Not scintillating, but different

IN Media Practice | 06/08/2003
Not scintillating, but different

The story line of Karishma, The Miracle of Destiny, is not original but what is, is the entry of the blockbuster genre on TV.

Reprinted from the Statesman, August 1, 2003

Mannika Chopra

Watch out, its soap time folks. Or is it? This week I managed to catch Karishma, The Miracle of Destiny, Sahara Manoranjan`s magnum opus (Monday, 9.30 p.m.) starring eponymous actress, Karishma Kapoor. The series has had its share of run-ins thanks to the charges of plagiarism leveled on it by Barbara Taylor Bradford. The New York based author claimed the series had been plagiarized from her best selling soap novel, Woman of Substance. Of course the creative directors of Karishma claim otherwise and apparently so did the Calcutta High Court which removed the stay order and allowed Karishma to air on July 17, two months after its scheduled launch

To use the favourite catch phrase of editors of the old school, be that as it may, significantly one thing that Karishma, MoD is showing us is how television could be moving away from the small-time Ekta Kapoor type soaps where every woman wears saris from Ram Chandra Krishna Chandra regardless of caste, creed or colour, has deep orange hair and is smothered in make-up even if she gets up after eight hours of sleep.

K`s story line is not scintillating but compared to what is being dished out on primetime, it`s different. The action hovers around the life of Devyani and her rags to riches saga from ages 17 to 70. The episode I saw had Devyani staring fixedly at the camera whenever son Sameer makes unrequited demands on her wealth. Running as she does a host of Devyani named companies she indeed does have lot of moolah. But untold riches only ensure her a permanent spot in the Misfortune 500 list. The poor old rich thing. Someone is Out To Get Her.


Ever so often there is a flashback of Devyani being shot at. Those who want to tell her why she is being targeted also get bumped off. In between we get slices of her early history as a frolicsome, beautiful rural lass making sure that her sheep don`t go astray. Enter the dastardly zamindar who lusts after the innocence and beauty of Devyani.

The story line is not original but what is, is the entry of the blockbuster genre on TV. Karishma is essentially a Hindi film stretching across 220 episodes. It has stars like Karishma Kapoor, Sanjay Kapoor, Arbaz Khan, Tinu Anand and these are only the ones that I recognize. It`s has lavish sets and locales-New Zealand, chrome buildings, helicopter rides over mountain ranges, stunning costumes by Manish Malhotra, a musical score by Anu Malik, singers like Pankaj Udhas and Talat Aziz, dances by Saroj Khan and filmi scriptwriter Sachin Bhowmick. No wonder each episode reportedly took about Rs 30 lakh to make.

Using big stars in the small screen format is not new: Who can forget Amitabh Bachchan and KBK and Madhuri Dixit in the super flop Kahin Na Kahin Koi Hai, but these exposures were primarily in the talk arena and not fiction. Karishma`s scale is definitely a first and in that sense Karishma Kapoor becomes India`s TV`s first celebutante. Hearing the cash register ringing Sahara plans to air another star-spangled series---Sridevi in Humari Bahu Malini Iyer.

For fading cine-stars the arrival of these opportunities can only be full of advantages. With constant fame in movies being humanly impossible TV is proving to be the next, best thing. The spotlight is addictive. They have to continue to be famous; it`s their job. It`s what they do best. And the small screen is the perfect come back medium.So dear sofa spuds,  with the line between cinema and television blurring expect TV viewing to expand exponentially.  See Bachchan post-KBK and I rest my case.



Reprinted from the Hindu, July 7, 2003



Collectively the media`s memory is short, its attention span even shorter. When a blonde, 70-year-old, best-selling author flew into Kolkata earlier this year to sue Sahara TV for allegedly plagiarising her 1979 novel, she generated a wave of excited coverage. Plagiarism is old hat in the Hindi film world, but somebody from the West actually doing something about it was news. One newspaper called it "payback time for Bollywood`s accumulated sins of plagiarism", others had a field day dredging up names of Hindi films which had been "inspired" by sundry Hollywood productions.

