A WRITER IN A GOVERNMENT OFFICE…

…is like a kid in a china shop. Out of place.


THE WAITING ROOM

A writer’s travels in Bollywood


I sit hunched over my laptop, the third cup of over-priced coffee by my side. This coffee shop is my second home. My actual home isn’t an option to work from anymore, because there’s high-speed internet there and the latest season of Orange Is The New Black is out on Netflix.

~ So I’m trapped, trapped, trapped in this coffee shop. The coffee shop’s full, the day is new… ~

Sorry, I digress. Come to think of it, a coffee shop is to a writer what a government employee’s desk is to him. In both cases, there is complete acceptance of the fact that absolutely no work is going to get done, and yet, you are enveloped in a warm-fuzzy feeling of being productive.

Writer Government office 3
A coffee shop is to a writer what a government employee’s desk is to him – no work gets done

Why am I thinking about government offices today? Because I’m headed to a writer’s version of one: the Film Writers Association. As I sip my coffee and wait for it to be 2 pm (those FWA people are very strict about when they start working. Stricter about when they stop), I look at the printed copy of my screenplay and my heart skips a beat.

The glaring misprint on the first page is all I can see now, and a pit forms in my stomach. This wasn’t part of the plan! I was supposed to get the damn thing registered and send it off to the producers today.

But as I realise, I’ve left the Title Page of the screenplay looking neat and clean, with just the film’s title and my name (in bold, duh) on it. Whereas FWA requires you to start your script right below your name, filling up the bottom half of the title page with a scene.

Harmless mistake, right? Not to an FWA employee. Like all government employees, the FWA people are sticklers for nonsensical details.

The similarities don’t end there. The office seems perpetually under-staffed (only about four to six employees at a given point); the average age is well over 50 (there used to be one lady there who looked like she would pull out knitting needles from her purse any minute); they have chai in beige, cracked cups; they take double the time to get something done, and the most annoying trait of all: while doing their job, they make you feel like they’re doing you a solid favour.

Writer Government office 2
A note at the FWA office

Maybe it’s because they’re numbed by the sheer tonnage of bad scripts, songs and stories that have crossed them? Because anyone who has been to this office even once can vouch for the kind of people one finds there.

You might think of it as this cool place for writers where Gulzar’s poems are framed on the walls, where Varun Grover bumps into Juhi Chaturvedi and Yashraj and Dharma rom-coms are registered. But the reality is darker than a Dibakar Banerjee film.

I have sat in the waiting room with people from the deep underbelly of Uttar Pradesh, who had come just to register a Bhojpuri song, handwritten on a single-ruled piece of paper. And with a woman in her late 40s who wanted to register a daily soap episode that she had written “just for timepass”. And also with a very, very suspicious-looking incoherent elderly man who told me that his script was the next Rajinikanth movie, and that it was a secret. (Sorry uncle, I’m putting your secret in a column).

As obviously sketchy as some of these people are, the FWA people have to register their content as well, because it’s also the only organization in the country that fights for writers. So while, on one hand, I politely nod to the uncle making tall claims about Rajinikanth movies, on the other, I witness runners from production houses like Balaji who come to register the content on their behalf. There’s no class system here. FWA levels the playing field for the next big Sriram Raghavan script, the next Double Great Super Kool Grand Masti, and the next Naughty Teacher 2 scripts.

Every writer has to go through this grind.

So, at 2 pm sharp, I clutch my misprinted screenplay and head to the office, which is on the second floor of a shady old building called “Richa”. Yes, “Richa”. We don’t even get a fancy writerly building name. The elevator cannot hold more than two people at a time and the tube lights in the paan-stained staircase are always off, in case you should choose to be healthy.

Writer government office
No matter how sketchy the writer, the FWA people have to register everyone’s content

The office is unusually crowded for a Wednesday afternoon, so I take a seat in the waiting area. For a moment, I think that the next 300cr script could possibly be right here in this room with me! Then, I turn and look at the two guys sitting next to me with a script titled: “Broken Kaleidoscope: A Love Story”. So, probably not.

Usually, I walk up to the front desk, submit my screenplay and wait for my turn. Oh, did I mention you’ve to wait for your name to be called out? Like, loudly! And once you’re seated across the person registering your script, you are expected to manually turn pages, so that they can initial on each page. They even have that wet sponge that cashiers at banks use to moisten fingertips. Could this process get any more tedious?

Anyway, so the front desk clears a bit and I make my way to it. The person right in front of me is getting yelled at for not writing page numbers on his script, and I quickly make sure that I have.

I reach the desk finally, and place the script in front of the man. He looks up at me and his forehead creases, like he’s about to let loose. I’m ready to pass the blame, too: “Sir, my co-writer is an idiot”, “Sir, printer kharaab hai”, “Woh rules nahi pata thay”, “Yeh galat copy leke aaya,” and so on.

He drops his shoulders, and starts making a receipt without saying anything. A minute later, he asks me to grab a pen and just scribble the first few lines of the script on the first page.

My joy knows no bounds!

Did I just find a loophole? Or is he an overly sweet government employee – the rarest of the rare? Have I gotten away with this? Does it mean that my original registered screenplay now has two first scenes, duplicated back-to-back? Who cares?!

I quickly do as told, because all I want is to get out of here and go back to my underwhelming coffee-shop existence.

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