March 24, 2010

Anjum Rajab Ali hits back at Piyush Mishra over TLOBS!

The truth about the script of ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’ (Open letter in PFC)


Dear Piyush

For years now I have resisted the impulse to react to your statements in the media and to your friends, some of whom have conveyed those to me. The lies that you have been circulating about your role in the screenplay of the ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’ have outraged my family, my friends and unit members of the film, all of whom have exhorted me at various stages to hit back at you and publicise the truth. But, believe me, even the thought of responding to your wild statements felt indecorous and cheap. So I preferred to maintain a dignified silence, quite content in the truth. And, of course, since you too knew the truth, I was quite sure that you would get over your false frustration and move on in life.
However, that was not to be, I realise. Firstly, I’m told that my silence is being construed as something akin to an admission of guilt. And secondly, after reading your recent statement in PFC, I am genuinely angry. Maybe even you’ve interpreted my silence as some kind of weakness, and have decided to go overboard now by actually claiming that you wrote the entire screenplay! It is really a pity when creative people, who should be concentrating on realising their artistic dreams, expend themselves in such dirty games. You leave me no choice now. Hence, loathe as I am to do this, I am going to publicly clarify my position and state the entire truth – as I AND you know it. This is the only way I can defend myself against your attempts to defame and slander me.
So, here goes: I was professionally engaged to write the script of ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’ in August 2000. Since it involved a lot of research, the first draft of the step-outline (‘screenplay’ in film industry terminology) was ready only on March 22, 2001. The first draft of the full script with all the dialogue in English was narrated to the director, Rajkumar Santoshi in June 2001. After a couple of more drafts, the director and I were looking at the placement of songs at TIPS’ insistence, when I remembered that Sanjay Upadhyay had recommended that I meet you since you had not only written a play on Bhagat Singh but were also a talented lyricist.
Despite the fact that the director was feeling uncertain about hiring a lyricist from theatre at that stage, I strongly recommended your name emphasising that you were supposed to be a leftist and would immediately relate to our script, heavy in politics as it was. So, I called you (this must have been sometime in July-August 2001). You responded with interest and were immediately flown down.
I received you at your hotel and brought you home for lunch, where I cued you into the entire background of the project blow-by-blow, clearly mentioning that more than one draft of the entire script with dialogue in English was already done. When I asked to see your play you were reluctant to show it to me (and which till date, neither I nor Raj Santoshi nor anyone from the unit, I suspect, has seen), but you did talk about how you had gone about constructing it. In the ensuing discussion, Sagar (the film’s researcher) was highly amused when you said that you had created an imaginary ‘Judas’ in Bhagat Singh’s group and sounded unaware that there were actually two traitors in that group, viz. Jaigopal and Hans Raj Vohra.
Anyway, you sang two songs from your play, explaining how it was structured like a ballad of Bhagat Singh’s love story, where his ‘beloved’ waited across the river for him or something to that effect. Then I narrated the entire script to you in Sagar’s presence and indicated the kind of song-situations that we were looking at.
That evening I took you to Raj’s office to take your inclusion forward. Raj asked me to give you the printout of the full draft of the script, which I immediately did.
A couple of days later, Raj asked me what I thought of engaging you as a dialogue writer. I agreed immediately.
And then began the fun and games. A month later, Raj called me over to his house to listen to ‘the script’. I was baffled, ‘Which script?’ Well, apparently you had worked on a version of the Bhagat Singh script. I was obviously upset by this, but swallowed that and heard out the narration of the script for the film whose script I had already written! My frank comment was that it was filmy and unnecessarily melodramatic. To me it was clear that it didn’t work at all. Despite Raj agreeing with me on that, I left the meeting disappointed at the fact that an alternative version was written without my knowledge, after my script had already been approved. (If you are unable to comprehend this frustration, ask Anurag Kashyap. At the Screenwriters Conference 2006, he had expressed his anguish at a similar thing happening to him after he submitted the original of the ‘Jhoom Barabar Jhoom’ script.)
However, another fortnight later, I was again called for a meeting to listen to yet another version of the script. I heard it, and found it to be worse than the previous one. And while Raj once again agreed with my opinion, I raised the question of propriety. If the director was unhappy with my script, then he should tell me so and I will rework it. And if even that doesn’t measure up to his expectations, by all means I shall give a no-objection letter (as per my contract) for him to engage any other writer. Raj reiterated before everyone, including you, that he was indeed very happy with my script, but it’s just that he was trying out some other flavours for it.
