RIP Bollywood the ripper?

When questioned on the need for newer, original scripts at arecent event, Subhash Ghai said, “Every film being created is a remake of another film in another time in another place. No idea is new. Originality does not exist in reality....” Needless to add, he wasn’t promoting plagiarism.

The makers of Knock Out paid R 1.5 crore as penalty to the makers of Phone Booth

However, not very long ago, Hindi screenwriters used to find themselves in the crux of plagiarism charges. Inspiration was the most common excuse given by the filmmakers though. No wonder several Bollywood films were blatant rip-offs - if not plot burglary - of popular Hollywood movies. But lately, this trend seems to have ebbed with attention being spared to intellectual property and its overall significance. As a result, it’s a bit more difficult nowadays to find Bollywood in embarrassing positions.

Murder 3 was an official remake of a Columbian film

Nautanki Saala, which released last month, was the official remake of the French film Après Vous (2003). Similarly, the Bhatts bought the rights to the Colombian thriller The Hidden Face (2011) in order to make Murder 3. Contrast this healthy change to last year when even the hugely successful and acclaimed Barfi! - India’s official entry to Oscars too - was targeted for several sequences that appeared to have been lifted from other movies.

Nautanki Saala is a remake of a French film

Over the years, ‘sue’ has become a word of mass destruction and big banners such as Warner Bros being present in the country leave the producers far more cautious. “International lawyers and watchdogs are making sure nobody crosses the line. In fact, so many big production houses in India have paid the price silently, and thus learnt their lessons. So what do you think will happen?” asks Prahlad Kakkar, ad filmmaker.

Speaking of the price paid, in March, the Bombay High Court decreed in favour of 20th Century Fox against the makers of the 2010 release Knock Out. The film starring Sanjay Dutt, Irrfan and Kangna Ranaut faced allegations of being an outright copy of Phone Booth which had Colin Farrell in the leading role.

“That was possibly a landmark judgment in the history of such litigation in India, as it also constituted the highest payment for copyright infringement ever in the country,” says the lawyer, who worked on the case, on condition of anonymity. So what drove this anomaly in the first place? Commerce perhaps, according to filmmaker Amol Gupte. “As far as I can see, commercial understanding and lack of creativity were driving that urge to imitate others. If it’s a thing of a past, well and good.”

And of course, the emergence of the Internet has played a huge role in spotting the culprits. “With a click of a mouse, one can figure out who ripped off whom. So the risk is way too obvious now. Furthermore, even the directors and writers understand that it’s better to make a mediocre film than a rip-off that might result in loss of reputation and money. You don’t want to take chances,” adds trade analyst Taran Adarsh.

Besides, the viewer is smart enough to know what’s going on. But are they really that wise and well aware? Kakkar has a point to make, “I feel the culture of stealing hasn’t stopped completely. What the filmmakers are doing now is they’ve diverted their attention from mainstream Hollywood films to the lesser-explored work of cinema. For instance, Polish or Iranian or Chinese or Latin American films which aren’t very visible on the global radar.” 

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