An article by an Associated Press reporter appeared in a variety of American newspapers quoting people in the trade on the extent of plagiarism that exists. Author Barbara Taylor Bradford, it was generally acknowledged, had set the cat among the pigeons with her lawsuit. Bollywood would now get its comeuppance. Veteran writer-director Mahesh Bhatt however said the courts would find it difficult to pinpoint plagiarism. "When you take an idea and route it through the Indian heart, it changes entirely, You cannot pin a person down on an idea." Never mind the Indian heart, shrewd old Bhatt was closest to the mark. Though it merited barely an item in most newspapers, last week the interim stay granted on the telecast of the serial was vacated by the Calcutta High Court. Bradford took a laudable first step, but in the process she has raised a bigger issue, that of how much protection an author can expect to get under copyright laws in India.

But first a recap of the course this case has taken in its swift passage through Indian courts so far. On May 7 a single Last week, on June 30 the single judge of the Calcutta High Court gave his ruling: he allowed Sahara TV to telecast the serial from July 8th vacating the interim stay granted on May 7. However it directed the channel to furnish a security of Rs 25 lakh. The judge accepted Sahara TV`s plea that the "balance of convenience" in its favour for the channel had already filmed 80 episodes and received sponsorship worth Rs 11.31 crore for its telecast.

It is likely that since the matter was taken to court before the telecast of the serial began, the plaintiff would not have been able to satisfactorily prove plagiarism. The case was filed on the evidence provided by a taped interview recorded by a free lance journalist. In this the director of the serial had said he had been inspired (Indian film directors never copy, they are always inspired) by "A Woman of Substance" and had made leading lady Karisma read the original novel.

Though the courts acted swiftly in this case so far, actually approving copyright violation in India is not easy. Sahara TV may get away with it by making judicious changes to its script at this stage. There is a Supreme Court judgement, R.G. Anand Vs M/s Deluxe Films & Others (1978) which defines the scope of copyright protection. And it says, "In such a case the courts should determine whether or not the similarities are on fundamental or substantial aspects of the mode of expression adopted in the copyrighted work. If the defendant`s work is nothing but a literal imitation of the copy-right. In other words, in order to be actionable the copy must be a substantial and material one which at once leads to the conclusion

judge of the Calcutta High Court had passed an order restraining Sahara TV from telecasting the serial. After Sahara appealed a DIVision bench of the high court had on May 12 permitted the telecast. But Bradford immediately appealed to the Supreme Court and on May 14, this court restrained Sahara TV from telecasting the serial and stayed further proceedings in the suit filed by Bradford before the single judge and the DIVision bench of the Calcutta High Court.

On May 19, Sahara TV urged the Supreme Court to transfer the case to the single judge of the high court. On May 22 the Supreme Court directed the Calcutta High Court to hear plagiarism charges brought against the TV serial "Karishma-The Miracle of Destiny" and ruled that the ban on its telecast would continue. Judges Santosh Hegde and Shivraj Patil said a single judge of the Calcutta High Court who would hear the case should dispose it of as "expeditiously as possible".

Sahara`s contention has been that the telecast of the serial should be allowed as it had invested about Rs.60 crores in this production, the most expensive TV serial to date. It marks the debut of Karisma Kapoor on the small screen, and was slated to run for 260 episodes. Out of court Sahara folks have slyly suggested that it may not be a mere coincidence that Bradford is a Harper Collins author. The publishing house is owned by Rupert Murdoch who also owns Star TV. That suggests that in a post CAS scenario Star views Sahara as major free-to-air competition for the same advertising pie.that the defendant is guilty of an act of piracy."

The same judgement makes the point that when theme is the same but it is presented and treated differently so that the subsequent work becomes a completely new work, no question of violation of copyright arises. Thus Raaz is not an infringement of the copyright of the makers of What Lies Beneath because parts of it are substantially different

Even so, the battle has been joined. Increasingly, the West is fighting back whereas earlier they ignored the shenanigans in the India market. Some months ago J K Rowling and Warner Brothers hired a Delhi law firm to turn the screws on a Calcutta publisher who was merrily peddling a Bengali book called "Harry Potter in Kolkata" written by a Bengali author. No compensation was paid, but the books were pulled off the market.

Tamali Sengupta, a lawyer representing a major foreign studio here says the good thing about this case is that disproves an impression Hollywood studios have that that Indian courts will be biased towards Indian producers. Also encouraging is the speed with which the case has been decided. She feels that Hollywood may be becoming more alert because their films are now dubbed in Hindi so there could be direct competition between the original and the rip-off. Foreign producers might now feel encouraged to move against future instances of plagiarism, and even if the fight to finish is not easy, this precedent might just do a little bit to temper the swipe-an-idea, swipe-a-scene machine that Bollywood is today.

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