Kangana Ranaut, Apurva Asrani and what the row over Simran's writing credits tells us

Gautam Chintamani

May,17 2017 14:59 50 IST

The recent news about the director of the upcoming film Simran Hansal Mehta giving a credit of ‘additional story’ to actor Kangana Ranaut, who plays the lead in the film, and placing the credit before the ‘real’ writer of the film, Apurva Asrani, in the poster has come as a shock to many including the people inside the trade. This isn’t the first time a star has used their clout to get their way or their mere presence has ensured that directors follow their cue. Even though this kind of thing might happen again this instance perhaps will usher in a new chapter in the debate about just how much a star can manage to get their way.

A few months ago when Rangoon was nearing completion, a rumour about its lead, Kangana Ranaut, holding the release to ransom began doing the rounds. It was said that the actor was asking for a co-director credit and while no one knows if the buzz was true, most chose to believe it. This was a phase where Kangana Ranaut’s star was on the ascent and both those who liked her and those who despised her had their own reasons to believe that the gossip was true. A few years earlier Kangana had been given the additional dialogue credit on Queen as the director, Vikas Bahl, believed that the actor’s ad-libbing made both the character as well as the film more realistic.

Kangana Ranaut and Apurva Asrani

Kangana Ranaut and Apurva Asrani

All actors tend to improvise and while some of them manage to transform mundane meanderings into cinematic history barely anyone gets credit. Few of the greatest moments in cinema were a result of actors straying away from the written word and all good directors know this. Humphrey Bogart’s iconic “Here’s looking at you, kid,” in Casablanca (1942) was apparently something the actor used to say to his co-star, Ingrid Bergman, in between takes and Jack Nicholson’s “Here’s Johnny!” in The Shinning (1980) was his own contribution much like Robert De Niro’s “You talkin’ to me?” bit from Taxi Driver (1976) where the script only mentioned the character talking to himself.

In the case of the credit fracas over Simran perhaps it is the manner in which the director of the film, Hansal Mehta, has handled the issue that needs to be looked at more intensely than the otherwise obvious conclusion of Kangana Ranaut wielding her power. Two things need to be taken into consideration before anything — first, this is not the first time a star would push his/ her agenda and second the manner in which the issue of the additional credit was handled more than the additional credit itself. Apurva Asrani has every right to be annoyed about an inane credit as ‘additional story’ and in many ways would have given in for the greater good (the film being released, etc.) but more than that the hurt of not being told by the director with whom he has worked on previous films (Aligarh, City Lights, Shahid) is much bigger. The issue has seen Asrani breaking away from Mehta. Moreover, in a detailed Facebook post Asrani, who was also the editor of Simran before being sacked, called out Kangana’s manner of coercing the director but more than that asks Mehta to show some spine.

Is it Hindi cinema’s over-dependence on its stars that made Mehta not only give Kangana Ranaut the credit of 'additional story' but also placing her name before the ‘real’ writer of the film, Apurva Asrani?  In some cases, actors throw their weight and stature around to show who’s the boss and why their presence is the difference between just another film and a work of great art. This writer feels that when it comes to Kangana, it is not a clear case of stamping her authority. It is no secret that the manner in which Kangana Ranaut has managed to create a special space for herself or gone about to become one of the biggest contemporary stars without following the usual script (read saluting the powers that be, working or being an embellishment in a film opposite the mighty ‘Khans’ or Akshay Kumar, etc.) hasn’t gone down well with the establishment. Great umbrage was taken by Karan Johar, one of the biggest producers in Hindi cinema today, on what she said about the prevalent nepotism in Bollywood — which makes it more than apparent that it is only Kangana’s critical and commercial success that, in a manner of speaking, has kept the wolves at bay. Kangana’s foray into taking production calls or ‘demanding’ additional credit on a film could also be a way for the actor to go beyond the usual trappings of stardom or be seen as something more than a mere actor.

It is stupid to assume that stars wouldn’t misuse their clout for some reason or the other but that never stopped good directors, and even writers, to forget that they are better than them when it comes certain things. During the making of Gladiator Russell Crowe was not convinced of the epic speech that his character delivers and wanted to change the “s**t”. Crowe continually strayed from the script. After numerous alternatives director, Ridley Scott put his foot down and asked him to read it the way screenwriters John Logan and William Nicholson had written it. Crowe relented and later told Scott “It was s**t. But I'm the greatest actor in the world and I can make even s**t sound good.” The “s**t” speech — “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.” — essentially became the greatest thing that he would ever utter as an actor and even fetched him his Oscar for Best Actor.

Some of the reactions to l’affaire Simran are downright bizarre and make no sense. Of course, the era of superstar writers a la Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar is over but that doesn’t diminish Asrani’s anguish and sheer helplessness at the hands of the ‘star’ and the director. Salim-Javed ensured that not only did they get their rightful credit as writers but also had a veto on issues such as casting and final cut. They refused to part with the script of Deewar (1975) if Amitabh Bachchan was not cast as Vijay and asked for extensive patchwork on Trishul (1978) after the entire film was shot. Much like the era of rock star writers getting over stars throwing their weight is a thing that would always be there but had Mehta gone about dealing with things in a clearer manner this chapter could have helped the way the business was conducted.

Published Date: May 17, 2017 14:59 PM | Updated Date: May 17, 2017 14:59 PM