Bollywood moving away from plagiarism?
We all love to bash Bollywood because the industry is in the habit of plagiarizing. In fact the very name ‘Bollywood’ is so insulting that I wonder why those who work in Bollywood don’t feel ashamed that they are working in an industry with a name that implies that it is a Hollywood clone. Could it be that they don’t feel ashamed because there is hope that they might win awards? Recently the music from the film Munnabhai Lage Raho won a national award even though one of the tunes was plagiarized.
But Bollywood wasn’t always Bollywood. If you trace the history of the industry we have had great films – some of them classics. I am naming just a few here. Mehboob Khan’s Andaz (1945), K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam (1960) and Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (1955). In the seventies there were popular films like Sholay (Ramesh Sippy, 1975) and films like Anand and Kati Patang. There was no such thing as “Bollywood” then, not as far as I remember.
It all changed in the eighties. We started hearing of various tunes being lifted and also movies. By the nineties stealing had become rampant but even now I like to believe that less than half of the films and music are plagiarized, but that’s just a guess.
How long is this going to go on? I mean, why isn’t Hollywood complaining? Why aren’t they suing? Well, even though Hollywood isn’t suing, I think the copycats producers and directors are getting flak…from bloggers. Today if a film or song is stolen, bloggers write about it and the directors and producers are shamed, well to some extent at least. If they win awards for their copied films, I guess the shame is replaced by chuckles!
But this kind of copying cannot last. It’s not going to last. I feel the Hindi film industry has reached a kind of peak (of copying) and with bloggers increasingly exposing these charlatans, movie producers are thinking of ways to avoid criticism and scandals.
I think a change is in the offing. Recently, director Rajkumar Gupta “struggled” to get the rights of American pop singer Peggy Lee’s song for his film Aamir. They finally paid Rs.800,000, a sum they could barely afford as it was a low-budget film (with a budget of Rs. 20 million). And even then they were not allowed to use the song in their soundtrack. In fact Gupta was so keen to avoid any kind of scandal that when he was told that Aamir had some similarity with the Filipino film Cavite, he contacted the Filipino director and told him the problem and actually asked him whether he should “proceed” with Aamir or “scrap it”!
It’s not just Gupta. Producer-director Ravi Chopra bought the rights of the Joe Pesci film My Cousin Vinny and remade it as Bandaa Yeh Bindaas Hai. And believe it or not, even David Dhawan has had a change of heart. He was criticized for plagiarizing the film Hitch and re-making it as Partner (there were even rumours that Will Smith was going to sue) but Dhawan seems to have decided not to take any more chances. He is getting permission to remake the Hollywood film The Wedding Crashers.
Imtiaz Ali of Jab We Met fame also tried to get the rights for “rock band Katrina & The Waves Walking on Sunshine.” In fact he had gone ahead and used the song for the promos but when the permission did not come through, he dropped the song.
It’s not just their name that producers are worried about. Recently Rakesh Roshan had to pay Rs 2 crore to the music composer Ram Sampath who had filed a case against him for copying a tune in his film Krazzy 4. If Hollywood ever sues and succeeds, the copycats could become bankrupt!
I think the incidents mentioned show some new trends in the Indian film industry. It’s about time this happened because we have so many talented directors and a good number of original films coming out of the Hindi industry today that it would be a shame if a few copycats spoilt their good name.
Aamir Khan’s Taare Zameen Par (2007) is just an example. Two more examples are the charming romantic film Parineeta (2005) and Lagaan (2001) which was nominated in the foreign film category of the Oscars. There are also the “new wave” films like Traffic Signal or Life in a Metro, Mr. and Mrs. Iyer and Khosla Ka Ghosla. It all seemed to start when the critically acclaimed Monsoon Wedding (2001, Mira Nair) was a decent hit at the box office, raking up $20m. These small budget films are changing the face of the industry and Aamir is the latest one.
The success of such films has given rise to hope that talent is getting recognized. Hopefully the Indian government will realise that originality and talent needs to be encouraged. They should stop giving any type of award to any film which has plagiarized any thing, be it the story, a scene or two or a song. It may seem a harsh punishment for a director or producer who may not be in the know if a music director has say copied a tune, but without such rules how will plagiarism ever stop?
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