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by Monojit Lahiri April 22 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 26 secs

Monojit Lahiri investigates Bollywood’s skilled art of plagiarism down the decades without batting an eyelid and of course, no remorse either, especially if the film or web series succeeds.

If imitation is the finest form of flattery, then no industry on planet earth can match the largest film producing country in this area. Their relentless, consistent and shameless lifting, copying and getting inspired, by Hollywood films and now other sources too, is a classic case of wide-eyed adoration mixed with brain-dead initiative at jugaad in terms of short-cut to rake in the bucks. Win some, lose some, transcreation, Indianisation or frame-to-frame xerox, Bollywood has mastered the art of bromishing from other films. So much so, that the latest plagiarism is from the films that (unfortunately) didn’t make it to the screens/streaming platforms because of disputes or rights issues, e.g. Meshampur, directed by Kabir Singh Chowdhry, and Jodi, both films on the life of the Panjabi singing legend Chamkila and by the same name. The latest Chamkila is essayed by present singing sensation Diljit Dosanjh who incidentally headlined Jodi as well. It gets worse when the latest version of the slain sensation’s biography on Netflix, also tampers with facts as is being alleged by Amar Singh Chamkila’s manager and first wife, both who still happen to be alive.

So, plagiarism in Bollywood makes a story that needs to be told. Don’t believe us? Here’s a quick peep into some of the masterpieces, across decades, will provide ample proof.

Forget Ashok Kumar’s “Mr. X” lifted from “The Invincible Man” of the 50s, the recent decades have witnessed a tsunami of this rampant disease. There were no ifs and buts in Vikram Bhatt’s “Fareb”, a salute to “An Unlawful Entry”. Suitably charged by seeing the Kazan-Brando classic “On the Waterfront”, Bhatt hit the ‘inspired’ mode, one more time, with his version, “Ghulam”. His subsequent film “Kasoor” borrowed heavily from “Jagged Edge”.

Bright and sharp Tanuja Chandra too must plead guilty in this area. Both her early films, “Dushman” and “Sanghursh” were compliments to “Eye for Eye” and “Silence of the Lambs” respectively. Even the gifted Mansoor Khan’s Akele Hum...had “Kramer v/s Kramer” written all over and wasn’t Josh a Bollywood version of the fantastic “Westside Story”?

Hey c’mon, you really can’t ace the ultimate romantic Grant-Bergman “An Affair to Remember”, right? Wrong. Genius Dharmesh Darshan threw his hat in the ring with Mann! Wonder what went through talented Rahul Rawail’s (Arjun, Dacait) mind when he did a syrupy version of “Parent Trap” with “Kuch Meethi, Kuch Khatti”? Even Kajol’s bravura performance couldn’t un-peel it off the ceiling!

“Fatal Attraction” of course attracted several versions. “Pyar tune kya kiya” was only one. Same with “Sleeping with the Enemy”. Except “Agni Sakshi”, alas, none woke up. Other examples include “Tera Jadu chal gaya” (Picture Perfect), “Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega” (Wedding Singer), “Kahin Pyar Na Ho Jaye” (While you were sleeping), “Murder” (Unfaithful), “Raaz” (What Lies Beneath), “Sauda” (Indecent Proposal), “Sarkar” (Godfather),
“Baazigar” (A Kiss before Dying), “Aitraz” (Disclosure), “Mere Yaar ki Shaadi hai” (My Best Friend’s Wedding), even the much-touted “Black” was alleged to be an Indian version of “White Nights” made in three versions by Visconti as “Le Notte Blanche”! There are a zillion more.

Is nothing sacred? “No, nothing!” As the great Billy Wilder once famously said: “If you are looking for art, go buy yourself a Picasso. If it’s entertainment, come over this side!” That was the irrepressible Mahesh Bhatt, who goes on to elaborate: “Let’s get real. Movies, of the mass appeal kind, are not about originality and creativity. They are about entertainment. The art of engaging a distracted and promiscuous new-age viewer to focus on content that keeps him hooked to the screen in a simple, uncomplicated, non-intellectual, feel-good manner is the real task. Films don’t run or bomb due to originality or plagiarism. My film “Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahin” was indeed taken from the Raj Kapoor-Nargis classic “Chori-Chori” and the original Hollywood masterpiece “It Happened One Night”, but we gave it a fresh, new and lovely spin, which made it a super hit. Get one thing straight: Brand loyalty is dead and today’s audiences are into instant gratification. Grabbing audience attention in these times when tons of alternatives prevail is the biggest challenge. Movies are a consumer perishable – Buy. Consume. Chuck. No one gives a crap about plagiarism, copy, imitation, immortality, etc. They are looking for solid, diverting entertainment...and may the best man win.”

Coming from the maker of Arth, Saransh, Daddy and Zakhm, these words could surprise his die-hard fans, but taken in context, Bhatt has a point. The ‘aam junta’ is really not too fussy, selective or even knowledgeable about copied content and will only throw-up if it’s a total lift and badly executed. Fortunately, in recent times, due to tough infringement laws or new filmmakers bursting on the screen, this disease seems to have considerably lessened.

While there will always be the bozos looking for shorthand and cut-paste jobs, a whole new crop of (successful) films like “Andhadhun”, “Badhai Ho”, “Badla”, “Manmarzian”, “Raazi”, “Article 15”, “Mulk”, “Section 375”, “Dreamgirl”, “Bala”, have proved that chori need not be your kaam and good, original content, smartly made and pitched to an eager audience, will come through.

So, Chori Chori Chupke Chupke is pirating, lifting, jhadoing bye-bye? Not quite, insists the local hawk-eye while pointing to the hordes of Southern remakes, after the sensational success of Kabir Singh, that have blitzed the screen in the last few years. So, guys, Chor-eo-graphy – in the avatar of remakes – is alive and kicking, thank you!

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