When you began arguing that I was prejudiced about your version, only because I didn’t like you, I courteously dismissed the insinuation. (Actually, half of your comment was correct. It is true that I was beginning to regret bringing you into this project if your way was to work on my script behind my back. In my book, and in the book of every self-respecting writer, this is totally unacceptable behaviour. Rank unethical. And if you’re working in the film industry, I’d advise you to keep this rule firmly in mind: Do not tamper with someone else’s script, no matter who asks you to, unless the original writer agrees that it is okay for you to do so. And, take that in writing.)
But, that didn’t stop you from complaining to all and sundry in the unit that I was trying to edge you out using my friendship with the director. That was rich. If I stop someone from surreptitiously muscling into my script, I’m regarded as the culprit! Rich, indeed. However, it reached a point where almost everyone in the unit was complaining to me about you spreading these malicious tales around. Even senior people, who I’ve never heard utter a negative comment about anyone, were showing their embarrassment to me by exclaiming that instead of being grateful to me for strongly backing you for this project, you were busy trying to push me out. Not that I expected gratitude from anyone, but I certainly could do without the betrayal. So, I finally called for a tripartite meeting between Raj, you and myself.
You must remember that meeting; it was in November 2001, in Raj’s office. (Actually, maybe you don’t – because if you did, you wouldn’t persist in spreading these rumours all over again.) There, in front of the director, I openly accused you of trying to hijack my script, of being an opportunist, of trying to ride on the back of my work by trying to take it away from me. And all you did was stutter your innocence saying that you had no idea that I had already written the script! And that you thought that actually you were brought to Mumbai to write the script!! Even Raj’s mouth fell open. This was getting curiouser by the minute. What on earth was my phone call to you about, in that case? I asked you what you thought I was doing in this project all this while. You said that I was Raj’s friend and hence was hanging around! The absurd drama reached a crazy stage where you claimed that I never narrated the script to you at my house, and that I never gave you the file of the complete draft, registered with FWA, at Raj’s office the day you landed! Wow! (Much later, I was told by an AD that that same file was subsequently recovered from your room, causing much amusement among the senior members of the unit.)
At that meeting I made it unambiguously clear that if the film was to be based on my script, then I was frankly uncomfortable with your involvement in any aspect of its writing, as by then I understandably didn’t trust you. And if my script wasn’t wanted, then I’d happily walk out with it. You’ll remember that Raj clarified that the film would be based only on my script. Given that, he had two questions: Would I accept you as the Hindi dialogue writer? And, would it be okay if we took the 3-4 scenes from your play which you had narrated to him? I asked if the Hindi dialogue would be adapted from the English version that I had written. Raj confirmed that. In which case, I was okay, provided of course that I received joint credit for the dialogue, and provided that I had the final say on the entire script before it reached the director. Secondly, if these scenes were used from your play, there would obviously be no screenplay credit to either you or to your play. The producer would pay you for the usage of those scenes, and we’d credit the play in the ‘grateful acknowledgements’. While you agreed with the second point, you were much aggrieved about sharing credit for dialogue. Believe me, ordinarily I would’ve given in easily if a co-writer was pleading so much, but so pissed off was I with your hijacking tactics that I refused to. Moreover, I was justified as I had already written out several drafts with every single line of dialogue, in English.
This you may not know, but the next day Raj requested me to please allow you exclusive credit for the Hindi dialogue. As the dialogue assistant, Mr. Ashok Rawat put it, there was ‘masti’ in your ‘kalam’, which was quite appealing. I couldn’t deny that either, as I had by then seen that indeed you were good with the rhythms of dialogue. To honour Raj’s request, I agreed to withdraw my name and promised that you would receive exclusive credit for the Hindi dialogue. So, the agreed upon credits were: Screenplay by Anjum Rajabali, Hindi dialogue by Piyush Mishra, English dialogue by Anjum Rajabali (this for the scenes of Britishers). There would be no further tinkering with that. To make matters transparent, the next day when you came to my office with Mr. Rawat to work on the dialogue, I confirmed with you that you were perfectly okay with that.
