Apparently Sanjay Dutt was ‘raring to go’ the moment Mani Shankar narrated Knock Out’s script to him. One can understand his excitement for how often does an actor get a chance to play the exact same role that he saw on DVD a few moons ago! To say that Mani Shankar copied Joel Schumacher’s 202 thriller Phone Booth would be stating the obvious; not only was the heart of the film transplanted but it’s soul of Colin Farrell-Kiefer Sutherland thriller that has been callously plagiarized.
Plagiarism in popular Hindi cinema has been as common as the sunlight since forever. A few years ago when the Internet and cable television made the world a global village the industry started called it ‘remake’ or ‘inspiration’. Mani Shankar went to town claiming that there is nothing common between his Knock Out and Phone Booth but truth be told everyone in Mumbai knows that sending across DVDs to adapt as ‘reference’ is a common practice. For years now people in the industry are asked to cite a reference so as to enable the actor to better understand his or role in a short span of time, to make the producer understand what the script is all about and to force creativity on the rest of the crew.
There is nothing wrong in acknowledging the source and officially adapting a work of art. In fact, saying please and thanking finally got Martin Scorsese, perhaps the greatest living American director, the long deserved Academy nod. The Departed is a remake of the cult Hong Kong action flick Infernal Affairs but to say that The Departed is just a remake would be a gross understatement. For some years now the Hindi film industry has started paying licensing fee for a song or a story but it’s still a murky business.
Besides the loss of face and credibility, deliberate and unsolicited lifting of story tracks and in some case complete film including shots copied to the last frame speak volumes about the lack of not only originality and sincerity amongst the majority of Hindi filmmakers. We shouldn’t get fooled by the onslaught of media reports announcing the arrival of ‘Bollywood’ on the global scene with any seriousness for internationally a very few even take our cinema seriously. There has been a great increase in production qualities and producers don’t mind spending crores of rupees on a single song so why can’t they spend a few lakhs more and acquire the rights to legally remake a film?
Years ago I saw this wonderful film about police procedure called Inkaar, featuring Vinod Khanna and Amjad Khan. The moment I saw it I realized that it was too smart to be an ‘original’ film and thought it was based on some James Hadley Chase thriller. It still remains one of my favorite Hindi films (remember the famous Helen song ‘Mungda’) but now when I know it was ‘lifted’ from Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low it always leaves behind a bad taste in my mouth.
If India has to really become the so called super power of a nation that everyone believes it’s on its way to then respecting originality has to be one of the pillars. Bapppi Lahri who made a career of ripping songs actually sued and won a case against Dr. Dre for using his song Kaliyon Ka Chaman without his permission! But don’t try to expect the same justice in India for our Indian copyright laws are so archaic that people actually get away with blue murder.
Judge Roshan Dalvi watched both Knock Out and Phone Booth and not only ruled in favor of 20th Century Fox but stayed the release of Knock Out. The producers then approached a division bench and appealed against the ruling. The two member bench then stayed the previous ruling and allowed the film to be released once a fine of Rs. 1.5 crore was paid. Now instead of feeling bad or ashamed about what had happened the producer readily complied with the directive and also commented that the judgment was a ‘huge relief as it was literally a touch and go’ with the release just 12 hours away!
One wonders if Sohail Maklai, the producer of Knock Out, would have had the same reaction had the bench sternly warned the producer in writing or in spirit that such flagrant claims of originality are actually criminal for they ‘mislead’ the people and that it won’t be pardoned in the future.
The problem isn’t how the industry seems to get together and turn a blind eye towards such shameless acts. The real problem is that somewhere such actions suggest that no one respects originality anymore. Even Aamir Khan, a sudden custodian of the morality of copyright issues when it came to Chetan Bhagat’s problem with 3 Idiots, had no apprehensiveness when he stated that Ghajini (both Tamil and Hindi versions) were true ‘inspirations’ and not mere ‘lifts’ of Christopher Nolan’s Memento.
If one were to start making a list of Hindi films that were adaptations, remakes, copies, lifts, inspiration of some foreign film, the list wouldn’t end!
Ugly Aur Pagli