Kangana Ranaut-starrer Queen has been the biggest winner in Bollywood this year. From critics to audiences, all have lauded this coming-of-age story of a woman who goes on honeymoon alone, after getting dumped by her bridegroom on the day of wedding. In time, she learns to live life for herself.
How liberating and fresh a content that is, or so we thought! All but writer Abhigyan Jha.
Abhigyan wrote the story based on which director Parvati Balagopalan made a film called Phir Zindagi. The film starred Milind Soman and Gul Panag in the lead roles.
Only his story had exactly same premise -- a woman decides to go on her honeymoon, all by herself, and learns to live life on her own terms in the process.
Abhigyan tells Hindustan Times that the film was shown to Vikas Bahl (writer-director of Queen) at his residence (back some time between 2006 and 2010) . In fact, he claims that Vikas's wife too was present when Parvati Balagopalan showed him the film. Vikas was heading UTV Spotboy at the time.
However, Abhigyan accepts that the treatment of Queen is very different from his film. He adds though that Vikas took 4-5 years to make Queen and had enough time to experiment and explore more with the plot.
He further adds that there are several sequences in the Kangana-starrer that have been lifted from Phir Zindagi. "Sequences such as the hero coming back to the girl when she has undergone change, their breaking up at a coffee shop and several other crucial sequences are exact copies," he says.
Deepa Sahi (producer of Phir Zindagi) didn't want to elaborate on the issue when contacted. She simply said, "I have not watched Queen and would not like to comment on it."
We spoke to Parvati Balagopalan for her side of the story. Parvati maintains that she would not like to take the legal action against Vikas as it would look like a publicity stunt. "Because Queen is successful, we may not be able to release our film. The characters are different, but the premise is exactly same," she adds. "What hurts more is Vikas had seen the film. Had he not seen it, we would have thought that the similarities were only a coincidence," she says.
Parvati too spoke of many sequences which were ripped off the original. Like the one where, at the end, the protagonist hugs her bridegroom-who-dumped-her and thanks him.
Parvati clarifies, "This sequence is exactly the same. I do not have a copyright on stories on journey of self-discovery, but the premise of a girl going on a honeymoon after being dumped is not too common. Our protagonist is a doctor, while this one is not, but there are many similarities."
Abhigyan Jha, however, is certainly thinking of taking some action, though there is no clarity as of today.
However, not all are in complete agreement. Actor Milind Soman, who plays the lead role in Phir Zindagi said, "I have watched Queen and I agree that the storyline is similar. However, I wouldn't say it is copied from Phir Zindagi as the treatment of the plot is what is unique about the film. There, Queen is a totally different take on the story."
But the heartburn remains. Abhigyan says, "This is why people get away with copying. No one wants to take on a hit director." (Queen did incredible business and continues to be screened at several theatres across the country.)
Vikas Bahl, first agreed to talk on the controversy but later reverted, "Why don't you watch the film and then talk to me?" HT told him that Phir Zindagi hasn't released and it may not be possible to watch it. On asking if he had seen Phir Zindagi, Vikas did not respond at all.
Reacting to Vikas's response, Abhigyan said, "Parvati and I watched Queen along with a few director-writer friends. Queen has some key areas lifted from Phir Zindagi - areas without which Queen would not be possible."