Director Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab is back in news and this time the makers have got trapped in a fresh controversy and facing plagiarism charges. It’s being alleged that the drug drama set in Punjab is based on High Society, a 2002 novel by Ben Elton, which is a dark comedy about British drug culture.
Even if once ignores the scenes that look copied from different chapters in the novel, the title of the film in itself carries striking inspiration from the novel’s title – High means Udta and Society referring to Punjab. Not just this, the name of the lead character of the novel, Tommy Hanson seems to have been the inspiration behind Shahid Kapoor’s role. Even Alia Bhatt’s rape scene showing her staring at an advertisement board outside the window happens to be a part of the novel.
Surprisingly, Udta Punjab’s screenwriter Sudip Sharma was quoted by Scroll.in saying, “The one big inspiration for me was Traffic and then there was an article in Tehelka magazine on Punjab drug crisis. I had read the [Ben Elton] book a long time back. But I don’t remember most of it.”
Producer Anurag Kashyap said in an interview, “I don’t have anything to say. I am completely shocked by the same, haven’t read the book.”
Reportedly, demand of the novel has suddenly gone up on leading E-commerce portals. “We have started to get some queries for the availability of this novel,” confirms a salesperson from Oxford Bookstore, Delhi.
Now whether it turns out to be an inspiration, coincidence or blatant lifting from the novel, the debate remains why filmmakers forget to give due credits to the original work. Also, do these plagiarism claims really matter after the movie has made the right impact in the society?
Director-writer Homi Adjania who has directed films like Cocktail, Finding Fanny and Being Cyrus says, “Originality is how uniquely one can combine various influences that have been inspiring. When comparing any creative form, it’s pretty obvious that similarities will be found, which is fine, but blatant lifting of material is just boring for anyone trying to explore their own creativity.”
Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt who went gaga over his daughter Alia Bhatt’s performance in Udta Punjab feels it is not a big deal if there are some broad structural similarities in a film and a book but that does not mean it is totally copied.
“Udta Punjab is so deep rooted in the Indian ethos; the detailing of the film can make you smell the earth and charterers. I don’t think this particular novel, has by any sets of imagination, even a whiff of what this world is all about. The film has the nuances and lingo of Punjab. These claims are nothing but an ungenerous attempt to debunk the filmmaker and the brilliant work he has done,” maintains Bhatt.
Asserting that it’s not always Bollywood films that are on the receiving end of plagiarism, filmmaker Kunal Kohli cites an interesting example about his film Hum Tum (2004) that had similarities with Hollywood film Before Sunset (2004).
“Both the films show a man writing a novel to find a girl that he has a lost. Theirs was set in a book shop, and mine was set in a press conference. Interestingly, I had also written the scene in a book shop first, and later changed it. Thankfully my film released before, otherwise I would have also faced these charges of plagiarism. So, sometimes similarities happen unknowingly,” shares Kohli.
It’s not the first time a movie has faced such allegations. Anurag Basu’s award-winning film Barfi was said to be copied from The Notebook, Charlie Chaplin and other movies. Then there were iconic films like 3 Idiots, Sarkar, Salaam Namaste, Chak De India and others, which derived inspiration from Hollywood films and novels.
Agreeing that hypothetical situations can look similar, author Ravinder singh asserts, “If there are multiple ingredients and series of things happening in a film, exactly in the same fashion, as talked about or as envisaged about by somebody else in a book, then definitely it is plagiarism. As a creative person, you can always talk about something as long as you give due credit to the person who has written the thing and there’s nothing embarrassing about it.”
“If there are similar tracks in two books written in Indian and modern literature, nobody ever talks but on spotting such similarities in a Hindi film, everyone starts shouting plagiarism, adds Kohli.
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