It’s a steal!

Two years after Singh Is Kinng became one of the biggest hits of the year, the producers appear in a legal soup. American Rights Management Company files lawsuit court over plagiarism.

entertainment Updated: May 11, 2010 14:37 IST
Sharin Bhatti
Sharin Bhatti
Hindustan Times Shah is reasonably upset. Two years post the release of the director’s mega-blockbuster Singh is Kinng, the movie is back in the eye of the storm for an unoriginal script. The American Rights Management Company in the United States sued the distributor, Viacom 18, on the grounds of copyright infringement recently.

According to the lawsuit filed in New York District Court, the company claims that Singh is Kinng is a rip-off of the 1929 short story, Madame La Gimp, by Damono Runyon. The complaint goes on to detail the similarities between Shah’s Singh is Kinng and Runyon’s movie. The film was written and released as an original script by Anees Bazmi in 2008. It did roaring business in, both, the Indian and the international markets, especially USA.

The plot thickens Naturally Shah is irked: “I am truly baffled by this lawsuit. As far as I know, Aneesji (Bazmi) narrated an original script to me when we made it. We will fight the matter in court,” says Shah adding that he will defend himself till the case is cleared and will investigate the matter further.

“The fact that they (American Rights Management Company) are reacting two years later, and that too, over a DVD, which is rarely heard of, is surprising. I haven’t even heard of the movie before and secondly, if they had brought up the allegation in September 2008 when we released the movie, it would have still made sense. Why now?” Shah questions. And while he is willing to put his full faith in Bazmi’s work, he still states, “I don’t know what to believe. Aneesji is shooting in Canada at the moment and we will take affirmative action and reply to them accordingly,” he states. Ironically enough, Firoz Nandiadwala, recently bought the rights to the remake of the 2009 cult hit comedy, Hangover. Anees Bazmi who is currently shooting for his film, Thank You in Canada, will direct the film. He was unavailable for comment.

All the while, Shah is condemning stealing and copying scripts. “I have never been in favour of the infamous DVD meet scripting sessions. They make absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. All work done should only be original,” Shah adds. He also cites how the movie has been his highest grosser so far. “Singh is Kinng released on 1800 screens worldwide and raked in over Rs 500 crore worldwide,” says Shah.

Hollywood to be merciless to safeguard content

Around 2009, Hollywood eventually became wary of Bollywood’s notorious ways of enveloping an inspired film within a copied story and so on. Salman Khan’s film Partner got into trouble with the makers of Hitch, and almost got sued for over $30 million. After which Warner Brothers, only post rumours, almost made a statement against Vipul Shah’s next film, Action Replay, which they claimed was a remake of the Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. 20th Century Fox sued BR Films for over 9,00,000 pounds calling the Chopras’ Banda Yeh Bindaas Hai an alleged remake of their original My Cousin Vinny.

Creative copies If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, India’s filmmakers have finally taken their adulation too far. When it comes to plagiarism, Hollywood and Bollywood are still locking horns. The fact that there is a growing number of joint coalitions and major motion pictures coming to India, there still is no mutual ground. Kelsi Daruwala, MD, Sony Pictures reiterates,

“We are only distributing movies now. After Saawariya we haven’t produced any. If in the future we do, we will need a legal framework, where we can keep the copyright of our scripts and not have them on sale. Hollywood and Bollywood need to work in tandem.”

Gunning em’ down Lately, Hollywood studios have been aggressive in enforcing their intellectual property rights. In April 2009, Warner Bros released ads in the local media alerting the industry to any unauthorised remakes of The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button after rumours surfaced that there was an Indian version in the making. A similar notice was issued by Warner to protect The Departed, while Sony sounded a warning in 2008 for Jerry Maguire after unconfirmed reports suggested that a leading Bollywood star was planning a remake.

The Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) battle went to court in 2008 when Warner sued the producers of Hindi film Hari Puttar: A Comedy Of Terrors, arguing that its name was too similar to the studio’s Harry Potter franchise. But the case was dismissed by the Delhi High Court, which said that the Harry Potter books are for a different section of the audience who will not confuse Harry Potter with Hari Puttar.

With the studios now revving up their local productions, Bollywood is shifting toward authorised remakes. In 2008, the Indian Film Co said it had obtained rights from Paramount for a Hindi remake of The Italian Job, which is currently under script session with Rohit Jugraj.

