Bollywood’s borrowed shine:
Gajendra Chauhan, better known as the actor who played the role of Yudhishthir in the Mahabharat serial, is in the eye of a celluloid storm because he has been appointed chairperson of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune. The students of the institute feel that he does not have the credentials for this role. The government feels otherwise.
My personal view is that the students have a point. People of considerable cinematic eminence, such as Shyam Benegal, Mrinal Sen, Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Girish Karnad have helmed FTII. The institute, which was established in 1960, and has produced many artists who have contributed significantly to cinema, needs a more inspiring chairperson.
But that being as it may, there is a larger and fundamental question that Indian cinema must confront: What is the quality of output of the industry? Obviously, there are notable individual exceptions. But in general is India, which produces the world’s largest number of films, also at the forefront of global cinematic excellence? I am afraid the answer is an emphatic no.
In the area of culture, plagiarism is the most demeaning blemish. Unfortunately, this is the most pervasive malaise of our films. Innumerable websites give graphic details of this plagiaristic orgy, where so many of our films – many of them hits – are straight lifts of a foreign film’s story, music and screenplay!
Here are some random examples from Bollywood for readers to mull over: It’s alleged that Akele Hum Akele Tum is a copy of Kramer vs Kramer; Hey Baby is a copy of Three Men and a Baby; Dhamaal is a copy of Rat Race; Black is a copy of The Miracle Worker; Salaam Namaste is a copy of Nine Months; Kaante is a copy of Reservoir Dogs; Baazigar is a copy of A Kiss Before Dying; Phir Hera Pheri is a copy of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; Bunty and Babli is a copy of Bonnie and Clyde; Chachi 420 is a copy of Mrs Doubtfire; God Tussi Great Ho is a copy of Bruce Almighty; Murder is a copy of Unfaithful. The list can go on.
Apologists of this appalling lack of originality have actually the temerity to say that this is not plagiarism: The film is not a complete rip-off, and only the ‘look and feel’ of a film is ‘borrowed’. This is not true. As the examples quoted above indicate, the storyline is almost completely copied, and even entire scenes are simply lifted without the slightest qualm.
The same is the case in much of Bollywood’s film music. When i was in school, i remember being fond of a popular song, ‘Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badha’, composed by the music stalwart Salil Choudhary. Later, i discovered that it was a copy of Mozart’s Symphony No 40. In college i recall a popular composition by Shankar Jaikishen, ‘Kaun hai jo sapnon mein aaya’. But by then i knew it was a lift from Elvis Presley’s ‘Who makes my heart beat like thunder’.
More recently, Shantanu Moitra’s popular ‘Pal pal’ song from the 2007 hit Lage Raho Munnabhai comes from Cliff Richard’s ‘Theme for a Dream’; Bappi Lahiri’s ‘famous’ tune for the song ‘Hari Om Hari’ from ‘One Way Ticket’; ‘Jahaan teri yeh nazar hai’, the hit song of the Amitabh Bachchan film Kaalia, is clearly ‘inspired’ by the Persian song ‘Heleh Maali’ by Zia Atabay. Even R D Burman’s hugely popular number ‘Mehbooba, Mehbooba’ from Sholay is an almost complete copy of ‘Say you love me’ by Greek singer Demi Roussos.
On the converse side, have we ever thought how many of our films or film songs have been copied by Hollywood? I would imagine none, or very few. Why is this so?
There was a time when, over millennia, we were the yardsticks of originality and excellence, others emulated us. What has changed, and why do our films, by far the most popular artistic medium, mirror so much of this deterioration? Why is our annual international film festival at Goa such a lacklustre affair compared to Cannes, BAFTA and the Oscars? Why is the Golden Peacock that we offer of little value compared to the Oscar that our filmmakers so dearly aspire for?
There is no doubt that our film world – be it Mumbai or regional cinema – has some very talented people. It is true also that we do make some very good films, which are also commercially successful. But it is an irony that some of the bigwigs of commercial cinema, who have been critical of the appointment of Chauhan, are the very people who have achieved success by colluding with mimicry and the formulaic mediocrity of our cinema. Do they really have the right to be critical of him?
The truth is that Indian cinema, even as it grows must also introspect. Students are right in asking for a chairperson they can look up to. But they, and our film world as a whole, must also ask what kind of karmabhoomi will talented and trained graduates of FTII get when they leave Pune and join the real world of Indian films.
The writer, a former diplomat, represents JD(U) in Rajya Sabha