Monday, January 4, 2010

Filmi Girl Tackles the 3 Idiots Scandal

As everyone who follows Bollywood news knows, the latest scandal of sorts is the dust up between the creators of the film 3 Idiots and the man who wrote the book it was based on. What fascinates me about this spat is a combination of the personalities involved and the underlying tension that hasn't been quite articulated.

I have no dog in this fight - I've never read anything by Chetan Bhagat and have no desire to see 3 Idiots for three reasons*, none of which is related to this fight.

Here are the bare bones of the dispute: Vidhu Vinod Chopra purchased the rights of Chetan Bhagat's novel "5 Point Someone" in order to make a motion-picture adaptation. He did so but, somewhere in the process, changed enough material that he felt that it was no longer strictly an adaptation. Mr. Bhagat was unaware of this change in thinking, so when he saw the film, he was surprised to see that he received only a very small credit. He then wrote a blog post detailing his unhappiness with the lack of recognition he received as the author of the story. VVC then struck back in the press and online with his own reasons why the film was NOT an adaptation.

The 3 Idiots team feel they changed enough material of the story that they could get away with adding an "original story" credit and relegating Mr. Bhagat to the tail end of the credits.

While the press has been breathlessly following the he said-he said of the bickering, I'm a lot more interested what this argument says about the state of Bollywood.

Traditionally, Bollywood scriptwriters (and some songwriters *cough* Pritam) have never been afraid to incorporate scenes, stories, characters, and etc. from whatever sources they saw fit. The industry had no problem with this until recently - the Indian 'ollywoods all borrowed and stole from each other, Hollywood, East Asia, etc. If VVC had made 3 Idiots 10 years ago, he probably wouldn't have bothered even making the deal he did with Chetan Bhagat.

So what changed in ten years?

This 3 Idiots feud is just another example of the growing pains that Bollywood is facing in the midst of a Hollywoodization of the industry. Today's young tastemakers have grown up with Hollywood movies and a Western sense of intellectual property in which story is a sacred text, not a source of raw material to be sampled. In short, there is a generation gap between the 3 Idiots team and Chetan Bhagat, which is ironic considering that the film is supposed to capture the spirit of today's youth.

Now, not all of you may know that in my day job I am a librarian and as such, I actually fall more on the side of a liberal view of intellectual property (and in saying that let me be clear that in no way do I endorse piracy and plagiarism). I'm also a firm believer in the Jungian collective unconscious. In practice, this means I support things like fanfiction and the lapsing of copyright after an author's death.

My perspective -- being a musician I need to use music metaphors -- is that the traditional Bollywood way of using different bits from different films is like how a hip hop artist uses samples. Jay Z using a sample from Annie to create "It's a Hard Knock Life" (listen here) is like Salim-Javed using a "sample" from The Magnificent Seven to create Sholay. The sounds may be familiar but the context is different and the end result is a new product all together.

Rajkumar Hirani and Vidhu Vinod Chopra come from this school of scriptwriting. You may not remember now but Munnabhai MBBS was heavily influenced in parts by Robin Williams' treacly Patch Adams and One Flew Over a Cuckoos Nest. Do you think they paid rights for those things? Probably not. And I don't think any of us would deny that Munnabhai MBBS is a fantastic film - 'samples' or not.

So, now, five or so years later, a change in story writing is brewing. I don't even think a Partner or a Heyy Babyy could be made today without the producers paying up to the Hollywood firms.

Let's get back to Chetan Bhagat. I suspect that he expected VVC and crew to be more Hollywood - i.e. the story is king. When a novel or short story is adapted in Hollywood, they actually do just adapt it. Things are rarely changed too much and when they are, each detail is picked apart, trying to decide just how much worse the adaptation is than the original.

And for his part, VVC was just doing what he has always done -- make a story that resonates with people out of some source material. Story is not king--it's raw material-- and he bought his legally.

