Maliha Momtaz Oishi
1. the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.
Growing up, most of my time was best spent in front of the TV with channels like Zee Cinema, Star Movies, Zoom, 9xM and MTV running 24/7. Quite naturally, Bollywood grew pretty close to my heart, I was busting out choreographies left and right, and aspired to be the heroine in every rom-com I came across—so imagine my peril when I learnt that most of the movies I knew and loved that comprised most of my childhood were ripped-off right down to the T. It’s like when I found out that the celebrity I idolised all along turned out to be racist- okay, maybe not equally as bad but betrayal stings all the same.
Bollywood is one of the biggest film industries in the world, ranking second right after Hollywood, and THE biggest when it comes to the number of films made annually—with 1813 feature films produced as of 2018. It’s known for its formulaic flair for the dramatic—with physics defying action, macho-catchphrases, people randomly breaking out into song while dancing in perfect sync and a thick layer of Adobe Premiere Pro filters—it has managed to enthrall a huge audience and racked up profits in the billions. Unfortunately though, plagiarism is a crucial ingredient in Bollywood’s recipe for success. Sure, maybe you’re a director and you saw a particular scene in a movie that resonated with you and gave you the idea to create something alike.
However, there is a distinct line between inspiration and plagiarism and they have taken that line, smeared it with dirt and bulldozed over it—I’m talking about filmmakers copying every single plot detail, starting with the script and dialogue up to the cinematography and story.
Titles which readers are well acquainted with, such as Munna Bhai MBBS—copied from a Hollywood movie – Patch Adams (2006), starring Robin Williams (Sanjay Dutt in MBBS) where a medical intern detested the regular methods of treating patients at his hospital and used humour instead to treat his own, and while the authorities disliked his approach—he gained the love of everyone around him. Don’t do my man Robin Williams wrong like that.
Partner: Follows the exact storyline as the 2005 film Hitch, starring Will smith (mirrored by Salman Khan) and Kevin James (mirrored by Govinda)—where dating coach Alex “Hitch” Hitchens mentors a bumbling client, Albert, who hopes to win the heart of the love of his life. Come on guys, add a little bit of originality to it, would you?
Bang Bang! : A remake of Knight and Day (2010) where June Havens (played by Cameron Diaz/Katrina Kaif) meets Roy Miller (Tom Cruise/Hrittik Roshan), a lethal operative, in an unlikely encounter, and gets entangled in his adventures. She falls in love with him and has to figure out if he is a traitor or a good guy. Although, I am guilty of listening to some of the movie soundtracks. Who knows, maybe they ripped that off too.
…and many more like Players/ The Italian Job, Baazigar/A Kiss Before Dying, Zinda/Oldboy, Main Khiladi Tu Anaari/The Hard Way, Mohabbatein/Dead Poet’s Society, and all those classics that you keep raving about? Plagiarism.
It doesn’t just end there, even the zesty musicals that Bollywood is infamous for are corrupt, with composers such as Anu Malik taking others’ work and passing it off as their own. Tracks such as Bhool Bhulaiya (Title Track)/ JTL – My Lecon, “Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhen” – (Baazigar)/ “The Man who plays the Mandolino” – Dean Martin and this one’s my favourite, Pehli Nazar Mein (Race)/ Sarang Hae Yo – Kim Hyung Sup (you’d better believe me when I say it’s amusing to see rabid fanboys swoon over Atif Aslam while simultaneously mocking Korean music, checkmate losers)
All of this begs the question: Why? Because it sells. As director Mahesh Bhatt puts it, “Let’s get real. Movies of the mass appeal kind are not about originality and creativity. They are about entertainment. Movies are 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.”
Sure enough, he lives down to his statements with cheap imitations of Ghost, Cat People, Taxi Driver, It Happened One Night, Houseboat under his belt.
Directors remake films that are already blockbusters to stay on the safe side and the audience turns a blind eye to it—they’re just happy to see a good plot wrapped in a familiar package. Sometimes, they’ll target niche, indie, foreign language films and put their own boy-meets-girl spin on it and pass it off as their own because if you prey on smaller, easier targets, they won’t be able to hit you with lawsuit.
Another reason why plagiarism is so huge in Bollywood is the post-colonial hangover, as a friend pointed out to me. It’s not that Indian filmmakers specifically lack creativity or talent—it’s just that our subcontinent has been led to believe by our colonisers that Westernisation is panacea for all things wrong, that we’re afraid to integrate our own roots into new creations- this is even more ostensible in the promotion of Eurocentric beauty standards or unnecessary insertion of random bits of English into Bollywood movies, but that’s a whole different topic of conversation.
But how has Bollywood gotten away with plagiarism for prolonged periods of time? Do the original filmmakers never stop to think that “Hey, they’re making money off of our stuff, maybe we should like, do something about it?”. Our first thought may be that Hollywood has bigger fish to fry, but that’s not exactly true is it? That might have been the case till the 2000s but currently Bollywood is almost as big as Hollywood, if not just as big. In previous eras, the laws in India were lax regarding copyright infringement—and if lawsuits were filed it would take ages for courts to even look them over. In 2007, Sony and Overbrook Entertainment filed a 30 million dollar lawsuit against the producers of Partner—talks of it soon faded afterwards because of the broken legal system. Today, those laws have been strengthened due to the West merging their market with India’s, which has caused filmmakers opting to buy the rights for the original movie and making official remakes- but it’s still not enough to dissuade plagiarism completely.
Plagiarism to this degree is tarnishing Bollywood’s reputation internationally, a prime example being the critically acclaimed film Barfi!, which was such a hit that it was sent to the Oscars only for people to find out it contained several scenes “inspired” from other Hollywood movies. What’s worse is that director Anurag Basu didn’t even have the decency to credit the original sources, causing a huge controversy surrounding Barfi!. After all, Bollywood is an industry driven by profit- caught up in a vicious cycle of consumerism and commercialism.
So plagiarism isn’t something that’s going to stop anytime soon. It’s disappointing to see that most of the Bollywood movies that are considered staples by many are mired in plagiarism. Not only does it reduce Bollywood’s legitimacy as a film industry—it pays zero respect to the movies it keeps making duplicates of, that too in poor taste.
Just in case you wanted to cleanse your eyes of all the counterfeit that you’ve been exposed to, some of my personal favourites are Andhadhun, Article 15, Zindegi Na Milegi Dobara, Piku, Vicky Donor and 3 Idiots. Otherwise, the big screens await you!
Maliha binge watches bad reality TV when she’s not busy laughing at men’s rights activists.