Story-Screenplay Writer, Actor and Vice-President of the Film Writers’ Association
Vinod Ranganath has been a renowned name in the big-league of story-screenplay writers. He wrote India’s first daily soap, “Swabhimaan”, which launched the careers of actors like Rohit Roy, Ashutosh Rana, Manoj Bajpayee, Achint Kaur and Harsh Chaya.
So far, he has easily written more than 2,000 episodes across various shows which include Kittie Party, Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi, Mere Angney Mein, Dahleez and films like Shaahid’s launch vehicle Ishq Vishq and Mast. He’s also a playwright and a theatre actor. Now Vice-President of India’s national body of writers, The Film Writers’ Association, he and the committee are leaving no stone unturned, to ensure that writers get their due rights and remuneration.
Here he speaks about his own career and the role that FWA ( www.fwa.in) is playing in protecting Indian writers.
You are firstly a writer. You have probably gone through the entire gamut of highs and lows that writers experience. What is the one essential quality, a good and solid writer should have?
A good writer should have tenacity and patience. Both are essential, as you need to be at it day in and day out, especially when you write for television. You cannot afford to give up. Secondly, these are essential traits to also help get over the low phases when work doesn’t come by.
Having donned many hats, which one do you find most challenging? Where do you draw your inspiration from, when you sit down to write?
Writing is the most challenging for sure. As said earlier, to deliver day in and day out, and deliver work that is appreciated is not easy. Talent is one aspect of the job; craft, inspiration, tenacity and persistence are equally important. Daily life is the most from where I get my inspiration.
Everyday one is bombarded with a lot of information from print media, social media and simply observing life as it passes by. I have always said, that a writer has to be a keen observer. A writer should also be inquisitive. You never know what might inspire you.
From writing for India’s first daily soap, “Swabhimaan” to films, plays and shows for today’s audience … what are the milestones that you have witnessed along the way?
Television started off as a multi-track story telling medium. When daily soaps started it was shot on three camera set ups. Writing for three camera was different from writing for single camera. Scenes were parallel cut in three camera set ups. They were highly dramatic in content.
Somewhere in 2000 with advent of Kyun ki and Kahaani, the shows started being shot on single camera. The concept of shifts got relegated and per day system started. Shootings would be from 9 am till 10 pm and some time beyond. Story telling gradually became single protagonist stories.
Thanks to the proliferation of channels, there weren’t enough trained and experienced writers to write multi-track story telling. Weekly shows winded up and TV had only daily soaps. Writing teams were formed. Earlier there was a story screenplay and dialogue writer. Either two or three people writing a show.
Then came a phase when there were 4-5 people writing a show. There were 2 people writing dialogues, 1 person whose story and concept it was. Then another set of people who wrote broad story, episodic story and screenplays. Earlier in the mid 1990’s up to mid 2000 a hit show used to throw up numbers in their 20’s & 30’s.
Theatre has seen a resurgence of sorts in the last decade or so. There is a lot of activity where youngsters have taken to theatre. There are close to 200 big and small groups in Hindi, English and Marathi, apart from some regional languages. Unfortunately Mumbai doesn’t have enough space for theatre. I am told that at Prithvi theatre one has to wait close to a year to get a date to perform.
While the film “Ki & Ka” played on the subject only now, you have mostly been a stay-at-home-work-from-home dad and writer. What did you have to deal with?
Oh lots! From being the go-to “Uncle” in a building during a crisis (as I was the only male member at home during normal work hours), to maids and cooks wondering what does the male of the house do seated at home and baby sitting a child when the wife goes out to work?
My daughter at age 5, used to constantly tell all and sundry that her mamma goes out to work and her papa stays at home.
However on a serious note it’s very satisfying. To see your child grow each day and watch her various milestones, to be of help doing house hold chores for the better half, it kind opens up your mind to various aspects of life, which I am not sure I would have got, had I been in a 9 to 5 job.
While the buzz for a long time has been that television channels are getting more progressive and innovative, there’s a string of over-dramatic “naagin”, “vishkanya” shows doing the rounds. Who is the deciding factor of content? The writers, the producers, the channels or the TRP’s?
I guess it’s a combination of all 4 factors mentioned in the question. The TRP’s usually suggest whether a character or a show is liked, or a current track is working for the audience or not.
As far as the subject matter is concerned, it’s the writer along with the producer who come up with it. Channels, on the basis of research, at times suggest the kind of stories that they are looking for and entrust it to select writers or producers whom they feel can develop the particular concept.
As vice-president of the Film Writers’ Association, what is your primary focus when it comes to the rights of a writer?
The entire Executive Committee of the FWA has been working towards getting the MBA (Minimum Basic Agreement) for Film, TV and Lyric Writers approved by Producers body and Corporate entities.
The TV writers are on the verge of signing an abridged version of the MBA with a leading channel. The MBA sets out to guarantee a minimum basic fee for all writers whether new or old. It also guarantees a time frame within which payments should be made by the producers.
It also protects the writers’ copyright and their right to get royalties and credit. The Film MBA is on its last round of talks, and we are hopeful that in the next few months the MBA’s would be finalised.
In recent times, several big banners have been accused of taking writers’ stories and getting “inspired” so to say … or not giving due credit at all. How does a writer protect his / her material?
At the FWA we always recommend to our writers to get their work registered. All the drafts and changes a member makes on the original should also be registered.
The registration of the FWA is approved by the High Courts in quite a few IP related decisions. Also the High Court has shown on the decisions and the expertise of the FWA’s DSC (Dispute Settlement Committee). They have up held quite a few of the DSC’s decisions.
What is the role of FWA in dispute settlement?
We at the FWA try to run the DSC, the most important Sub Committee of the FWA, as professionally as possible. We also have two lawyers on our payrolls, who not only advice us but also provide advice and guidance at a heavily discounted fee for FWA members.
The DSC settles matters regarding payment, terms of working conditions and intellectual property related complaints of members.
What are the key things that all writers should be aware of, while negotiating for their work?
A writer should never agree to sign an agreement wherein words like “Work of Hire” or “services rendered” are mentioned in contracts. They should always insist on assigning their rights of copyright to the Producer.
They should also see to it that terms for payment are clear, and not left ambiguous.
They should also see to it that in the ‘Exit clause’ in the agreement, a time period is specified, within which if the said work is not produced then the rights transfer back to the author.
What is the one key advice you would give to writers across genres?
Know your rights, even before learning how to write..