Karishma — Na!
With the Karishma case in the Supreme Court, and the film’s release held up,
the cat is out of the bag. Everyone knows it’s an old, old, flea-ridden cat.
Everyone knows also that it isn’t the only cat in the bag.
Allegedly plagiarized from Barbara Bradford’s A Woman of Substance,
is in the true line of succession of mainstream pseudo-Hindi cinema. As the
Bombay Times very correctly puts it, “Many Hindi film story lines are
straightforward (sic) copies of Hollywood originals” — Mere Yaar Ki Shadi
from My Best Friend’s Wedding, Kaante from Reservoir Dogs,
Raaz from What Lies Beneath and so on all the way back to the post-war era.
When the studio system died, much that was good in Hindi cinema died with
it. There was a total lack of any system. Chaos ruled. Pugree, made in the
late forties, was a frame-by-frame copy of It Happened on Fifth Avenue —
to the extent of transporting a poodle in the American original to the faded
Indian carbon copy. This writer exposed this unabashed plagiarism and was
threatened with a lawsuit by the film’s producer, P.N. Arora. But, as
everyone in the filmi duniya knew, it was an empty threat.
By an irony of the distribution process, Pugree was released in Bombay prior
to It Happened on Fifth Avenue. The joke then current was that the American
film was a copy of the Indian original! Anyway, the American producer wrote
a letter of thanks for my expose explaining his helplessness, for the
copyright law then was so loose that even if he had filed a suit and won,
the Indian producer would have been fined just Rs. 100!
Recently a young baby-faced director proved to be even cattier than his
veteran copycat colleagues. He made a film that was a copy of not one, but
two American films. It was amusing to watch this young director, in a Star
Talk interview, talk with a straight face of the travails he had undergone
“writing” his film’s story. The only travail he could possibly have
undergone was applying Indian cosmetics to an American face, sorry, two
American faces. So what if the face continues to look unIndian: we are only
The Indian film world is a make-believe world. The only problem is that the
make-believe off the screen is more effective and better accomplished than
the make-believe on it.
Bollywood’s creative base was, is and continues to be Hollywood. Mainstream
film-makers are so mesmerised by Hollywood gloss and glitter, that they
continue to ignore the rich treasure trove of true-to-life stories in Hindi
and our regional languages. The Film Finance Corporation in 1967 did try to
make up for this lapse by exploring this new avenue with surprisingly
rewarding results. But that is another story.
Our producers tend to adopt the cynical stance of Dean William R. Inge:
“What is originality? Undetected plagiarism,” or Mark Twain’s equally
cynical excuse: “Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew
that nobody had said it before him.”
No doubt borrowing story ideas and remaking them in different languages and
placing them in a variety of cultural contexts is a part of international
cinema. But as Rich Taylor of the Motion Picture Association of America puts
it, “There is a right way of going about it.”
The Supreme Court may show our film-makers the right way.