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Sisters under the skin? Chitra Divakaruni says Zindagi serial rips off her novel

The Pakistani serials on the Zindagi channel beamed by Zee Entertainment in India have largely had a good reception here.

“The progressive plots are not only creative but entertaining while providing a window to the nation’s progress and problems even while shattering many myths and misconceptions,” writes Arpana on Caravan Daily.

Given that Indian soaps are stuck in the shrieking saas-bahu format with “actors with pancaked make-up and over-the-top expressions, jarring camerawork, insufferable generation leaps and indefinite episodes” writes Priyanka Srivastava in India Today, the serials on Zindagi are “a welcome presence in Indian living rooms” bringing an old-world charm back to television.

 Sisters under the skin? Chitra Divakaruni says Zindagi serial rips off her novel

A screengrab from Mera Naseeb.

Shailja Kejriwal, head of special projects at Zee says that’s because “Pakistani shows famously narrate taut scripts by prolific authors” and Zee has “carefully picked up shows that hold a universal appeal to Indian audiences”.

Except some of these hand-picked shows by taut scripts might actually not be so Pakistani at all.

Samira Fazal has won a Best TV writer award for Mera Naseeb at the 2012 Lux Awards but Indian-American writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni says Mere Naseeb rips off her 1999 novel Sister of My Heart without acknowledgment let alone permission.

The Zindagi website describes Mera Naseeb thus:

Mera Naseeb is the story of Shazia and Nazia, both born on the same day and at the same time to two different mothers. They live together in a house dominated by women - Habiba, Sajida and Salima, who bring up the girls in their own quirky way...
Shazia and Nazia are inseparable, very true to the prediction made by an old Sufi Baba that their fates were entwined. Despite this close bond, Shazia and Nazia are poles apart as personalities...
Fate takes them on different courses as they get married. Will they find happiness in their respective lives?

That sounds very like Sister of My Heart which is about Anju and Sudha also born on the same day and grown up in a house dominated by women. The cousins are are very different when it comes to their personalities though they are bonded in ways even their mothers cannot comprehend.

Manish Goswami who owns the film rights to Sister of My Heart tells Mirror, “I almost fell off the chair when I saw Mera Naseeb.” He says he sensed it was the same story based on the promo but waited for a few episodes to air before taking action.

Zee has said it does not produce the content, merely gets it from Pakistan but Goswami is angry because he says “I should have been the first to tell the story on Indian television.”

What’s worse is if his project finally gets made, some viewer will probably think he is making an Indian adaptation of the Pakistani serial Mera Naseeb!

In a country where films routinely and with impunity lift stories from other films, Hollywood or Korean or a mish-mash of several films, and composers happily recycle tunes from other parts of the world without credit it’s hardly news that a serial might have gotten its “inspiration” from a well-known novel. But it highlights once again the cavalier attitude we have towards the creative efforts of others. If Mera Naseeb indeed copies from Sister of My Heart it’s doubly damning because it is a creative person co-opting another creative person’s labour.

It seems astonishing in this day and age that anyone can think they can get away with something like this. Even remakes of far more obscure subtitled Asian films are vulnerable to someone or the other spotting the similarities. At one time you could rely on the fact that if the film critic didn’t spot it, few would know about it. In today’s age of Internet and social media that is no longer true.

Even before the social media revolution plagiarism was always risky. Indrani Aikath-Gyaltsen was regarded as a very promising novelist and was championed by Khushwant Singh to whom she had mailed her novel chapter by chapter. But soon after her second novel Cranes Morning came out to fairly favourable reviews it became clear she had plagiarized the entire book from a largely forgotten 1956 English novel called The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goudge who could be considered the Danielle Steel of her time. But a librarian in New Hampshire read Cranes’ Morning and realized she had just transposed the setting from a Devonshire vicarage to an Indian village. Aikath-Gyaltsen committed suicide by consuming rat poison in 1994.

Sister of My Heart is not an old obscure book. It is a very popular book by a best-selling writer. Someone would have to be very naïve to think they could write something based on its storyline and get away with it. Of course, Mera Naseeb’s team has yet to issue its defence. The screenwriters had merely said it was an adaptation of a story provided to them and they had no idea if it was plagiarized or not.

A writer or a television company thinks they can get away with it because plagiarism especially from page to screen can be hard to prove. Stories, even authorized film versions, can be very different from the novel anyway. But most of all someone who plagiarizes thinks they can get away with it because they think the public busy downloading films on Torrent gives two hoots about intellectual copyright and a lonely author somewhere has little stomach for a protracted international court fight.

“I am deeply unhappy with this copyright infringement, and my representatives and the legitimate television rights holder are looking into this matter. I trust it will be resolved in a timely manner,” says Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

Zindagi at the minimum owes Divakaruni and viewers an explanation.

Divakaruni wrote a book about sisters of the heart. Now it seems her novel has an illegitimate sister on television. Imitation might be the best form of flattery but when someone’s labour of years is treated as common property by someone else as happens way too often in the industry, that’s a terrible violation plain and simple.

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Updated Date: Oct 03, 2014 14:49:44 IST