Some of India’s leading filmmakers discussed the country’s lack of creative screenwriters during a Mumbai Film Festival panel discussion.

It’s a problem that plagues film industries all over the world – where are the creative screenwriters? And where can we find original, well-written scripts?

Five of India’s leading filmmakers, including Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (Rang De Basanti) and Vishal Bhardwaj (Maqbool), discussed this issue during a panel discussion at the on-going Mumbai Film Festival.

Vikramaditya Motwane, whose credits include Cannes title Udaan, hit the nail on the head early in the discussion when he said: “All the good screenwriters have become directors.” He got a cheer from the audience when he added that this is because writers are not acknowledged or paid well: “The bigger problem is that we’re not able to support them so they can stay writers all their lives.”

Motwane himself started out as a writer, as did his long-time collaborator, Anurag Kashyap, who co-wrote Ram Gopal Varma’s gangster epic Satya, before becoming one of India’s best-known new generation directors.

Sriram Raghavan (Johnny Gaddaar) said the problems also start with writers focusing on the wrong stories: “I try to meet as many as writers as I can – but most of them go wrong at the first step by choosing a story that is not good enough. There is no point spending four months on a story that is inherently weak.”

His brother, Shridar Raghavan, whose writing credits include Dum Maaro Dum, agreed: “People get taught the craft but haven’t been taught how to identify the right idea. What is the heart of your story? What story are you trying to tell?”

Bhardwaj said he’d focused on adaptations to avoid this problem: “I’ve rarely found material that can translate well into a great screenplay, which is why I keep going back to Shakespeare.” He recently directed his third Shakespeare adaptation – Haider, based on Hamlet – and has adapted the work of India-based writer Ruskin Bond.

Mehra said it was idealistic for directors to dream that great scripts were going to land on their desks: “Great scripts are not written, they are always rewritten and rewritten, even on the edit table. The main point is that you have to have something to say…you have to be dying to tell your story and share your feelings.”

The panellists also discussed whether the problem lies with the studios and big production houses lacking the ability to identify good stories and scripts. That was certainly the opinion of audience members, many of them struggling screenwriters, who asked why it was so difficult to get their scripts read.

But the panel also came up some positive solutions – lobbying government for support; creating scholarships and undergraduate programmes; and improving conditions for writers. The panel’s moderator, writer Anjum Rajabali, has been working with the Film Writers Association of India to create a standard contract that gives writers a fair deal.

“We should think about how much money and facilities we need to pump into the system,” said Mehra. “There must be so many stories in this big, brilliant nation – lets divert funds, energy and talent into nurturing that.”