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Rip-off routine: Bollywood?s bane

It's time for Mumbai industry to tell its own stories, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Dec 16, 2005 14:26 IST

Rip-off season lasts the whole year round in Bollywood. Not a week passes without at least one Hindi release presenting a poor stencilled version of a Hollywood hit.

So, should the world’s largest movie industry go cock-a-hoop with joy at the news that three Bollywood films are among the 60 entries that are in the running for the Golden Globe nominations? If it really knows what’s good for it, it wouldn’t.

When the final shortlist of five films is announced on Tuesday, the pretenders will be well and truly separated from the genuine contenders and the Bollywood dream merchants will quickly return to earth to resume their habitual engagement with profit-driven, plagiarised mediocrity.

But the nature of the three films that are in contention for a Golden Globe nomination – Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black, Amol Palekar’s Paheli and Yash Chopra’s Veer Zaara – probably reflect a home truth that few contemporary Bollywood filmmakers are willing to acknowledge, let alone fully grasp.

Each belongs to a distinct strand of Bollywood filmmaking, but all three bear the imprimatur of their creators. And that’s the bedrock on which all good films rest.

A still from Yash Chopra directed Veer Zaara. Bollywood is marred by plagiarised idea. VeerZaara and Paheli have better chances to get nominated at the Golden Globes than Black which was a complete rip off. 

While two of the films (

Paheli

and

Veer Zaara

) are out-and-out Indian narratives that employ, each in its own way, conventions of Bollywood storytelling, the third (

Black)

, while being obviously inspired by a critically acclaimed Hollywood film and a hugely successful Broadway production, has absolutely nothing in common with popular Mumbai cinema.

The fact that this particular trio of Bollywood films is in the Golden Globe frame is certainly yet another proof of the increasing global visibility of Mumbai cinema. But it is also a reminder that in order to be taken seriously on the world stage, Hindi filmmakers must rid themselves of their propensity to filch ideas from everywhere but their own culture.

But is anybody in Bollywood really paying heed to the signals emanating from distant Los Angeles?

Black isn’t wholly original in terms of either substance or form, but there can be no denying that it is a gutsy effort in the Mumbai mainstream context. Sans songs, sans comic relief, and sans concessions to star images, Bhansali’s reworking of the Helen Keller story has much going for it both as a high-pitched melodrama and a daring piece of cinema. But for an American moviegoer, it would really represent old wine in a new bottle.

Paheli, based on a Rajasthani fable, and Veer Zaara, a conventional Bollywood melodrama about lovers who belong to different sides of the Indo-Pak divide, are probably better placed than Black because they are films that couldn’t have emerged from anywhere but India.

But Mumbai filmmakers, lazy and creatively effete as they are, refuse to see the writing on the wall. Plagued by a paucity of original scripts, they merrily continue to ape Hollywood. The big film of the week, Apoorva Lakhia’s Ek Ajnabee, with Amitabh Bachchan in the lead, is an unabashed copy of Tony Scott’s Denzel Washington-Dakota Fanning starrer Man on Fire.

In the weeks ahead, Indian filmgoers will have to bear rip-offs like Sanjay Gupta’s Zinda (an adaptation of the South Korean film, Oldboy) and Pooja Bhatt’s Holiday (an unabashed copy of Dirty Dancing).

These will obviously not be the last lot of 'cannibalistic' films that Bollywood will foist upon us. But clearly the time has come for the Mumbai industry to stand up tall and tell its own stories as it once used to.The world is watching.

First Published: Dec 16, 2005 14:26 IST