Experts, Artists and Idiots

There is rarely been a movie in which Aamir acted which I did not enjoy. His acting, performances and selection of collaborating film artists has been consistently excellent. However, even I know (not being the stardust reading type) that Aamir enjoys a bit of a reputation of a gadfly venturing into the artistic autonomy of his collaborators. An extension of this tendency was recently exposed in a public spat over amendments mooted to the Copyright Act with Javed Akhtar, the acclaimed Indian lyricist.

What worried me after reading the posts was that both Aamir and Mr. Javed Akhtar were advancing thier respective professional interests through copyright law. There is nothing wrong in this. It is natural for a person who loves his profession and who has attained success in it to think it as more than a cog in the social wheel. However, what is wrong and worrying is the formation and the composition of the panel.

There are no official press releases, public statements and invitations pursuant to which the panel was set up. One learns of the panel only through this high profile spat. Moreover, the news reports term the panel as an informal committee. This appears to be quite disconcerting in the view that the committee has been formed by the Human Resources Ministry which has the power and the authority to suggest amendments to the Copyright act.

Coming to the specific composition of the Committee (revealed by news reports). It consists of Javed Akhtar (Lyrcist), Vishal Bharadwaj (Producer/Writer/Director), Vishal Dadlani (Rocker/Composer), Prasoon Joshi (Writer/Actor/Director), Anjum Rajabali, Saket Chaudhury (script writer), and Ram Sampat (composer, producer and musician). All of these panel members are excellent industry representatives; however a draft which is based entirely on their inputs will in my opinion not have a sufficient plurality of opinion. Firstly what about other artists. A makeup artist will be making important and creative decisions in a fantasy movie, similarly a costume designer will be doing the same for a period drama. Secondly, all of these members are successful and have managed to rise and prosper inspite of the frailties of copyright law. Hence the experience that they profess to have about the inequities of copyright law is based on secondary experiences. In such a situation it will be desirable not only to have these artists but also experts who draft copyright clauses as well as members from an academic environment. Finally I would tersely suggest that at the end of the day the royalty sum which will be given to any contributor/author (public draft or minutes unavailable hence I cannot precisely state how this will be worked out) will be borne by the public. Why not have a public consultation, the consumers are the ultimate stakeholders!

I am not opposed to Artists being part of the amendment process; on the contrary I support it. As Frank Zappa has taught us in the congressial hearings on obscenity in music (“or free speech”) artists are connected to the art, they understand how it operates and how it is difficult to capture its details. However, at the same time, I believe that room should be made for all stakeholders. Experts, Artists and Idiots (a reference to the vimhans BT-brinjal protester).

  • Involving the public might seem too naive at this point. Our own public is too influenced by hero’s and heroins. Opinions matter yes! but unfortunately opinion’s are like assholes everybody has one, but that does not mean everyone wants to see / hear it.
    Artist’s being part of the panel, clearly justified and is a good proposition, it should remain to a person not specializing in one arena or area but a person with ample experience in all areas,like a director or producer. Make up artists are exposed to one level of it similarly other parts of the crew focus on one aspect hence proposing the idea of them being part of a panel would be too casual a statement overall but a suggestion non the less.

  • Hey Arjun, great to hear from you. While I partially endorse your opinion that throwing open drafts to public consultations may be fraught with dangers I think it has an intrinsic democratic value that I like. Here is a consultation paper/primer is taken out as has been often done by the TRAI and recently in the BT Brinjal case then the relevant issues can be identified for debate by anyone. Further inviting, first written comments and opinions with public hearings is clearly a model which is practicable and I believe will not dumb down the entire process. Moreover, my purpose in highlighting the ancillary artists who do creative work in movies was motivated by their poor working and remuneration conditions. If the entire purpose is to serve impoverished authors who take creative decisions and whose rights are subsequently transferred by contract due to unequal bargaining positions then these guys definitely deserve something.