In the shadow of another story

In the shadow of another story

Teri Meri Kahaani, which released recently, has not exactly set the box-office on fire. To add to the disappointment, filmgoers immediately found the storyline similar to the 2005 Taiwanese film Three Times.

Director Kunal Kohli could be shouting from the roof for the benefit of all and sundry that the two films have nothing in common, yet the fact remains that a strong suggestion of thematic similarity runs between the two.

Kohli already has too many films to his credit, which show hints of Hollywood inspirations; it would be hard to convince the audience that he had no such stimulation this time around. His Hum Tum also unostentatiously followed the boy-girl-romance-evolving-over-a-span-of-years routine, while his Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic (2008) debacle had 1965 blockbuster Sound of Music (already remade as Parichay), and Mary Poppins (1964) thrown in for good measure.

The question that remains now is whether drawing inspiration from other films is the same as lifting the idea itself, plagiarism so to speak. It is not uncommon for a Hindi film lover to watch a film and then come across an identical storyline in a different language almost by accident. Even some films that have redefined Indian cinema seem to have ‘borrowed’ storylines.

The all-time favourite Sholay (1975), for instance, appears to be loosely based on Yul Brynner-starrer, The Magnificent Seven (1960), which tells the story of villagers in Mexico hiring gunmen to protect themselves from marauding bandits.

Yet, who can deny the creative brilliance that turns around an American Western classic into an undisputed landmark movie in Indian cinema? In fact, even the Hollywood version is supposed to be based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai.

Says film critic Pratim D Gupta, “If a filmmaker adapts a work such that the audience never becomes aware of the likeness, then it is not a copy at all. In many cases, the adaptation actually exhibits the filmmaker’s vivid imagination.”

According to him, “A very thin line divides copying from plagiarism and inspiration.” In this, he echoes Mukherjee’s comment that meaningful art can be created based on art that motivates you, as long as you imbue it with your own uniqueness.

A film firmly rooted in the Indian backdrop is Peepli Live (2010). The concept of one man facing disaster and others cashing in on it has been portrayed in Mad City (1997) and Invitation to Suicide (2004). Yet the story fit in so remarkably with the current Indian society, and redefined satire on Indian screens.

However, there have been some ‘inspired’ films that haven’t worked as well. London Paris New York found its inspiration from A Lot like Love (2005) and Before Sunrise (1995). But then, these Hollywood films are rehashes of the ever-favourite When Harry met Sally (1989).

Moving on, Shah Rukh Khan’s career milestone movie Baazigar (1993) is powerfully reminiscent of A Kiss before Dying (1991). Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006), for which Khan took some heat due to his unorthodox role in the film, may be a very Karan Johar rendering of Falling in Love (1984), while Chak De India (2007) resembles Miracle (2004) in parts.

Mohabbatein (2000) has broad similarities with Dead Poet’s Society (1989). Apart from the fundamentals — maverick teacher inspires students in a conservative academic institution about the passions of life — the reader will notice a likeness between the promotional posters of the two films; even the boys’ uniforms have the same colour scheme.

Aamir Khan’s Ghajini (2009) stood out for its unique protagonist, but the tattoos and the short term memory loss that made the film unique are too similar to Memento (2000). The Aamir-Kajol starrer Fanaa (2006), courtesy Kunal Kohli, is an unapologetic adaptation of 1981 World War suspense-thriller Eye of the Needle. Even Mann (1999) with the same lead actor, comes straight out of An Affair to Remember (1957).

Most of these films are box-office successes, but all of them are adaptations of other films in varying degrees. But, while they have not been able to reach the same level of popularity as Sholay, at least they aren’t in the same league as films like Mr ya Miss (2005), a scene-by-scene rip off of Switch (1991).

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