Larger-than-life or realistic - what's Bollywood or television without its stories? Like every industry in the world, the Indian entertainment industry is currently at a crossroads of change with the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) bringing the world to a grinding halt for not just days, but weeks...and now, months. There is a scenario staring at its face, where the film industry will have to start everything from scratch and reboot to put new systems in place in a post-Coronavirus world. Filmmaking cannot happen without good storytelling. How will the current scenario affect storytelling?
Screenwriters in Bollywood have already begun getting briefs that are different to what they have been accustomed to till now. FilmiBeat spoke to Bollywood's renowned screenwriters Jyoti Kapoor, Kamlesh Pandey, Sanjay Chauhan, Purnendu Shekha, and actor-TV producer JD Majethia about changing times in showbiz.
'Scale down is the new brief'
There was a time when writers were told to let their imagination soar. Today, it's all about reining it in. Writer Jyoti Kapoor, who wrote the Akshay Kumar-Kareena Kapoor Khan film Good Newzz, "The new brief is to write stories that can be shot with minimum crew, using as little locations as possible and with minimum characters. All the big productions are being postponed. Even when things open up, it's going to be work under restricted production, at least for the next few months.''
Although writer Sanjay Chauhan has not got such briefs yet, he questions the whole premise of making films with fewer characters. He says, "The story decides its characters. Films like Trapped and Thappad can be made with lesser characters, but larger-than-life films cannot be made with lesser characters."
What about soaps and series on television? Writer Purnendu Shekhar, whose Rishton Mein Katti Batti is ready for telecast says that there has been no change in the brief for him. "I hope there is no change, because I'll have to change the entire story with that.''
'Feel-good content will be in demand'
Stories on television are set to change, but more in terms of the genre. Says actor and TV producer JD Majethia, who also heads the TV division of Indian Film and Television Producers Council (IFTPC), "There is so much drama happening in people's lives that they won't be interested in dramas and tragedies. If you ask me, I will be focussing on making positive content and one that gives hope and will entertaining." Majethia has popular shows like Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, Khichdi and many others to his credit.
Seconding Majethia, Shekhar adds, "Many producers, I believe, have decided not to focus on serious subjects for now. In fact, they're planning to keep their new shows light-hearted. Look at the TRPs - Doordarshan is currently the No.1 channel because of Mahabharat and Ramayan. The only other channel that comes close to it is SAB, which clearly indicates people want to laugh and watch positive shows in these times of depression and uncertainty. If that happens, then writers like me will face problems, as I am known for dramas."
'Narration on video calls is exhausting'
Most of the film writers are busy doing video-call narrations on Zoom and Microsoft with actors, directors and producers.
"Producers and actors have started taking narrations on video calls. I hate the idea of narrating even under normal circumstances. Imagine giving virtual narrations! It's draining, exhausting and a futile exercise that has gone on for too long in our industry. Scripts are meant to be read, not narrated. A good script is precise and conveys everything a writer wants you to know. All you have to do is read it. If there's one thing I would like to request actors and producers to do, is that they should start reading now that they have some time on their hands,'' says Kapoor.
On the other hand, writers writing for TV are being asked to send in episodes for the producers to create a story bank.
Kapoor, also the Chairperson of the Dispute Settlement Committee of the Screenwriters Association (SWA), adds, "The DSC has been getting a lot of non-payment complaints of late, especially from TV writers. In TV, you get paid three months after the telecast. So, while writers are expected to churn out content, they don't know when the next payment will come in. If the episodes won't get filmed, they won't get paid. Why make them slog then?"
FilmiBeat feels it is indeed very disheartening to not get paid because an episode didn't get filmed. If a writer has done his or her job, they should be paid for it and it should have nothing to do with whether filming happens or not.
'COVID-19 has changed things for some in showbiz, not everyone'
Writers are finding it difficult to utilise the lockdown to write stories. Kapoor says, "People keep telling me, 'so you have ample time now, you can get some quality-writing done'. And I wonder, who can really be productive with what's going on around us. The world as we know is changing every second and the stories are bound to change with it. But it's too painful to document all that is happening around us. I want to write / see normal stories, happy stories that we can escape to when everything else around us is so bleak.''
Kamlesh Pandey, writer of films like Delhi-6, who conducts an online screenwriting workshop, feels otherwise. "COVID-19 has changed things for some of us, but not for the majority. Sooner or later, life will get back on track and the old habits and attitudes will return," he predicts.
What do you think will change in Bollywood and showbiz in general? Give your opinion in the comments section below.