regard them as the architects of the film, it is the script that brings the entire film together, then it has to receive its due space, rewards, acknowledgement and rights.”

He has been at the forefront of the battle for film writer’s rights. What safeguards exist today, are they adequate, and what more must be done? Answering this, he said, “There has to be some protection for the newcomers who are joining, some encouragement so that their talent is nurtured and appreciated. So, ideally there should be some contracts and business practices which regulate the producer-writer relationship, which is very essential. At the moment, the bargaining power between a producer and writer are so disproportionate that a new writer does not have any leverage. If there is a regulated method then they will not have to struggle individually.”

Sharing his thoughts on screenwriting styles and how have they changed, he said that “screenwriting has seen a lot of interest from young people. Fresh talent is coming in and with it many new subjects and themes are coming in which are much more varied now than they used to be earlier. This is making a big difference. The other thing is that the film industry itself is beginning to recognize that one need not have a conventional approach to story-telling, as a result of which there are a lot of departures from the existing norms, and there is experimentation taking place and we are seeing unusual films which we would not have expected. They are achieving viability also because their story-telling and stories are connecting with the audience. This I feel is evolving and it is a very healthy sign.”

The reason for this he says is the “infusion of so much of entertainment available on TV & internet now that the audience is exposed to different styles and sensibilities. The conventional methods have begun failing rapidly with much more frequency, which are forcing writers and directors to explore newer ways which may be able to connect to the audience. Society itself is evolving and the new writers are coming from the new generation which thinks differently and much more courageously and which doesn’t necessarily feel the need to respect the old traditional notions.”

Would studying in a film school help students? What does the film industry look for in students? Talking about this he said, “the important thing is to treat it like a craft and therefore learn it, whether you learn it on your own or you go to a formal institution and learn it in a structured way doesn’t matter. But a film school does help, in the sense that there is a certain disciplined framework within which the student is working and there are certain productive landmarks within the course of the learning; which ensure that the student is regularly working/writing which otherwise is not easy to enforce. Therefore in a film school what would take you two years to learn may take you four years outside a film school.”

Forthcoming films that he is working on are Salute by Mahesh Mathai and Shaji N Karun.

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