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Steal Factory: the copycat scene in Bollywood

Recently, Will Smith's company was said to be comtemplating a $ 30-million lawsuit against Partner for plagiarising Hitch. Shaikh Ayaz reports on the copycat scene.

india Updated: Aug 22, 2007 16:17 IST

Recently, the David Dhawan chuckle-jerker Partner tumbled into trouble zone. Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment was said to be contemplating a $ 30-million lawsuit for plagiarising Hitch. That's a rare instance of a Hollywood ‘inspired' product being threatened with legal action.

Suddenly, the print and electronic media were reporting on the Partner-Hitch glitch. Then there was no more news about the case, which it was stated, would be filed in a UK court. Trade talk is that timely intervention by the UTV boss Ronnie Screwvala proved to be a face-saver for Dhawan and Co.

But but but.. if you scan two out of three made-in-Bombay movies, they appear to have been inspired by DVDs. And it's not only Hollywood that's the muse today. Korean actioners . and horror flicks, poignant Spanish dramas and French comedies have become rich source material too.

Currently, talk is that Sanjay Leela Bhansali's much-discussed love story, Saawariya, is a riff on White Nights (made in three versions by Luchino Visconti as Le Notti Bianche in 1957, Robert Bresson as Four Nights of a Dreamer in 1971 and Alain Silver as White Nights in 2005).

Since a vigil of sorts is out, there is every likelihood that Bhansali's romancer will acknowledge its source material.

<b1>Real thing
Lately, there was a controversy at the National Film Awards.. one of the jury members objected to the awards for Bhansali's Black, pointing out that it was derived from The Miracle Worker (1962). The contention was that awards are open only to "original" films.

Meanwhile, frazzled by the Partner-Hitch controversy, the Dhawan camp has been evading questioning. The usually media friendly Dhawan is unreachable. Dialogue writer Sanjay Chhel says he is ignorant of the news. Ram Mirchandani of UTV refuses to comment. Parag Sanghvi, producer of Partner, says, "We didn't get any notice from the producers of Hitch. This is a media created controversy. Seven hundred films are made every year. Can all of them be original?"

List goes on
That's logic. Perhaps rip-offs have been as common as songs-and-dances in the mainstream movies. To cite recent random examples: Naqaab (Dot the I), Bheja Fry (French comedy Le Diner de Cons), The Killer (Collateral) and Malamaal Weekly (Waking Ned) and Zinda (Korea's Old Boy).

Or take Tera Jadoo Chal Gaya (Picture Perfect), Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega (Wedding Singer), Kahin Pyar Na Ho Jaye (While You were Sleeping), Dhai Akshar Prem Ke (A Walk in the Clouds), Pyar to Hona Hi Tha (French Kiss) and Sirf Tum (You've Got Mail).

Unbeknownst to many, Vishal Bhardwaj had to drop the idea of adapting the play

The Same Time Next Year

into a film titled

Mr Singh and Mrs Mehta.

Why? The right holders quoted such an exorbitant price that Bhardwaj had to look the other way .

Laws and highs

By and large, original creators haven't bothered to take the ‘inspired' parties to court.. perhaps because it means too much time and travel besides unfamiliarity with legal procedures and copyright laws here.

Once in a blue moon, the right holders of the original parties have sought legal redress but with practically no results. In the 1970s, director Mohammed Hussain was reported to have lifted Khoon Khoon from Dirty Harry.. the producers (Warner Bros) slapped a legal notice on them, but the case soon lost its fizz.

Producer FC Mehra of Manoranjan, directed by Shammi Kapoor, was also threatened with legal action for spinning off Irma la Douce.

Substance saga
Similarities - to use an euphemism - have been rampant and unchecked on television. It may be recalled that the US-based author Barbara Taylor Bradford (A Woman of Substance) had sued Sahara's Karishma – The Miracle of Destiny. Bradford flew in to Kolkata to fight the case.

<b3>The Supreme Court rejected her plea which had sought a stay on the telecast of the opulently produced show toplining Karisma Kapoor. The popular Mona Singh show, Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin sent off echoes of the Columbian tele-novella, Yo Soy Betty La Fea.

Assures scriptwriter Javed Sidiqui, "Don't get frightened by such cases of plagiarism.. it has been on for a long, long time. Even a writer like KA Abbas saab was inspired at times by international scripts.. although the films he directed were original. Even Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anand was inspired by a Japanese film.. Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru. But yes, there has to be a solution for all this chorigiri."

Rights, wrongs
Question: why don't producers buy the rights legally, instead of infringing upon intellectual property? Sidiqui responds, "That's easier said than done. The issue is not about buying rights of a certain play or a film.. it's about the disparity in the rate of the rupee and the dollar."

He elaborates, "If an Indian filmmaker, in all his honesty, goes about doing things legally, life becomes difficult. I'm not supporting plagiarism.. it has to be condemned.. but what can a film producer do if the original right holders quote an unimaginable price?"

Atul Kulkarni, who acted in Rang de Basanti, allegedly derived from the Canada's Jesus de Montreal, agrees, "Money is a major deterrent. Even if a producer buys the rights of an English language film, the returns in the Indian market are not guaranteed. In that case, he stands to lose money.. not gain. It just isn't commercially feasible."

Legal expression
India is believed to have one of the most modern copyright protection laws in the world. But protection of intellectual property rights could be straightened, feel experts.

Says advocate Rakesh K Singh, "Under Indian laws, there are civil and criminal provisions which can deal with plagiarism. One can even be made criminally liable if one commits plagiarism."

Director Sriram Raghavan (Ek Hasina Thi) believes, "Imitation may be the best form of flattery.. but original films are the only solution for ending plagiarism."

Now if that happens, won't most creators in the film industry find themselves jobless?

First Published: Aug 22, 2007 10:54 IST