Is Bollywood about to lose the plots? September 1, 2007
The Indian film industry has been pumping out Hollywood copies for decades, but a plagiarism suit may put a stop to that, writes Amrit Dhillon.
IMITATION as the most sincere form of flattery has been the motto of the Indian film industry for decades, a charming fig leaf for its outrageous lifting of Hollywood plots.
But if Sony Pictures goes ahead and sues an Indian director in a $US30 million ($A37 million) plagiarism lawsuit, this could change.
Sony is considering legal action over a new hit film, Partner, parts of which are apparently lifted from its Hollywood movie Hitch, starring Will Smith.
In his defence, Partner producer Sohail Khan trots out the standard Bollywood euphemism, claiming his film is "inspired" by Hitch.
Khan is probably right to feel unjustly singled out. For decades Bollywood has industriously copied films such as Kramer vs Kramer, Witness, Out of Time, Collateral and While You Were Sleeping, to name just a few.
Even the latest film to be released in India, a comedy called Heyy Babyy, is being described by critics as a copy of Three Men and a Baby.
"Bollywood has been unashamedly and unapologetically copying for years," says Bombay-based film critic Anupama Chopra.
"It's time it stopped, because it's no longer a cottage industry tucked away somewhere. It's a global industry now and you can't do these things."
Ms Chopra describes her shock on visiting a film set in Bombay.
"I saw video players … showing a Hollywood movie and it was being copied — not scene by scene, but frame by frame."
New Delhi movie fan Akhilesh Dhami is similarly dismayed. "It's as though we've lost our creativity. We need to create our own stories," he says.
If directors in the world's biggest film industry — more than 1000 movies are produced every year — have largely been getting away with blatant copying, it's partly because Indian audiences are unfamiliar with international films.
Even a recent film that won considerable critical acclaim, Beja Fry, was exposed by a French film buff as a copy of Le Diner des Cons (shown in Australia as The Dinner Game). And some scenes from the biggest hit of recent years, Carry on Gandhi, resemble scenes from Patch Adams, starring Robin Williams.
The issue, for some, is not black and white. Even trenchant critics of Bollywood plagiarism point out that Hollywood has also been known to copy European films.
"I've seen French and German films copied by Hollywood without any acknowledgement," says columnist and film buff Parsa Venkateshwar Rao.
"It's not just Bollywood. Hollywood also adapts European movies and dilutes them to make them palatable for American audiences."
He jokes that even Shakespeare borrowed plots and points out that even if a film is being copied, it cannot resonate with audiences in another country without being substantially altered.
"The situations and characters have to be placed in India. It has to be adapted and localised, so there is still some scope for creativity," Mr Rao says.
One solution is for Indian directors to acknowledge that they want to make their own version of an existing film and state that in the credits.
It would require doing some paperwork and buying the rights, but it would spare their blushes.
Not that much blushing happens, it has to be said. Most Bollywood plagiarists are recidivists. Many a filmmaker would die of shame at being found out, but in Bombay they brazen it out or dissemble.
Apart from the sheer principle, one reason why Sony Pictures is not putting up with the apparent plagiarism in Partner is that it is looking at the Indian market with great interest.
It is making a Bollywood musical, directed by an Indian — the first by any Hollywood studio.
Sony Pictures is attracted by the lucrative market in this film-crazy nation. Ticket sales reached $US1.6 billion ($A1.96 billion) in 2006.
India now has hundreds of shopping malls, each with a multiplex.
With economies in Western Europe growing slowly and the US box office not doing so well, companies such as Sony (and most recently Warner Brothers) are looking to markets such as India.
But since $19 out of every $20 spent at the box office in India goes on Indian films, tapping the market means making indigenous, rather than American, movies.
"India has a fast-growing economy and a growing middle class with plenty of disposable income, which makes it appealing to Hollywood studios," Mr Rao says.
The last thing Sony Pictures wants, as it seeks to establish a foothold in India, is audiences to be confused between its Hollywood films and plagiarised versions made in India.
I didn't do much today. Margaret dropped off their puppy Momo in the morning and he kept me entertained for a few hours. What a silly puppy - he chased his tail a few times. I prefer big dogs.
I didn't go out to a club to watch the football live tonight but watched Dr Who on tv instead while keeping an eye on the score, but am watching the delayed telecast now.