Many of the current and recent past Bollywood films seem to have disconcerting similarities with films from abroad. Is it a coincidence, wonders Surangama Guha
Finally, Teri Meri Kahaani has been released not exactly setting the box-office ringing though . To add to the misery, movie-watchers 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 hint at Hollywood inspirations to make the audience believe that this time he went without any such stimulation, Hollywood or otherwise. His Hum Tum also unostentatiously followed the boy-girl-romance-evolving-over-a-span-of-years routine (2004), 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 leaps to mind now , is drawing inspiration from another film is the same as lifting someone else's idea, or more precisely, is that what we understand by 'plagiarism'?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'plagiarism' as "take or use another's writings as one's own." But in film parlance the term seems to suggest something quite different. "Plagiarism is a truly inspired work; only a true talent can plagiarise," says film scholar Sanjay Mukherjee, department of film studies, Jadavpur University, Kolkata. The observation somewhat reminds of T.S. Eliot's much-quoted saying, "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal".
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 their storylines 'borrowed.'
The all-time favourite Sholay (1975) for instance, appears loosely based on Yul Brynner starrer The Magnificent Seven (1960) that tells the story of villagers in Mexico hiring gunmen to protect them against marauding bandits. Yet, who can deny the creative brilliance that turns around an American Western classic into an undisputed landmark in Indian cinematic history? But then 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 within current Indian society, redefining satire on Indian screens that pointing fingers at it would be rather mundane.
But in some of the recent 'inspired' films the plot does not work that well. London Paris New York found its inspiration in a hotchpotch of A Lot like Love (2005) and the Before Sunrise (1995). But then this Hollywood films are rehashes of the ever-favourite romantic film When Harry met Sally (1989).
Moving on, Shah Rukh Khan's career milestone Baazigar (1993), an Abbas-Mastaan thriller, 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, maybe a very 'Karan Johar' rendering of Falling in Love (1984), while Chak De India (2007) in parts resembles Miracle (2004). 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.
Another superstar Amir Khan's Ghajini (2009) stood out for its unique protagonist but the dampener- the tattoos and the short term memory loss syndrome that made the film unique are too similar to Memento (2000) to go unnoticed. Amir-Kajol starrer Fanaa (2006), courtesy Kunal Kohli, again, is an unapologetic adaptation of 1981 World War suspense thriller Eye of the Needle, and 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 level of popularity of Sholay, at least no one would put them in the same league as films like Mr. ya Miss (2005), a scene-by-scene rip off of Switch (1991).