Indian filmmakers give their side of story

Helmers defend H'wood imitations

NEW DELHI — Bollywood has gone on the defensive after taking a severe pounding in the international media for blatantly plagiarizing themes from Hollywood films.

Big-budget upcoming release “Kaante” is catching most of the flak for its supposed cribbing of “Reservoir Dogs,” and scores of other movie and TV show ideas have been pilfered from Hollywood.

“Deewana” appears to be based on “The Whole Nine Yards,” “Humraaz” is a Hindi version of “A Perfect Murder” and “Mere yaar ki shaadi hai” closely resembles “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” The list goes on — for “Shakti,” check out “Not Without My Daughter”; for “Raaz,” see “What Lies Beneath.”

Some Indian filmmakers have joined the chorus of demands that Bollywood’s blatant thievery come to a halt.

“The talented director is one who can adapt a Hollywood film video into a successful Hindi movie,” said director Kundan Shah, mockingly. “We imbibe ideas from one of the most crass commercial places in the world. Hollywood has no poetry left in it, and yet we in India have made Hollywood our god.”

In the past, producers and directors could get away with pilfering ideas because local auds didn’t have access to Hollywood titles. But in the age of satellite TV, Indians see Hollywood fare on the box that is identical to much of what they see on the bigscreen.

Some of the ripoffs are just nonsensical. For instance, points out one industry analyst, when “Meet John Doe” was turned into “Main ad hon,” Indian star Amtabh Bachchan had to wear a heavy overcoat while walking the streets of sweltering hot Bombay — to emulate the homeless man in freezing New York.

Cultural divide

But some in Bollywood have their own philosophy when it comes to respecting — or disrespecting — copyright. “It’s only entertainment, for heaven’s sake, not some high art form to be worshipped with incense and hymns,” said filmmaker Mahesh Batt.

“Films are not about creativity, originality or vision. They’re about entertaining audiences across the board,” said filmmaker Vikram Bhatt, who is tired of having to defend his alleged cloning of “What Lies Beneath” in “Raaz.” “Once you understand and accept that an idea always existed before you did, then you look at the whole aspect of ‘copying’ in a different light.

“The Indian entertainment industry does copy ideas and themes from other sources — a Hollywood blockbuster or a Pakistani artiste’s tune. The chief reason for this plagiarism is that there aren’t too many good original scripts around. There is a dearth of good writers in the industry because, unlike Hollywood, the system doesn’t invest in writers.”

Copying Hollywood, he adds, is merely an extension of what is happening in other aspects of Indian culture. “We want (the Americans’) films, cars, planes and their Diet Coke, too,” said Bhatt. “The American way of life is creeping into our culture.”

Another analyst pointed out that Hollywood is not above lifting ideas — the original idea for “Reservoir Dogs” comes from Hong Kong director Ringo Lam’s “City on Fire.”

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