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Cloning Hollywood

Despite the occasional original script, most Hindi films borrow heavily from Hollywood flicks. KANCHANA BANERJEE wonders why.


CREATIVITY in Bollywood is in trouble. Creativity is currently all about hiding one's sources. Unfortunately, the sources aren't hidden any more.

Television has dealt a body blow to Hindi films by airing the Hollywood films that producers and directors in Bollywood snitch from. Thus bringing plagiarism into the open where, leave alone experienced film buffs, even school and college students can track down every Hindi film to at least three Hollywood films. And no, they aren't buying the fact that all similarities are purely coincidental.

What's even worse is that they aren't even buying tickets anymore. The industry's losses for the last year was over Rs 100 crore.

Despite the string of duds at the box office, there's a whole school of thought upholding remakes, that is encapsulated in Mahesh Bhatt's expostulation, "It's only entertainment, for God's sake, not some high art to be worshipped with incense sticks and hymns. Films aren't about creativity, originality or vision. They are about entertaining audiences across the board."

Followers of this school move about brazenly with Hollywood VCDs tucked under their arm and often go to actors saying that the introductory scene is ready and switch on the VCD player. Kalpana Lajmi, renowned director, says, "Sometimes the regurgitation is so literal that it's difficult to digest.

"Meet John Doe" was remade in Hindi as "Main Azad Hoon". Since the original was shot in the cold climes of the United States, John Doe wore an overcoat. The hero in the Indian film (Amitabh Bachchan) also had to sport an overcoat, while playing a homeless destitute on the streets of Mumbai!"

The justification for this school is that there aren't enough good writers in the industry and that Bollywood doesn't invest in good scriptwriters.

Vikram Bhatt, director of films like "Raaz" ("What Lies Beneath"), "Kasoor" ("Jagged Edge") and many others that have been attributed to Hollywood films, says, "I'll never forget what Mahesh Bhatt said. If you hide the source, you're a genius." He goes on quote the latter: "There's no such thing as originality in the creative sphere. Mozart copied tunes from his archrival Salieri; Martin Scorsese did a remake of J. Thompson Lee's `Cape Fear' and Spielberg's background score for `Raiders of the Lost Ark' is virtually copied from Tchaikovsky composition. When you begin creating a work, you look around for inspiration — a real life character, a sound, a tune or something that stirs you, something that you wish to replicate. If the Indian market begins to invest in writers, more people will see it as a career option and you'll have fresh ideas rolling in.

"Till that happens, I would rather trust the process of reverse engineering (remaking a film) rather than doing something indigenous. Financially, I would be more secure knowing that a particular piece of work has already done well at the box office. And why just slam the cine industry. Copying is endemic everywhere in India. Our TV shows are adaptations of American programmes. We want their films, their cars, their planes, their diet cokes and also their attitude. The American way of life is creeping into our culture."

The other school of thought has directors and producers appalled by this trend. Amol Palekar, Kalpana Lajmi and many more scorn the excuse that there aren't good scripts or good Indian writers.

Their point: "It's insecurity that drives people to plagiarism and not lack of material. We have a plethora of fascinating literature. It's only blind faith that makes people believe that Hollywood is the last word in filmmaking. We neither read our classics nor do we keep in touch with our literature.

"We see only what stares us in the face and i.e. Hollywood with its gloss and glamour. Lack of vision is the next lacuna. We have lost our vision and guts to experiment. We only want to see on big screen what we have seen in video. New ideas are risky experiments. So all those who can make original films are home without any work".

It's common for filmmakers to blame the audience and say that the latter decides on trends. That's not true at all. The audience loves anything that's good, honest and fresh. If they didn't, then movies like "Chandi Bar", "Astitva", "Lagaan" and few others wouldn't have run to packed houses.

So originality works. But Bollywood filmmakers who swear by Hollywood remakes are yet to learn that.

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