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Smooth take-offs

COMIC CAPER Jaspal Bhatti is a past master at spoofs

COMIC CAPER Jaspal Bhatti is a past master at spoofs  

What would life be without cheeky parodies? Remember all those cola wars that inspired such great lines?

Call it plagiarism. Call it parody. Any number of p-words fail to explain why ideas that are take-offs on other ideas prove to be more successful than the originals.

It's there all around us. A popular soft drink company spoofed every ad made by its rival and ridiculed celebrities who endorsed the cola in those ads. These spoofs were an instant hit and their tagline a national buzzword. Radio jingles that parody or replace the lyrics of a popular song while retaining the tune are cult classics. A current serial specialises in parodying other popular serials being aired on TV.

Creativity, as we know, is all about innovation and originality. So how do you define something that subverts an existing thought and is nevertheless original? Perhaps, it is safe to call it "para-creativity." The art of being originally unoriginal.

The para-creative has today clearly become a genre in itself in films. Hollywood has, for years now, seen a fair deal of success in making films that are parodies of other great films. For instance, take the Scary Movie series (a parody of just about every hit horror film), or Leslie Nielsen's Mafia (a parody of The Godfather series) and the countless parodies of Bond films such as the Austin Powers series and Johnny English . In India, veteran comedian Jaspal Bhatti is among those who brought parody popular recognition.

As always, there are some because of whose antics para-creativity in art has not been recognised. These include those Indian music directors who lift tunes composed by others and call it "inspiration".

More genuine and worthy exponents of para-creativity were the masters of yesteryear. Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator is a surprisingly exact spoof on Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Shakespeare is alive more in his quotes other writers have paraphrased, than in all his work put together.

The magic of para-creativity stems from its ability to inspire these creative elements in the most reluctant of people. Para-creativity also makes things easily understandable to the common man. Is it any surprise that devotional songs nowadays are sung to the tunes of Hindi chartbusters?

Para-creativity is sometimes a product of rivalry. And success can come from touting yourself to be everything that your rival is not. Some years ago, during the cricket World Cup, when a cola major won the official sponsorship rights to the world cup, its rival launched a campaign saying, "Nothing official about it." A prominent photo film company did the same to its rival which had won the official sponsorship rights for the Atlanta Olympics. This gave rise to a new term in marketing — ambush marketing", a method of campaign that showcases the exact opposite what the rival's campaign promotes.

One well-known instance of para-creativity has to do with the comic character, Asterix. The real official motto of the Roman Empire was SPQR (senatus populus que romanum- Latin for "belonging to people and senate of Rome"). But, according to an old Italian joke, SPQR should actually be read as Sono pazzi questi Romani which means, "These Romans are crazy". And that's what gave the creators of Asterix his "punch"-line.

Call it what you will, but para-creativity is here to stay. It inspires humour. It makes you appreciate irony.

By building on others' original ideas, it may seem parasitic, but it takes a lot of grey cells to be para-creative. It's a whole world of science waiting to be studied (and parodied, perhaps!).

Raja Karthikeya

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