Saturday, October 8, 2011

Malayalam Cinema & Plagiarism

While surfing, I came across a list of plagiarized Malayalam movies at IMDb. That gave me the idea for this post.

If you go through the movies on the IMDb list, you can see just from the synopsis of the movies that the malayalam movies are vastly diffferent from their sources of inpiration. In most cases, only the basic thread is the same. For example, Ramji Rao Speaking was supposedly plagiarized from the 1971 American TV movie, See The Man Run. The synopsis for See The Man Run reads like this:
When some guys kidnap a man's daughter, they call to make their ransom demand but the number they got was an old one and that's been reassigned to another man. When he tries to call the girl's father, they freak out before he could explain. That's when he decides to pretend to be the kidnapper and get the ransom money from the father and keep part of it for himself.
Anyone who has watched Ramji Rao Speaking knows that this movie only inspired the sequences in the climax. The bulk of Ramji Rao has no resemblance to the American version.

Similarly, in the case of Udayananu Tharam, the claim is that it's based on Bowfinger, an Eddie Murphy/Steve Martin comedy. Here's the synopsis for Bowfinger:
When a desperate movie producer fails to get a major star for his bargain basement film, he decides to shoot the film secretly around him.
Again, you can see that only the climax of Udayananu Tharam was inspired by Bowfinger.

In both cases (Ramji Rao and Udayan), the climaxes were not direct copies of Hollywood movies, just "inspired by". If that is wrong, then the standard for plagiarism is indeed severely high.

Some might say that copying is okay, as long as the filmmakers credit their sources. There are several reasons why this is not practical. For one, cinema is a combination of several art forms, and as such the sources of inpiration could be many. The background score, the melodies, sound effects, shots, costume design, stunts, actors' mannerisms could all be "plagiarized". Is it really practical or necessary to credit all of these? Another reason why this is not practical is that Malayalam is a small industry. One can easily imagine that the producers cannot afford to pay Hollywood for copyrights.

Hollywood itself is notorious for remakes. But nobody faults them for it, because they are wealthy and can afford to pay for copyrights. Why should remakes be the right of wealthy film industries only?

By crucifying our filmmakers for plagiarism, aren't we holding them up to a standard that's impossible to meet? We also have to wonder what the intentions are of those who call out our fimmakers for plagiarism. Are they interested in stopping plagiarism in malayalam cinema, or is it really about showing off their knowledge of world cinema? I think it's the latter. What do you think?

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