Now, the fun and games increased. By the time the shooting of the film began around January 21 2001, I was told that the Hindi dialogue had been written for only about five scenes fully, and that they would be done as the film progressed. Fair enough. And then, barely a few days into the shoot, you summarily disappeared! Just like that. An AD said that you had flown away to Chennai. Much to the director, the producer and everyone else’s chagrin.
Raj pulled me back into doing the Hindi dialogue then. When I took stock, to my horror Mr. Rawat informed me that there were less than 13 scenes (out of a total of 107), who’s dialogue was written out completely by you! Well, my command over Hindi being what it was then, especially with political terminology thrown in, I sat with a dictionary and cranked out about 55 scenes of Hindi dialogue, with Mr. Rawat’s very supportive help over the next three weeks. Raj and Ranjit Kapoor then rewrote those and also wrote out the dialogue for the rest of the scenes, as the film progressed.
That in sum total was the scripting work that went into the script of ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’.
Now, for the last twist in the tale. This again you do not know, but after the film was completed and the director, the producer and I reviewed it at the editing studio, Raj was understandably upset that the bulk of the Hindi dialogue work was in fact done by me, himself and Ranjeet Kapoor. So, he wanted our names to be included in the Hindi dialogue credit. I emphatically disagreed. Much as I saw that his grievance was justified, we had given you our word and, and no matter how you had behaved subsequently, for me that word was non-negotiable. (You’ll notice that Raj graciously agreed to have Ranjeet and his names in ‘Additional Dialogue’. I refused even that.)
And yet, after the film was released, you went into overdrive telling everyone how it was your script and also that it was based on your play, insinuating clearly that I had actually stolen or plagiarised your work and passed it off as my own. I ignored all that. Even reacting to your baseless and bizarre charges seemed to me like offering some dignity to them. Which I was not prepared to do.
Subsequently, a few of your friends casually conveyed to me that you were going around saying all this. And to the best of my ability I gave them the truth. And, with one of them, I sent you an offer: Choose the forum or platform that you want, as public or as private as you wish, bring on as many witnesses and evidence as you wish. I shall be there to publicly take on your charges and reveal the truth. I don’t know if that message reached you. All I do know is that you’re going on with your ignoble carping to all and sundry and to the media about this, but once haven’t had the guts to confront me personally, accuse me, charge me, write to me, or in any way seek redressal of your grievance from me. I can only assume that you seemed to believe that if you repeated your lie 800 times here and there, somehow it would convert into the truth.
And now, regardless of all that I have revealed above and regardless of all my grievances about your behaviour, as a person who deeply cares about writers’ rights, I would still advise you that, if you genuinely believe that an injustice has been done to you and that I have stolen your work, please make a formal complaint to the Disputes Settlement Committee of the Film Writers Association. Believe me, that is an entirely fair and courageous body, which doesn’t care about who the accused is. They will impartially investigate your charges, investigate all the evidence thoroughly including your files, and all the 530 files in my Bhagat Singh script folder, and they’ll compare the final film with all the drafts that I’ve written (including the first step-outline of March 2001), and they’ll do the same with whatever versions of your script that you claim you wrote, and they’ll also compare your play with the final film, if need be call the director, producer and any other relevant witnesses, and finally call me to submit my defense, if need be.
And, if you feel that they may be biased because I’m a member of the Executive Committee of FWA (absurd as that insinuation sounds to me), then I’d advise you to go to a court of law. I will myself urge the court to do all the investigations mentioned above, at the very least. Moreover, my experience tells me that judges are very sensitive to creative people’s complaints now and hence there is no reason why you should not get justice.
And finally, regardless of whether you follow my above-mentioned advice or not, I want you to treat this entire statement of mine not just as a reply to your allegations but also as a caution that if you still persist in making these allegations, I shall be forced to explore other avenues, including legal ones, to prevent you from doing so. Enough is enough. As you ought to be aware, in this film industry, reputation of one’s integrity is very important. I care for mine deeply and with pride. No writer, barring none, can accuse me of having wronged him/her in any way. And, hence I shall no longer have you slander my reputation baselessly, more so since I am trying to fight hard and uncompromisingly for the cause of writers on precisely such counts as theft of credit. So, do take me very seriously on this.
Anjum Rajabali



