Debate on whether recent films have drawn upon earlier films or lifted scenes

Kollywood is going global. No, Tamil films are not finding new audiences in other countries. Many of them are actually mere copies of critically acclaimed and successful films in English and other foreign languages.

A few Tamil films made in recent years, including ‘Deiva Thirumagal' that won rave reviews, clearly draw upon films made earlier.

If it is Sean Penn-starrer ‘I am Sam' that inspired director Vijay who made ‘Deiva Thirumagal', ‘Nandalala' that was celebrated by critics borrows heavily from the Japanese film ‘Kikujiro'. A.R. Murugadoss' ‘Ghajini', which was a box office hit, uses an idea central to the film ‘Memento'.

In ‘Deiva Thirumagal', certain scenes have been directly lifted out of ‘I am Sam' – for instance, the one in which the little girl, her father and his friends cross the road holding balloons, after buying shoes for the girl.

Director of the film Vijay, however, says that while Vikram's character was inspired by Penn's in ‘I am Sam', everything from the body language and attitude to the way he speaks is different. “In the credits I could have said that the inspiration for the character came from ‘I am Sam', but my audience will then come with a fixed mindset. I did not want that,” he says.

On the balloons scene, he says, “That is the only scene I used from ‘I am Sam'. I thought it conveyed human values beautifully. It showed how persons with mental retardation can be wonderful, loving human beings.”

G. Dhananjayan, chief of south film business, UTV Motion Pictures which produced ‘Deiva Thirumagal' says it is a case of the director being impressed by a character or story and adapting the storyline to the Tamil audience. Film makers have to be inspired by things they read, listen to, or see. “In this film, the screenplay is completely different, and relates to Tamil sensitivities. It actually brings a world classic to Indian cinema. As long as it is not a scene by scene rip-off, there is nothing wrong.”

Inspiration vs copying

K. Hariharan, director, LV Prasad Film & TV Academy, says filmmakers he interacts with often brush aside his accusations of plagiarism with responses such as “Why, don't writers get inspired by other writers?”

To be inspired is one thing. When Satyajit Ray made ‘Pather Panchali', he is said to have acknowledged the inspiration he got from the neorealist ‘Bicycle Thieves'. “It is unethical to copy visuals. How do cinematographers agree to create the exact effect created by another technician? ” Mr. Hariharan asks.

Cinematographer P. C. Sreeram says when directors ask technicians working with them to reproduce the effect shown in another film, it is an insult. “Every time a director shows me a scene from someone else's work and asks for something similar, I refuse. That anger, in fact, often makes me want to come up with my own frame immediately.”

Indian cinema has seen the remake or actual copy of several Hollywood films for years. Industry sources point to many reasons that discourage the practice of crediting sources. Procuring rights for Hollywood films would be as expensive as making a film. Also, directors are hesitant to get into the legal issues with regard to copyrights.

“Earlier, not many viewers would know, but now, anyone can find out,” says a film-maker and cinematographer.

Viewers do not take it very well, either. “Today, whether one is a film buff or not, there is a lot of opportunity to watch films from all over the world. There is more access. If I do not see an acknowledgement in the credits, I am surely going to feel insulted as a viewer,” says Anantha Subramanian, a regular movie-goer.

However, not all sequences are directly lifted. Sometimes, a story could be tweaked to reflect local flavours, or maybe, a romantic duet is introduced.

The similarities between a film and its ‘parent' range from borrowing a particular idea to lifting whole scenes out of the original.

Director Murugadoss says after the success of ‘Ghajini' in Tamil, he decided to insert a short director's note in the Hindi version starring Aamir Khan.

“It said the idea of a short term memory loss, a condition suffered by the protagonist in the film came from the film ‘Memento'. We said that extensive research was taken up on the condition and that we interviewed several experienced medical professionals,” he says.

The director says that after completing a script, he usually sees if the same subject has been dealt with in any other film. “In fact, the basic idea of Ghajini was finalised well before I even saw ‘Memento'. I borrowed just that one idea on the medical condition. The rest of the story is completely different,” he says.

However, since the idea came from another film, he thought it was important to credit the film.

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