Battle of the Underdogs: Kangna Ranaut vs. The writer of 'Simran'

Last Updated: Fri, May 19, 2017 14:09 hrs
Kangana Ranaut

Kangna Ranaut is in the eye of the storm, once again. The ebullient and plain-spoken actress has always had us rooting for her. When she took on Karan Johar. When she brushed aside Hrithik Roshan’s protests and smears. When she said ‘No’ to a lucrative fairness cream endorsement deal. This time though, she seems to be embroiled in a controversy where the dice seems loaded against her.

It all started with the release of her upcoming film’s poster. Simran directed by Hansal Mehta features an ‘Additional Story & Additional Dialogue’ credit for Kangna Ranaut. Also, this appears before writer Apurva Asrani’s name. Add to this, Kangna’s claims on Facebook Live and a Midday interview that she developed the story from a one-liner. Understandably, Apurva Asrani of Aligarh fame, is fuming.

Asrani first took to Twitter to point out the wrong-doing. And then Facebook, to air his side of the story. He has asked director Hansal Mehta to ‘show some spine’ and take a stand. This statement seems to have drawn the battle lines. Goldie Behl and Neerja screenwriter have swung to Asrani’s aid.

Meanwhile, Producer Shailesh Singh has clarified in a news report that the order of appearance in credits was simply a printing mistake. And that Asrani apparently has a legal document wherein he agrees to the credits given.

Now, this is where things get murky. Apurva Asrani bears Editor & Screenplay credit on Hansal Mehta’s earlier film, the riveting Shahid. Now, there’s a piece floating on the World Wide Web that claims Asrani in fact, stole the Screenplay credit from another writer. This writer, Sameer Gautam Singh, has jumped to Director Hansal Mehta’s defence and calls Asrani a ‘hypocrite’ after having been booted out of any stake, claim or credit to the story of Shahid.

Writers have mostly been treated as bottom-feeders in the Bollywood industry. But their voices are being heard of late. Thanks to the presence of the FWA (Film Writers Association). The Association offers to settle disputes, extends legal counsel and register ideas and stories to protect Intellectual Property.

And the above mentioned tangle between Asrani-Kangna-Singh is not the first time a writer-producer/director/actor spat has gotten ugly. Nor the first time when accusations have been lobbed in myriad directions.

But despite the FWAs presence, Writers are still on shaky ground. Especially when faced with the Producers who insist on contracts where they exercise discretionary power with regards to credits, and pressurise Writers to accede to their request in order to hasten the release of a film. So one either toes the line or it erupts into a dispute that mostly comes with consequences for the writer. At the very least, it involves a lot of mud-slinging, and at the worst, bad credentials. And yes, there are some wins.

Take for instance Pubali Chaudhuri’s tussle that extends over two films - Rock On and Rock On 2 - with director Abhishek Kapoor who has claimed credit for writing both the screenplays. First, she had to share ownership of the screenplay in Part 1. In Part 2, Kapoor claimed sole ownership. Chaudhuri wouldn’t stand for this and approached the FWA that ruled in her favour. But despite that, Kapoor dragged Chaudhuri to court and as a result he got booted out of Part 2 and had a huge fallout with Farhan Akhtar and his production company.

It probably helps to work with people like Farhan Akhtar whose father is Javed Akhtar who has several screenwriting credits. So he probably gets it. The work, the toil, the need to own that work.

But not all writers get lucky in terms of support. Writer Tabish Romani knows a little about being put on hold. Remember Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Guzaarish? Well, the FWA found similarities between Romani’s script and Bhansali’s that went beyond ‘mere coincidence’. And so, it ruled in Romani’s favour and directed Bhansali to pay up Rs 10 lakhs. But Bhansali stalled. Despite the intervention from the FWA, the Director took the matter to court. The court in turn directed him back to FWA. Eventually Bhansali made an out-of-court settlement of Rs 3 lakhs. Four years after the complaint was registered.

Yes, Romani won, albeit after a long wait. Not many Writers last the fight. It is after all a matter of livelihood and so they settle for a lot less, move on.

But things are changing for the better. There are more voices of Writers being heard. And the FWA plays a key role in disseminating the noise from valid complaints.

Chetan Bhagat’s spat with Director Rajkumar Hirani over 3 Idiots marked a milestone in the battle for Writers rights. Hirani’s point was that the rights to Bhagat’s book Five Point Someone, was purchased and therefore, they had the right to modify it. Bhagat’s concern was that there can’t be an ‘Original Story’ credit when there is a ’Based On’ credit as well. This fracas in turn was a stepping stone of sorts for the FWA that it decided to formulate a contract that will assure a fair deal to Writers.

Now, returning to the Simran controversy, Kangna Ranaut has responded to the allegations in an interview with Huffington Post. On the question as to why she is claiming her rightful spot on the credits, she says “ "I am a reasonable person. I don't want to steal someone's work. But at the same time, I also don't want to feel shortchanged for the additional work I have put in. Since co-writer was not an option, I settled for additional story and additional dialogue. The basic blueprint of the film was still Apurva's and he has been duly credited for that. What else does he want, I fail to understand."

Kangna clarified that she and Director Hansal Mehta modified the script while on set. This, she says, they did because they believed the story needed newer dimensions. Asrani has admitted that he does not mind sharing the ‘Additional Dialogue’ credit with Kangna as she had improvised during the shoot, but he maintains that the story is solely his. To this Kangna responded: "Do you really think I don't understand the distinction between giving suggestions and sitting and writing lines of dialogues? There's a fine line between giving direction to a script and actually, physically writing it. I did the latter."

Is Asrani trying to leverage the recent optics of Kangna being ‘difficult’ (think cold vibes with Shahid Kapoor on the sets of Rangoon, and her drubbing of Karan Johar on his own show) to wrangle away her rightful claim? Is Kangna just using her starpower to get her way? Or will the FWA step in to determine that Kangna needs only be given credit for ‘Additional Dialogue’ and that the ‘Story by’ credit rests solely with the original screenplay writer? As by her own admission the ‘blueprint’ of the film is still Asrani’s. Or will it rule in favour of Kangna? Will it blow up and go all the way to court? We know there’s more drama coming our way. Until then we’re off to unwind with Whose Line Is It Anyway?

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