One idiot

For someone who does just one film a year, Aamir Khan is in the news an awful lot. And with every appearance, he makes a bigger parody of himself. (See ‘The walue of education’ below) Take his latest outing. Khan joined, resigned and then rejoined in quick succession a panel set up by Kapil Sibal to review amendments made to the Copyright Act of 1957. He quit after a spat with fellow panel member Javed Akhtar over the issue of rights given to lyricists, music composers and script writers.

According to Khan, the producer should recover the cost of the film before profits are shared with writers. During the discussion, he reportedly said that the popularity of a song is determined more by the star than the lyricist. Akhtar, who has lobbied for this amendment, is supposed to have sarcastically suggested that he became a star thanks to his first song, ‘Papa kehte hain’; the song wasn’t a hit because of him. Khan, who is also a producer, resigned whining, “Aggression of this type leaves me feeling very disillusioned and sad and I am unable to function.” It was only after some panel members, including a probably peeved Akhtar, wrote to Sibal that they wanted Khan back on the committee, did the actor return.

Two things about this issue are troubling. One is of course Khan’s attitude to the rights of writers. The country has an archaic copyright act that privileges producers. It has taken a good deal of lobbying to introduce an amendment that allows writers a share of profits made during any commercial use of their work subsequent to the film in which it appears. That would mean getting royalties if, for instance, a film song is remixed later on. Khan makes the ridiculous contention that there would be no songs if there were no films. Ergo lyricists owe their jobs to producers. The same applies to scriptwriters who are some of the most exploited people in Bollywood. In 2007, members of the Writers Guild of America went on strike against film and television producers to demand a greater share of revenues made from new media such as DVD sales. Such a protest would be unimaginable in India.

What’s equally troubling is Sibal and company’s groveling reaction to Khan’s exit. It’s an example of the Indian aversion to cause offense to celebrities. What should be more offensive in this case is Khan’s one-sided view of profit-sharing. While all papers have gleefully reported the event as a face off between Khan and Akhtar, few have been critical. Unfortunately film journalism in India is all about access. You’re good only if you can reach a movie star without having to call the PA. These relationships are achieved by giving stars lots of good PR. In interviews, tough questions are rarely asked and usually tempered with sycophantic ones. Often journalists become groupies, attaching themselves to the “camps” of certain actors. The idea is that if you piss a star off, she’s going to stop speaking to you and that will be the end of your career. In the process, a journalist forgets her duty to be critical and that the fact that stars need the press to remain in the public imagination so it’s not as though they have some sort of an upper hand. Just like the school bully, the newspaper is both domineering and cowardly. What we need is a piece that critically argues this important issue and, in the process, shows Khan the finger.

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