Inspired Plagiarism

Updated: May 19 2003, 05:30am hrs
Bollywoods most famous and successful producers have shamelessly plagiarised successful Hollywood movies and western television shows over the years. The brazen recent lifts such as Kaante (Reservoir Dogs), Raaz (What Lies Beneath), Deewangee (Primal Fear) or Karishma, the most expensive Indian soap opera, exemplify this malaise. But dont call it plagiarism; they prefer to call it inspiration. It means that the finer nuances of characterisation and story make way for theatrical dialogue and a dozen song-and-dance routines. Week after week, Indian film reviewers and critics have lamented about widespread plagiarism, but it made no difference. Hollywood was much too far away and no sensible lawyer would advise clients to fight a slow and expensive battle in faraway India. But one Yorkshire woman seems determined to change all that. Barbara Taylor Bradford, Britains richest author who has now moved the Supreme Court against Karishma, a lavishly mounted, 260-episode soap, is determined to make Sahara TV pay for what she calls intellectual rape.

Karishma, she charges, is an unauthorised adaptation of her highly successful trilogy, A Woman of Substance, which sold 24 million copies, spawned two sequels and was turned into a successful television serial and the adaptation rights could fetch her at least another million dollars. Will the Supreme Court force the Indian film and television industry to start respecting intellectual property rights More importantly, Bollywood today is demanding that it be treated like any successful sunrise industry (no matter the scarcity of hits last year) and get access to bank finance and tax concessions. If Indian cinema wants to be taken seriously by discerning international audiences, it will not only have to drop its shady sources of funding, but also learn to produce original work. Indian cinema and television has undoubtedly large appeal. Its audience extends from countries in the Far East, all the way to the Gulf and beyond to ethnic Indian audiences in London and America. In fact, many Bollywood movies, which failed miserably in India, broke even because of the sale of overseas distribution rights. The same goes for Indian film music. While there is certainly a lot of originality and music composers such as A R Rahman have gained international recognition, plagiarism is also rampant. Ms Bradfords action may be the beginning of a trend, and the next lawsuit against plagiarism may be filed abroad. Were this to happen, the cost of litigation and adapting rights could frighten off organised lenders and push the industry back into the clutches of shady financiers. If Indias entertainment industry wants to realise its immense potential, it better clean up its act without waiting for a court order.