Pardesi said...

I am so conflicted about this piece. If Anjum right, or does Piyush have a valid claim? Despite my admiration for Piyush I will try to be objective here:

1. Piyush is brilliant no doubt, the lyrics and dialogs he writes are testament to that.

2. His interview shows that he is a very conflicted man - unsure of his life and his goals!

3. Yet parts of his story are borne out by Mr. Rajabali.

4. Mr. Rajabali seems like a well placed man in the Writers' Association - so will people come out to refute his claims?

5. Truth maybe somewhere between these two extremes.

Pardesi said...

The plot thickens even further. Thanks to noname on KhitPit for pointing out Anurag Kashyap's response to Anjum on PFC. I consider Piyush a voice that must be heard and is always original. I was afraid that people would not speak out because Anjum is connected - but damn, my respect for Anurag grows by leaps and bounds!!! Anurag took Anjum to the cleaners!!!

Here is the response:

Piyush is the most honest man i have ever known.. his only fault is he is emotional.. and anjum has only won respect in my eyes in last two years when he started to campaign for the rights of the writers.. i suspect it was to save his credits because its only piyush who has raised voice against his non talent and rest of us just chose to walk away from him.. i have been offered anjum’s five page screenplays twice, once by raj kumar santoshi , who is as spineless as anyone can be and once by sripal morakhia.. and i chose to walk away, because i can’t be as articulate as anjum can be..
what is anjum’s credibility.. he turned on the waterfront into ghulam, seven samurai into china gate.. battle of algiers into drohkaal.. what was his one original script .. and why does RKS credits piyush and thanks his play and act one in the credits of “the legend of bhagat singh”..
i respect anjum for what he does for writers association but not for what he does otherwise.. and i respect Piyush for the raw talent that he is… if only i could articulate like anjum and if only Tishu. Ishan , Vishal Bharadwaj and all speak publicly about anjum and say what we all talk and know..
I am only provoked to say this because of this letter and comments, i was around everyday when piyush was going through that shit and i was at prithvi when piyush came one day and said that line which i ended up using in gulaal.. which was, “yeh saala us type ka aadmi hai jiska apni biwi ke saath bhi najayaj sambandh hai..”
When sripal morakia gave me a five page screenplay by anjum and said anjum recommended you to write dialogues and flesh it out and he also fixed my price which was 1.5 lacs… i said how much did you pay anjum for this five pager he said five.. i walked out..
RKS is the man who when was doing a version of Amadeus, which later became london dreams, the screenplay of which had anjum as consultant and screenplay writer on the rate of 5,000 an hour, i was pretty impressed , that a writer can negotiate that, and i was there when RKS promised the same role of saliery to both SRK and Aamir.. well problem was there, with a man who could never take a stand and i decided that i don’t want to be part of this shit.. there is more to anything that meets the eye..
in the end i would just say this much that.. I respect anjum for his war on the rights of the writers , but owing to him leading the fight, i never became part of it.. and i vouch for the fact that Piyush is as honest as he can be, even though he can be emotional and naive and idiotic and a total bumpkin when dealing with the world but he is not a liar.. whether he is talented or not , it can be debated.. and i have read the play he wrote and its available at sriram centre in delhi and anyone can buy it and read it and i would suggest read it before anyone feels anywhich way..
also since anjum mentions me in his article i look at them as two different cases, anjum is right about he was the first writer, but the problem with what piyush feels lies more with the non stance of RKS…i don’t know his side of he story and i take this letter to be it, but i can’t ignore the dialogue to dialogue similarity between the play and the film…

