Even if it does not serve as a long-term deterrent for Hindi cinema's compulsive plagiarists, Barbara Taylor Bradford's lawsuit against the Sahara serial, Karishma: The Miracles of Destiny (stolen from her novel, A Woman Of Substance) has at least served as a small speed bump.
Till now, our writers and directors would not only lift entire films, scene by scene; they would also boast about it. Since India was such a small market anyway, nobody paid any attention.
It's okay to take the germ of an idea and come up with a fresh film -- there is some creativity involved there. But our filmmakers keep a VCD player on the sets and copy outright. Writers download scripts from the Net, change names and locations, and pass it off as their own work.
The Indian legal scene being what it is, the Barbara Taylor Bradford case will go on forever. Eventually, nothing may come of it, but at least a fear of lawsuits will make the 'thieves' less brazen. They do not just steal and flaunt it -- they even have the gumption to take credit for someone else's work -- but, at least, they won't be able to do it with such impunity.
If all the people from whose films our 'VCD/DVD filmmakers' like David Dhawan, Sanjay Gupta, Vikram Bhatt, and Anees Bazmee have stolen entire scenes, dialogues, and music pieces came over and started demanding compensation, that would be the end of our industry.
Not that there are very many great screenwriters in the Hindi film industry right now, but the few that are there are treated badly; exploited; paid peanuts (till they deliver a hit); their ideas are stolen; their work distorted any which way. In such circumstances, it certainly isn't worth it to slog over original ideas.
In any case, most producers and directors are more than happy with copied material -- either from foreign films, old Hindi films or, in some cases, regional language films. Since they do not have the talent or vision to do original work, they copy other people's films. This way, they at least have some idea how their films will look. So they force writers to copy other films. There have been very few instances of plagiarism from books, because our current crop of filmmakers is not the reading type.
Being caught and penalised may not make our filmmakers stop plagiarising, but they will at least conceal the source or make an attempt to Indianise it in such a way that it is difficult to trace the origins of the story.
It may be too optimistic to think they will actually commission, and pay for, original work, but that might happen too. Hopefully, the beleaguered writer will get his/her due.
Recently, a writer was appalled to find a director making a film on the script he had ostensibly rejected. Meanwhile, the writer had sold it to another producer. The first guy shamelessly told him he could, if he wished, use the script with minor changes and not even give credit or money. The Film Writers' Association couldn't do a thing! (The most celebrated case of credit theft was Honey Irani accusing Aditya Chopra of depriving her of credit in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge [Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol], but then Honey herself lifts from Dil Apna Preet Parayi [Raaj Kumar, Meena Kumari, Nadira] for her directorial debut Armaan [Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor, Preity Zinta, Gracy Singh].)
A lot of talented writers, who had bad experiences in the industry, have gone off to do other work where they get money and respect -- or least one of the two. And it has been entirely the industry's loss! Some of them are hopeful Bradford's tough stance will make a difference, in that the writer will get a raise in status, if not in pay. At least some original scripts, gathering dust on the desks of writers or shelves of filmmakers who demand 'bound scripts' and then don't bother to read them, will be rediscovered.
Most of the time writers are working on spec, which means they put in effort, time and sometimes money, and may get paid only if the film gets made. Which may be months or years later. Producers will give huge signing amounts to stars, but won't spare a few thousands for the writer, who is, or ought to be, the foundation stone of any good film.
There is also another side to the story -- producers who have hired writers to develop scripts and got consistently substandard work. Eventually, they have had to lift plots for want of better alternatives.
But if plagiarism is made difficult, filmmakers will have to look for those alternatives -- they would either pay to buy rights or option script ideas and novels. In short, pay for what they use. And about time too! If 99 per cent of Bollywood's films (and several television serials) are plagiarised, it is something to worry about and rectify, if possible. More power to Ms Bradford!