The Missing Piece in Tamil Cinema – The Scriptwriters

Script writers in Tamil cinema

From the early days of silent films to the present era, Tamil cinema has been blessed with great writers and they played a vital role in shaping Tamil cinema to the quality we see today. Starting with M. Karunanidhi, Panchu Arunachalam, Chithralaya Gopu, and Javar Seetharaman. They sealed the way for future generations of scriptwriters, establishing a tradition of excellence in Tamil storytelling.

K. Balachander is one of the early directors who was also a writer, followed by Bharathirajaa. However, during their time, scriptwriters were also very prominent in the industry. So, when did the decline of scriptwriters start in Tamil cinema?


K. Bhagyaraj and Mani Ratnam entered the industry and made significant impacts. The introduction of title cards with ‘Story’, ‘Screenplay’, ‘Dialogues’ and ‘Direction’ by specific individuals became more prevalent than before. The subsequent generation aspired to emulate their success. The decline of writers in Tamil cinema began in the 80s. In 1990s we saw a further downfall in the number of scriptwriters. Since then, efforts to involve scriptwriters have become increasingly rare.

We have seen collaboration of directors like Mani Ratnam and S. Shankar with other writers. Similarly, filmmakers such as Gautham Menon, Bala, Thiagarajan Kumararaja and Pa. Ranjith have also collaborated with writers. While these collabs are commendable, they have become increasingly rare. The question arises: where have all the writers gone? They seem to have vanished into thin air.

Pa Ranjith and Tamil Prabha

There are writers who can direct and directors who can write. Yes. There is a difference. Mahendran, K. Bhagyaraj, and Mani Ratnam are examples of writers who can also direct. This trend continues in the current generation of Tamil cinema with filmmakers like Bala, Vetrimaaran, Ram, Pa Ranjith, Mysskin, and Mari Selvaraj. This combination of skills provides creative autonomy and control over the storytelling process. We can see a pattern in their scripts. Directors with scriptwriting skills can adapt and make changes to the script during filming while preserving the integrity of the story.

What about the directors who can write? They constitute the majority. In other industries, they often alternate between writing their own scripts and collaborating with other writers. However, this trend is not as prevalent in Tamil cinema. There are many filmmakers in Tamil cinema with strong technical knowledge but who seem to have faded away. Why aren’t directors like Lingusamy or Hari teaming up with writers? I hope to see directors like Arun Matheswaran and Nelson collaborating with other writers. They have the potential to create wonders with their visual language.

A short story and history of writers

A small story. In school, there was a boy who was the captain of a cricket team. He bowled first and batted first. Even when he was bowling and getting hit hard, he refused to pass the ball to other bowlers. He don’t want to even think about it. His reasoning was, “If even my balls are getting hit hard, then what will happen to yours?” He continued his bowling until his team lost the match.

We have seen the fall of many directors who were technically sound but failed frequently with screenplay lately and disappeared from the industry. What stopped them from hiring a script writer? Ego? Possibly. Hiring a scriptwriter offers numerous benefits to a director. It brings fresh perspectives and ideas to the table. A dedicated scriptwriter can also easy the director’s workload, allowing them to focus on other aspects of the filmmaking process. Collaborating with a skilled scriptwriter can lead to the development of a more refined script. Hiring a scriptwriter can only complement the director’s strengths.

We know how great a writer-director Woody Allen is. He still has collaborated with writer Marshall Brickman to give fantastic movies like ‘Manhattan Murder Mystery’ (1993) and ‘Annie Hall’ (1977). David Fincher’s best film ‘Seven’ (1995) was written by Andrew Kevin Walker. Ninety percent of Malayalam movies feature different directors and writers. Collaborations between directors and writers are common practices elsewhere in the world. Now the question rises again. What happened to scriptwriters of Tamil? Where have they gone?

Another significant issue faced by writers is the lack of due credit for their contributions. It begs the question: why are filmmakers reluctant to acknowledge their writers properly? Could it be attributed to ego?

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About the Author

PS Arjun
Cinephile. Learning the art of filmmaking. Writer. Filmmaker.

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