In the name of inspiration

Plagiarism

Remade in bollywood style : Percept Picture Company acquired the Copyright of Majid Majidi's ‘Children of Heaven’ for Priyadarshan to remake it as ‘Bumm Bumm Bole’. Pic courtesy: Percept Picture Company

There have been many trashy rehashes, gruesome remakes and frame-to-frame rip-offs. Commercial makers like David Dhawan and Abbas Mustan, and even some National Award winners  have been  unabashed copycats.

Here’s what Australian site, yourmovies.au, has to say about Gulzar’s Parichay, ‘When Fraulein Maria taught the Von Trapp kids to sing, she didn’t teach them to sing Bollywood-style! In 1972, India released its own take on The Sound of Music — Parichay, the story of a young man sent to care for five orphaned children.’  

Film industry under scrutiny

Over the last decade, India’s exposure to Hollywood, foreign films and the internet hasn’t deterred moviemakers from tracing scripts word for word. Even movies that released in India and did reasonably well, like Hitch, were remade in Bollywood within a couple of years.

But the ‘remakers’ of Partner were caught by surprise, when Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment and Sony Pictures threatened to sue Eros and K Sera Sera for 30 million dollars. The director, David Dhawan, is a serial offender, once famous for releasing two films on the same date. 

“To churn out films at the rate that Bollywood does, crafting and testing scripts takes too much time, so directors take the easy way out,” says Sarita Patil, Head-Motion Pictures at Percept Picture Company.

“Bollywood was alien to LA, and the country was not well-acquainted with the films made in the West, so copying had no consequences,” states Supreme Court Advocate Chander Lall, who also heads the Indian anti-piracy operation of the Motion Picture Association – International. The Association comprises of major Hollywood Studios, set up to protect and promote their interests outside America. 

“But now, Bollywood is under scrutiny like never before. Most major American studios have or want to set up offices in India and get a share of the attractive local market, possibly, by remaking their Hollywood hits,” says Lall. Last year, Warner Brothers, through Lall’s firm, issued a press release stating that nobody was given the rights to remake The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. An unprecedented move by Hollywood Studios, in response to reports about Vipul Shah’s Action Replayy being inspired by the Oscar-winning epic.

Full-fledged legal enquiries and cases are still rare but production houses are not taking any chances. Says Sarita Patil, “We tried to acquire the copyright for a couple of films from Paramount but they refused and we moved on.” However, the company was authorised to remake Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi’s famous, Children of Heaven.  

Hollywood has a long-standing tradition of obtaining legal documents called Script Clearance Reports much before picking up the clapboard. The report is essential for producers to obtain an Errors and Omission Insurance, without which, the distributors won’t go near a film. Script Clearance Reports, apart from clearing details like brand names on props, also protects producers and directors from lawsuits that claim unauthorised use of format, characters or ideas. 

Internationally, Intellectual Property is taken very seriously and legal experts say that while India has the laws, the system still needs to evolve and mature. “It was hard to explain to the Judge how the concept of real time was used by the original show, and how that aspect was unique,” says Lall, about the case he fought for Fox Network against Zee Telefilms.

Zee’s Timebomb, many agree was an adaptation of the cult, American show, 24, where each episode of the 24-episode season is portrayed in ‘real-time’, as an hour in the life of a Federal Agent. 

A well-known producer, who has also been at the receiving end of a Hollywood Studio’s wrath, alleges, on condition of anonymity, that money is the motive. “They (the Studios) have set up offices in India, but have suffered major losses; look at films like Saawariya! Filing lawsuits is one of the ways they recover their investment,” he says bitterly. 

Industry insiders also say, that apart from being out of sync with the many nuances that make a Bollywood film successful, Hollywood Studios have not been able to attract big stars. BR Films was the first production house to be taken to court by a Hollywood Studio, 20th Century Fox, over Bandaa Yeh Bindaas Hain.

Madhav Chabria, Head of Distribution and one of the key persons at BR Films, has some sage advice for other producers, “Buy the rights before you shoot, if not, you’re asking for trouble. At the script stage, you’ll also be in a better position to negotiate a good price.”

It remains to be seen if this trend of threats and lawsuits will spur original thinking in the industry or just usher an era of legitimate ‘DVD filmmaking’. More Bollywood remakes are stumbling out of India’s closet and are tarnishing the reputation of Bollywood internationally.

‘See how India has re-made some of the most popular Hollywood films – Bollywood style!’ says the introduction to a picture gallery on yourmovies.net and goes on to show the world how some of our beloved filmmakers have just thoughtlessly copied.  

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