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Whose movie is it anyway?

May 19, 2003 14:18 IST

Barbara Taylor Bradford's 'war' against plagiarism -- rampant in the Mumbai entertainment industry -- is hugely overdue. The New York-based British writer has filed a case against Sahara Television's mega-serial Karishma -- The Miracles Of Destiny, starring Bollywood star Karisma Kapoor. The serial is said to be based on Bradford's novel, A Woman of Substance.

Plagiarism, or 'inspiration' as Bollywood prefers to call it, has always existed in Bollywood.

Mehboob Khan's masterpiece Mother India, starring Nargis, Sunil Dutt, Raaj Kumar and Rajendra Kumar, made cinematic history in 1957. But even this classic had shades of Pearl S Buck's The Good Earth.

In recent years, eight out of every 10 Hindi films are 'inspired'.

"But where are the writers?" complains filmmaker Yash Chopra, when asked about this phenomenon. The man behind romantic classics like Silsila (Amitabh Bachchan, Rekha, Jaya Bachchan, Sanjeev Kumar), Chandni (Rishi Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, Sridevi), Lamhe (Anil Kapoor, Sridevi) and Dil To Pagal Hai (Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Karisma) has been putting off his next directorial venture only because he hasn't found a suitable script. Other filmmakers haven't been as patient. There are Hindi 'adaptations' of a large number of new and semi-new Hollywood films, and remakes of old Hindi films, on the way.

Director Vikram Bhatt, for one, is an expert at directing successful remakes. His Fareb (Faraaz Khan, Suman Ranganathan) was a remake of Unlawful EntryKasoor (Aftab Shivdasani, Lisa Ray) was a remake of Jagged Edge. Ghulam (Aamir Khan, Rani Mukherji) was a remake of On The Waterfront. Raaz (Dino Morea, Bipasha Basu) was a remake of What Lies BeneathAwara Paagal Deewana (Akshay Kumar, Suniel Shetty, Aftab Shivdasani, Paresh Rawal, Amrita Arora, Preeti Jhangiani) was a remake of The Whole Nine Yards.

Ask Bhatt about his remake fetish and he blames it on the lack of writing talent in Bollywood. "A filmmaker like me would be on shaky ground if I have to rely on the writing talent available here [in Bollywood]," he says. "In Hollywood, they create banks of scripts, whether they are used or not. The Indian film industry does not believe in investing financial resources in scripts. Stupidly, in our industry, producers pay precious money to sign stars whom they might not even use in the film. Producers believe stars make hits; actually it is the script that makes a film successful. Our cinema is star-based, while Hollywood is script-based. Just think: Rs 50 lakh [approximately US$106,000] could get us 20 new scripts. Fortunately, producers like Yash Chopra, Venus, Tips, Sahara, Ram Gopal Varma and Mukesh Bhatt are allowing new talent to grow."

In his effort to break the star system, Bhatt has constantly been working with newcomers. "I don't want to sit at home just because some star has flown off for a concert abroad. I won't starve for stars. Coincidentally, my film with a big star, Hrithik Roshan [Aap Mujhe Achche Lagne Lage], didn't work. But a film with no stars, like Raaz [Bipasha Basu, Dino Morea], did."

Bhatt says he does not remake Hollywood films. "I have never lifted from Hollywood films. If you get caught you are in trouble. I was accused of lifting What Lies Beneath in Raaz. There is nothing wrong with being inspired by other sources. No art is born of thin air."

According to Bhatt, the issue with the television serial Karishma is that its director (Akashdeep) declared its source in an interview. "I believe the director went on record to say he made his leading lady [Karisma] read Bradford's book. In that case, they would have to compensate the original source. I have always maintained that copyright is a serious issue. The Karishma episode could mean trouble for Bollywood. But I must point out that our cinema is hardly noticed abroad, whereas television is beamed all over the world. In any case, Hollywood makes its films first, so why should they be bugged?"

He also believes it isn't easy to prove charges of plagiarism.

Amitabh Bachchan in KaanteSanjay Gupta is another director who has made a career out of adapting Hollywood films into Hindi. From his first directorial venture Aatish (State of Grace) to his latest, Kaante (a mish-mash of Reservoir Dogs and The Usual Suspects), each film -- barring Hamesha (Saif Ali Khan, Kajol, Aditya Panscholi) -- has been Hollywood-inspired. "Hamesha," Gupta jokes, "is the biggest flop of my career."

Filmmaker Suneel Darshan feels there is nothing wrong with being inspired by Hollywood. "There is a difference between inspiration and plagiarism. I disapprove of the latter. My films like Jaanwar [Akshay Kumar, Karisma, Shilpa Shetty] and Ek Rishtaa: The Bond Of Love [Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay, Karisma, Juhi Chawla, Rakhee] were originals. My new film, Andaaz, is about a modern Devdas who doesn't sit and brood when he loses his love. I would rather be inspired by our own literature and cinema than Hollywood. If Michael Bay can copy our Sangam [Raj Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar, Vyjyanthimala] and make it into Pearl Harbor, and if our Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge [Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol] can become My Big Fat Greek Wedding, then we surely don't need to be pulled up like naughty schoolboys. Are the makers of Pearl Harbor willing to compensate Raj Kapoor's RK Films?"

Young scriptwriter Suparn Verma -- who's currently writing Feroz Khan's Jaanasheen (Fardeen Khan, Celina Jaitley), Harry Baweja's Qayamat (Ajay Devgan, Suniel Shetty, Neha Dhupia) and Rohit Shetty's Zameen (Ajay Devgan, Abhishek Bachchan, Bipasha Basu) -- believes the cause for plagiarism lies with producers who force screenwriters to remake Hollywood hits. "It's happened so many times -- I go to producers with original ideas and am told to Indianise this or that Hollywood film. I have to cleverly make my way around such mindsets and persuade producers to accept radical changes in the Hollywood format."

Verma also blames Bollywood's heroes for the lack of originality in Hindi films. "They watch certain Hollywood stars shine in some roles and coax producers to remake those films. For example, Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is a role every Bollywood actor wants to play. How many times does a scriptwriter say no to doing an Indian version of Cuckoo's Nest before he finally gives in?"

Interestingly, there is a quiet movement towards originality. Recent Hindi releases like Tigmanshu Dhulia's Haasil and Gaurab Pandey's Stumped and forthcoming releases like Andaaz and Ram Gopal Varma's Bhoot are original works.

Subhash K Jha