Saturday, 2 January 2010

Idjut ramblings

Warning: this is written without having seen read or heard all the arguments on either side, but after reading what is claimed to be the agreement between VV Chopra's company and Chetan Bhagat (PDF file) and seeing this absolutely hilarious clip from a press conference, where Mr Chopra, evidently quite the charmer, asks someone to 'shut up!'

Additonal disclaimer: We're not a Bhagat fan: we think he's a good story-teller, but we don't admire his writing. We have, though, met the man, and we had a fun chat. And we're not an Aamir Khan fan either. We have seen just one of his movies, Ghajini, and though we admired the dedication evident in his prep for the role, we were underwhelmed by both the movie and his performance. And we haven't seen—at least, not that we know of—any of Hirani's or Chopra's work.

Final warning: This post meanders, even by our standards.




We're puzzled.

- Bhagat wants to be recognised as the author of the work that the movie is based on.

- The movie's producers bought the film rights to that book.

- The film's credits, from what Bhagat has tweeted, do acknowledge that it was based on his book, albeit doing so only in the end-credits, somewhere after the names of the extras, which, by his account, he and his mother were upset about.

Aside for self promotion We interviewed Bhagat a little while ago for a story we were doing, and had asked him about the movies. He was realistic, but upbeat:
Forbes India: So far, your impact on popular cinema hasn't been as big as your impact on the book world. By this I mean that the films adapted from your books haven't been promoted as being the product of your mind, as compared to, say, The Da Vinci Code. Do you agree? And if yes, do you see that changing?

Chetan Bhagat: Yes, of course my impact is limited right now in films, and I’d like people to have reasonable expectations of me. It takes a long time and a lot of luck to make a name in Bollywood. Even the superstars have worked hard for decades to get to this point. I am super fortunate that all three books were taken up to be big, mainstream films and even 2 States has attracted a lot of interest. However, in Bollywood, adaptations are just starting, while in Hollywood, it is a seamless industry. Also, don’t forget the language switch that happens in my adaptations – which changes the audience and thus the marketing has to change. All I can say is, my name does add to the buzz of the movie. Even 3 Idiots, which is a megastar Aamir project all the way, became a little more exciting because of its Five Point Someone connection. And that, to me, is huge.

Forbes India: What was it like working with Bollywood?
Chetan Bhagat: It is a lot of fun, and I think it is largely to do with the fact that I’ve worked with very good people. Writing books is lonely, but in movies you at least have some colleagues and leave the house so my kids can’t say ‘my daddy stays at home and doesn’t go to office’. Most importantly, the reach of Bollywood excites me. It is a chance to reach the maximum number of people possible.
He may now have changed his mind about the last bit. Aside ends.

- The PDF file we linked to in the first para includes signed receipts of payments made to Bhagat for the rights to say the film was "Based On The Novel FIVE POINT SOMEONE by Chetan Bhagat": a Rs 100,000 advance and a Rs 1,000,000 'ex-gratia' payment. (Admittedly these sums are a trifle compared to the crores that go into making a film. But Bhagat was less well-known in 2005, and by the standards of author remuneration, it was decent. He'd probably negotiate for much higher sums now, aside from wanting his name more, erm, up-front.)

- Bhagat brings his own following to projects he's associated with. Even assuming, uncharitably, that exactly the same people bought all four of his books, and all those copies were read by only one person each, he still brings a potential audience of around 700,000 people, going by the figures his publishers shared with us. And he does devote a lot of time to nurturing that audience, through his site, blog, tweets, columns, public appearances and what-have-you. If he asked them to see the film, they'd pony up for the multiplex tickets first day, first show, and that's not a bad audience to count on. (We know eff-all about the FDFS economics, we hastily admit.)

Anyway, we were wondering: why are the film's producers vehemently denying the link?

Why is Aamir Khan, that well-known legal luminary, reportedly advising Hirani and Chopra to sue Bhagat?

Why is Chopra frothing at the mouth so entertainingly? (You must see the bit where Khan grabs the microphone from Chopra and keeps it away from him, even to the extent of sticking it between his legs while VVC paws the air ineffectually.)

Why has some chap going to the effort of making, practically overnight, a website which, as of this writing is mainly a a slide presentation calling Bhagat a liar and enumerating, in faulty English, the scenes in the film which aren't from the book? (That's hardly the point, fercryin'outloud. Of course a film will differ from a book. The way a story is told in print cannot be duplicated in film. The grammars of the two media are different. The creators are different: with books, the author is in command, sort of; the reader paints the scene in her own mind based on the words she reads and her own experiences; with film, it's always the director who is the auteur, and the script is moulded to his requirements for telling the story.)

Another aside Oh, and by the way, the IMDB page for the movie has this listing:
Writers:
Chetan Bhagat (book)
Rajkumar Hirani (story)
And the page also contains this entertaining item in the FAQ section, by someone signing himself 'Souvik, thepunisher65':
Which novel is this movie based on?
This movie is based on the Novel 'Five Point Someone' by Chetan Bhagat. But it has not been entirely based on it. Actually this can be called as a totally different movie, just that the characters are inspired.
Ends

Anyway, since we earn our daily bread, and a modest amount of very nice strawberry preserve, by the written word, we have to say that we instinctively want to weigh in on Bhagat's side. For writers, credit is a big thing. Our bylines get us noticed, get us assignments and job offers. (Another bloody aside. Ad copywriters get much, much more money and give themselves many, many more awards: because they don't get bylines, and to keep them working for you, you have to compensate in other ways. Journos and authors are suckers. Or maybe the next major 'right-sizing' efforts in the ad biz will see creative types getting offered bylines in lieu of increments. Aside to the aside: we were once employed as a copywriter.No more asides. We think.)

Strikes us that there are many idiots here. Not least, all the people devoting so much time to thinking and writing about this kerfuffle, thereby keeping the movie and book in the news and saving their PR departments much effort.

Like, sigh,

The Idiot Who Writes This Blog