In the spirit of a certain screenplay I’m attempting to write I couldn’t help but ponder over the Indian obsession with plagiarism. Except it’s really not plagiarism you see. The word means nothing in the Indian context. While the music industry slyly smirks and says ‘inspiration’ the film industry stands on the road scratches its balls and says ‘Original’. Take for instance the recently released ‘Naqaab’. A free ticket and amiable company made me quite ready to tolerate any crap thrown my way. Imagine my surprise then when I came out of the theatre feeling slightly paisa vasool. While my friend and I kept looking at each other at every turn when the film surprised us with its ingenuity, we marveled at what we thought was Indian cinemas first ever attempt at a convincing O’Henry. Imagine our disappointment then when the next days paper carry’s a story on how Naqaab is a frame by frame rip off of Gael Garcia Bernal’s cult film ‘Dot the I’. Infact, just look at this month’s movie list – Partner (Hitch), Hey Baby (Three men & a Baby) and CASH (Oceans Eleven).
At a play last week, one that I had wanted to watch for years – Makarand Deshpande’s ‘Saa hi Besuraa’, I walked in expecting magic. Though the play was in most senses of the word original, you couldn’t help but realize that you’d seen pretty much everything that was ensuing on stage. And for a play that had absolutely no coherence and simply carried through by sheer acting brilliance, I was entertained, but begrudgingly.
Even my own screenplay makes me stand in a corner and look at it suspiciously. I’m so sure that everything I’ve written has happened somewhere else. That someone somewhere has already said the words that are coming out of my poor protagonists mouth! The film company that my firm has started is looking at doing remakes, or Indian adaptations of cult films like Starsky and Hutch and a screen adaptation of a famous Indian play. While they are good ideas for entertaining films, I can’t help but wonder why a country as large and diverse as ours can’t seem to come up with anything remotely original. Or isn’t brave enough to attempt anything deviant. And even when we do, like say the just released ‘Bow Barracks forever’ – a startlingly real, familiar and original story, they fuck up in the filmmaking process and have a loose, tacky, badly edited excuse for a film.
I know hundreds of young people who are bright and enthusiastic and who walk around with 150 pages of bound script and narrate their stories with such passion and energy. But if you look closely, all the stories are simply rehashes of their favorite films. While one script has set Apocalyse Now in Sri Lanka’s 1987 Jaffna disaster, another has set Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind in elite South Mumbai. Why even our much prided Oscar entry ‘Rang De Basanti’ was scripted with the dear director watching every frame of Albanian cult classic ‘Ararat’.
I don’t really remember the last truly original film I saw. Maybe Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisi or Mr & Mrs Iyer - films that critics lauded but that bombed at the box office. Can Indian cinema ever successfully churn out authentic Indian stories that are intelligent, thought provoking and yet entertaining? Can the gaudy randyness of item numbers and pervy comic relief side tracks finally give way to sensual erotica and subtle satire that is not only comprehended but appreciated? Will Indian audiences ever be open to the age of the dysfunctional family satire that the rest of the world thrives on? Will the Indian subcontinent be confident enough in itself to get as self deprecating and facetious as its former invaders and colonizers? And can we atleast learn from the Americans not to take our political system so seriously. While a nationally defaming and politically controversial documentary (SICKO) has been welcomed with open arms there, a film that even suggested the more humane side to the father of the nation is in the process of being banned here. Tsk tsk.
(P.S - all views are subject to my limited parochial opinion)