With Badla, Bollywood filmmakers seem to have come a long way from blatantly plagiarising foreign classics

Abhishek Srivastava

Mar 12, 2019 08:52:25 IST

Plagiarism was once the norm in Bollywood. Not anymore. As Badla, Sujoy Ghosh’s latest, film co-produced by SRK-owned Red Chillies Entertainment proves, buying the official rights for remakes is now the trend. Starring Taapsee Pannu and Amitabh Bachchan, Badla is a Hindi remake of the Spanish film, Contratiempo or The Invisible Guest. With upcoming films like Ali Abbas Zafar’s Bharat, Mukesh Chhabra’s Dil Bechara, Tarun Mansukhani’s Drive and the official remake of the Sylvester Stallone's Rambo only goes, it only goes to show that procuring rights is now standard. There is no escaping, even if the source is concealed, because of the hawkish eyes of the internet and mushrooming of platforms, which expose us to a myriad of content from across the world.

With Badla, Bollywood filmmakers seem to have come a long way from blatantly plagiarising foreign classics

Taapsee Pannu in a still from Badla. Image via Twitter

The journey to legally purchasing rights for a remake has evolved from being a process replete with legal hiccups. Until recently, borrowing liberally from creative giants and using their content in your own films was common. For instance, Barfi, one of Ranbir Kapoor’s finest performances, has entire scenes and sequences lifted from Charlie Chaplin’s classics and from the French masterpiece, Amelie. Director Anurag Basu didn’t mention these films in his credit roll or even acknowledge their influence. It was only when a critical section of the media pointed the similarities out that Basu called these scenes his ‘personal tribute’. So liberal embellishment is still an improvised art form for some in Hindi cinema. However, given the increased scrutiny and a virtually connected globe, plagiarism is becoming difficult.

Even in the bygone era, super hits like Raj Kapoor’s Chori Chori, Kohra, Gumnaam were freely copied from other sources, but it was only much later that the original source was revealed. The original source was credited by none of the filmmakers. In the 1960s and 1970s too, plagiarism ran as a common trait in Hindi cinema. Not many who tend to swoon over R D Burman’s genius realise that a chunk of the music director’s work is copied note by note from Russian classics, including Red Army anthems. Burman, unlike his father Sachin Dev Burman, refined the art of ‘adapting’ European folk songs and local music to his tunes and never crediting the originals. This tradition was finally carried forward by Bappi Lahiri and Pritam Chakraborty till both got called out by an irreverent section of listeners. Films like Ghulam, NH 10, Black, Ghajini, Hum Tum, though mighty celebrated, were direct adaptations of Hollywood classics like On The Waterfront, Eden Lake, The Miracle Worker, Memento and When Harry Met Sally, respectively. The common thread that links all is that no credit was given to the film on which they were based. This was done at a time when access to western cinema was extremely limited. So no one knew or found out.

However, the brazenness of copying films from cult Hollywood hits was converted into an art form of sorts in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, when a crop of fake swagger filmmakers entered the fray. Sanjay Gupta leads this brigade, with his mediocre adaptations of Reservoir Dogs (Kaante), Musafir (U-Turn) and the Korean super hit Old Boy (Zinda). Gupta would go to the extent of feigning ignorance while hiding his copies. Following his footsteps was Mohit Suri, a wonder kid of from the infamous Bhatt camp, with his Zeher (Out of Time), Awarapan (A Bittersweet Life), Ek Villain (I Saw The Devil) and Murder 2 (The Chaser). To these filmmakers, acknowledging their direct photocopying skills is not an option. For if sued in legal court, they would not just lose money, they could well be put behind bars. Actually, a lawsuit once brought a 1 crore-sized reality check when music composer Ram Sampath took Rakesh Roshan to court over a song for the film Crazy Four. The song was directly lifted from his composition and when he asked to be compensated, the Roshans flat out denied him payment. He took them to court and basically, followed it up by taking them to the cleaners. The film tanked and he got his paycheque doubled. Filmmaker David Dhawan too got into legal trouble during the release of Partner when Sony Pictures charged Sohail Khan, the producer, for copying the idea of their film from their 2005 release Hitch.

In the current era, credit must be given to Karan Johar for starting the trend. It was Karan Johar who intended to procure the rights to Stepmom initially, but since it was not meant to be, he had to co-produce We Are Family with Sony Pictures. Later, Fox and Vishesh Films followed suit with City Lights for which the rights to Metro Manila were procured through legal channels.

However, in recent years, as streaming and cable has brought access to global cinema in India, copying isn't a cakewalk. For instance, Hichki, starring Rani Mukherji, was made from the Hallmark film, Front of the Class. Initially, the film’s promotions didn’t credit the original, or didn’t mention it at all. But a couple of online news reports compelled them to stand up and admit to having bought official remake rights to the original. Similarly, Oculus was remade by Prawaal Raman as Dobaara – See Your Evil. Though aberrations in the form of Newton (which is said to be a copy of Iranian film Secret Ballot) still remain, but by and large, most of the issues pertaining to remakes have been ironed out which could only be called a welcome change.

Updated Date: Mar 12, 2019 08:58:50 IST

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