US studios protest against unofficial Bollywood remakes

Last year, Hollywood Studio, Twentieth Century Fox, moved court against BR Films’ Govinda-Lara Dutta-Tabu production, Banda Yeh Bindaas Hai. It claimed that the Bollywood comic caper was a “substantial reproduction” of its superhit movie, My Cousin Vinny, and that the two shared identical storylines. The film’s producer-director, Ravi Chopra, insisted that they had officially bought the rights to the Hollywood hit. Twentieth Century Fox argued that it had only agreed to the basic idea being reworked and not to a remake.

The studio pressed for damages to the tune of Rs 7 crore and a stay order on the film that was lining up for release. Eventually an amicable settlement was reached after BR Films payed $2,00,000 (a little less than Rs 1 crore). The film has still to make it to the theatres. Back in the 1970s, Twentieth Century Fox had pressed for damages against Shammi Kapoor’s Manoranjan that was seen to be a ‘copy’ of Irma La Douce.

Legally speaking A letter had also been sent to Prakash Mehra whose Mr Shrimati seemed suspiciously close to Mrs Doubtfire that was releasing around that same time. Interestingly, Mrs Doubfire was later reworked as Chachi 420 by Kamal Haasan. Another studio, Columbia, had also sent a letter of protest to Mahesh Bhatt. The posters of his Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayi were strikingly close to Basic Instinct.

Buzz is that Will Smith had contemplated a $30 million suit against the Salman Khan-Govinda film Partner that was allegedly a ‘lift’ from his film, Hitch. But Sony was getting into Hindi film production with Saawariya and decided against pressing its claim.

No substance Novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford however got a stay on the eve of the launch of Sahara Television’s mega show, Karishma —The Miracles of Destiny on grounds of plagarism. She was, eventually, unable to prove her claim that the serial’s storyline had found its muse in her novels, including the bestselling Woman of Substance. And the serial starring Karisma Kapoor was eventually aired. More recently, Twentieth Century Fox has sued Zee Telefilms over its series, Time Bomb. The allegation is that it has been lifted from the US drama 24. Zee insists there is no similarity and that Time Bomb is a political thriller that depicts events in hour long, real-time segments.

Inspired. Anyone looking here?

2005 Salaam Namaste Nine Months
2003 Paap The Witness
2005 Ek Ajnabee Man on Fire
2005 Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena Confidence
2005 Garam Masala Boeing Boeing
2005 Main Aisa Hi Hoon I am Sam
2005 Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya? Cactus Flower
2006 Bas Ek Pal Carne Trémula
2006 Rang De Basanti All My Sons
2006 Naksha The Rundown Jesus of Montreal
2006 Phir Hera Pheri Lock, Stock and Two
2006 Alag Powder Smoking Barrels
2006 Malamaal Weekly Waking Ned
2006 Taxi No. 9211 Changing Lanes
2007 Nishabd Lolita
2007 Awarapan A Bittersweet Life
2007 Salaam-e-Ishq Love Actually
2007 Ta Ra Rum Pum Days Of Thunder
2007 Life In A... Metro The Apartment
2007 Fool n Final Snatch
2007 Manorama Six Feet Under Chinatown
2008 Singh Is Kinng Miracles
2008 Yuvvraaj Rain Man
2004 Aitraaz Disclosure
2006 Zinda Old Boy
2005 Bunty Aur Babli Bonnie And Clyde
2001 Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya Fatal Attraction
2007 Heyy Baby! Three Men And A Baby
2007 Partner Hitch
2008 Dil Kabaddi Husbands And Wives
2008 De Taali Totti Gang
2008 Dasvidaniya The Bucket List
2008 Race Goodbye Lover
2007 Welcome Mickey Blue Eyes
2008 Shaurya A Few Good Men
2008 Kidnap Shattered
2008 Kismat Connection Just My Luck
2008 Krazzy Four Dream Team
2007 Saawariya White Nights
2008 Karz / Karzzzz Reincarnation of Peter Proud
2008 Dostana I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry
2008 Ghajini Memento
2008 Bachna Ae Haseeno John Tucker Must Die
2008 Aamir Cavite

First Published: May 11, 2010 11:38 IST