Lights, Camera… Plagiarism!

Posted on July 7, 2010 in Media

By Soumya Venugopal:

Ctrl V + Ctrl C. No this article does not aim at teaching you how to copy and paste. This is how exactly a script is written in Bollywood.  Apart from so many songs, that are being copied or inspired (which sounds more respectful), Bollywood, often borrows film concepts from Hollywood, that too without any concern. We can’t even see any credit being given to the makers of the original. It will be presented as if it was the director’s brain child, born out of discussion in hotel rooms with assistant directors. We don’t have dearth of new, creative talents here. Rather, we have lazy, intelligent filmmakers, who are ready to Indianize an alien concept. From the legal view, though our Indian laws are not very stringent towards plagiarism, laws in other countries severely punish copy cats. Every filmmaker here is so happy that no non-Indian knew about the plagiarism going around here. But globalization of Indian films came, both as a boon and bane.

It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Sure it is. And Indian film-makers have been taking this slightly too far! Bollywood has a tradition of remaking Hollywood blockbusters – and of spicing up even the grittiest thrillers with big song and dance numbers and wet sari scenes.

Plagiarism in Bollywood is nothing new. Right from the olden days to the current genre of Kaminey, plagiarized themes have been the norm of Bollywood. But the alarming thing about the new genre is the amount of plagiarized material that is being exposed to the public through the screen. There have been many instances when a Bollywood movie is literally copied scene to scene from a Hollywood movie, and the result… the Hollywood producers sue the Indian film makers for obscene amounts of money! Would it get any more shameful than that? Guess not.

The international arena started absorbing candyfloss Indian films and it’s obvious that it would’ve come as a shock to them to see the level of breach of copyright happening in Indian Cinema. To trace back, the first Bollywood film to be sued by a Hollywood company is Banda Yeh Bindaas Hai. US studio 20th Century Fox had filed a case, claiming that the film’s original was their My Cousin Vinny. But there was no follow up to that story and only god knows what had happened behind the screen. Few other recent films which were ‘inspired’ from Hollywood are Hey Babyy — from Three Men and a Baby, Sarkar – from The Godfather, Partner – from Hitch, Derailed — Train, Salaam Namaste – from Nine Months, Raaz – from What Lies Beneath, God Tussi Great Ho — from Bruce Almighty. Behold, this list has only very few films and there are more out there and it comes as a great surprise that these films are not sued.

The audiences today need something new. Something fresh. But the problem is that Bollywood has no tradition of producing original scripts.

Plagiarism today is a major issue in the creative world. It’s not enough to crib that we lack original scripts, but there is a serious need of rectifying this problem. No doubt today Hollywood is suddenly looking at Bollywood minutely but the industry needs to accept the fact that it seems to be undergoing some major originality crunch. We have a very strong creative culture and a very solid state of literary works. There is no need of “Indianising” the Hollywood flicks.

We as an audience need to be more aware, involved. We need to be encouraging originality and discouraging plagiarism.

It should be the story/script writer’s responsibility to keep the list of references from where they borrowed or drew inspirations. Once the script is ready, the studio or the involved production house should make sure that they communicate with the referenced source and solve the legal issues beforehand. But then one  can see that it’s easy to get involved in the legal battle where the involved parties have different interpretation of inspiration. Guess that’s too much work on the part of production houses and that may be the reason why they ignore it in India.

How do Hollywood and other European film industry tackle this issue? Those who have exposure to it are encouraged to share it.

When Censor Board reviews the film for rating, they should be provided with the list of references from where the creators have gained inspiration and the Board should make a decision on the originality aspect of the issue along with the rating. Just a thought! This of course requires very well-versed Censor Board members.

Probably those who are involved in the process should be honest and these issues wouldn’t even arise. The film fraternity (those who are involved and who have the power and ability to call the shots) should get together and address the issue.

Why don’t we see many people from film industry criticizing this practice? Maybe somebody should ask Anurag Basu if he was aware of the fact that some of the tunes that Pritam used were copied from somewhere? Does it bother him now? In his next movie will he instruct Pritam (or whoever he entrusts as a music director) for original tunes or at least make an effort to make sure that the original source is credited and if adequate rewarded?

I am not intimately aware of the intricacies of the legal issues in the film industry. It may turn out that it’s very complex and rigid and some of the suggestions may not work at all. That’s fine.

With more and more exposure the audience today is ready to watch a movie on anything under the sun. The onus is on the directors and the creative heads of the team to think out of the box and create original ideas, rather than faultily interpreting the fundamental rights.

On a happy note, Indian cinema is no longer considered as just another cinema industry and it is clear that the world is watching and giving our films some respect and attention now. More reason to be original!