Pardesi said...

For those averse to reading long posts, Anurag distil's Anjum credibility in these comments:

"what is anjum’s credibility.. he turned on the waterfront into ghulam, seven samurai into china gate.. battle of algiers into drohkaal.. what was his one original script .."

It is important since Anjum is talking about issues related to giving credit where it is due....

Khanabadosh said...

Khanabadosh said...

There are couple of caustic responses to Kashyap's reply


Pardesi said...

I saw those KB. I think the PFC editors insinuate that it is some one of two people under multiple IDs trying to sway the response in Anjum's favor. I want to see this play out, it is more interesting than any film or TV show that is on these days :D

Pardesi said...

Here is another opinion on that post:

Desperation is a terrible disease and unfortunately most creative persons are driven to this state at some time or the other. With writers in particular it reaches a stage where most of them either turn director, take up a job in a television channel, write daily soaps or look for an alternative form of employment in some other industry.

I want to share a small chronology of events in my career where I had the opportunity to interact with two of the aggrieved parties albeit on different occasions and for different reasons. Just to state facts, and to help all of you gain a little more insight into the dramatis personae through my own limited experience

1. I was referred to Anjum by an actor friend many years ago. I was a fledgling director then, waiting to make movies. Anjum was a creative consultant with BiTV and he had been impressed with my initial work on television. I was bowled over by Anjum’s ability to articulate thoughts with the use of an impressive and vast vocabulary. We discussed the state of our country, its economy and the impact of liberalization on our countries’ youth. After a lengthy discussion Anjum allowed me to read a story that he had written. I read the story and was surprised that it was a smart rehash of The Fugitive. Anjum said that he expected this response but the truth was that his story was written much before the above film. I took his word and accepted the similarities as mere coincidence. Actually, to each his own. I needed to make films. He needed to write them.

2. When I made Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar, I was introduced to Piyush Mishra for the lyrics of my film. I had only heard of him through songs and plays that all my friends from Delhi would often quote and which had inhabited many of our drunken nights. He was flown down to Bombay and he wrote one of the songs for my film. While I found him immensely talented and with a rare flair for sensitive expression I was unable to get along with him professionally. He was difficult to communicate with, whimsical, childish and stubborn. It made me uncomfortable and we parted ways amicably. However, that is no reason to belittle his talent or to question his integrity as an artist. I still respect him immensely.

I would like to believe that Anjum has plagiarized in the past out of desperation. I also would like to believe that Piyush’s involvement with TLBS was out of desperation to be a part of this desperate world. Similarly, I believe that this whole thing about The Legend of Bhagat Singh is also a by-product of desperation. A desperate director works with a desperate writer and then invites another desperate writer to his desperate attempt at greatness. One desperate man pitches two desperate men against each other and ultimately ends up having the last laugh (His film got made!). The desperate director moves on while the two writers continue their desperate fight.

I am nobody to judge men and their work. I am in no position to judge right or wrong. I can only say this much; Our desperation has led us towards mediocrity. Pettiness is as much a by-product of mediocrity as is success!

Pardesi said...

Oh that was from Hansal Mehta.

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