Clearly, there was a fundamental misunderstanding between the two and I'm going to be curious to see if this flare-up keeps other authors from shopping their novels around Mumbai.

A final note on the one guy who does come off sounding like a real "idiot" in all this mess: Aamir Khan. I've always been a big Aamir Khan fan and have greatly respected his film choices over the years. Ghajini was my favorite film of 2008, for goodness sakes! So, I was really disappointed to hear Aamir abusing Chetan Bhagat to the media and calling him publicity hungry. For a man who is supposed to be the Artiste of Bollywood, I would have expected that Aamir could sympathize with Mr. Bhagat's hurt feelings. But instead, he chose to lash out like a spoiled industry diva, going as far as to admit that he hadn't even read the book. I expected better from Aamir.

* a) The music is terrible, b) the entire film looks overly precious, and c) I have zero desire to see Aamir Khan play a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.


dhevi77 said...

I think this might be the most interesting opinion piece yet on the matter, filmigirl. And kudos. I work in a library too, and have a law background, and know exactly where you're coming from.

I should mention one thing though - If CB's understanding of IP rights is, as you say, of a different generation, it also goes to mean that there would be other avenues the man can exhaust first. He's based in S'pore - surely he could at least get a lawyer, if not an agent/publicist, to get this issue sorted out? Perhaps he's regretting not having done the same before he signed the contract - if so, again, he could use legal help to clarify what is meant by 'story', 'screenplay', 'opening credits', etc, and bring that up with the makers.

To go public, instead, smacks of something unrelated to the issue. And also the fact that in his interviews, and the blog, the story keeps changing on a daily basis.

As for Aamir - I've got a niggling feeling he's currently reading FPS right now!

tabularasa ;)

Filmi Girl said...

You make a good point!

I certainly don't think anyone comes off looking well here. All three 'idiots' reacted poorly. CB could certainly have done many other things than bitch on his blog but I do think that his anger is coming from a genuine place and is not a publicity stunt. How he handled it is another story. :)

And big up to all the librarians out there!

Amol said...

I think Vir Sanghvi had the best take on the whole issue.

Banno said...

I've still to see the film, and the pettiness of the scandal has put me off yet again. I'm sure that both parties have some right and wrong on their side, in this case, yet these fights in the public arena are distasteful.

dhevi77 said...

Amol, I did read Vir Sanghvi's piece, but I still maintain Filmigirl's argument is much better.

Vir speaks of grace, but slants against the makers. His point is right - that there is an appalling lack of grace in all this - but that includes on the part of Chetan. There are just much better ways of going about this.

Filmigirl - what's emerging from all this is that by not getting opening 'story' credit (which is what Chetan is pushing for - not just that there is a separate credit for 'based on' in the opening) along with Abhijat and Raju, his name won't be entered in the nomination forms for awards. And to me, what's most hilarious is that what Chetan ISN'T cribbing about is the drastic number of chopping and changing of the story (as opposed to a faithful adaptation with some minor adjustments for visual storytelling, as you mentioned). It is more common for authors to complain about their babies being mutilated beyond recognition and washing their hands off it for that. In fact, I gather the whole pre-release meeting between Bhagat and makers happened probably due to that factor - that the makers would've said 'look, we've done a whole heap of non-book stuff on this, thought we should let you know now itself, in case you want to pull your name out' - because in such scenarios, THAT IS WHAT HAPPENS - that the author doesn't want to put his name to something that has been so radically altered from his book.

Instead, this might be the first time that an author, AFTER such a meeting, is saying that there is MORE to the film than the makers actually told him, that came from the book, and is therefore having a very injured reaction to it. And to the makers, who must've been worried more about the initial 'you-changed-so-much' reaction, and had been careful about it, this was probably a huge, nasty surprise, and got them to dig their heels instead of being more forthcoming.

Am I making sense anymore? I've had too much coffee...

kalyan said...

I love your passion for all things Bollywood. But I have to disagree with you on this :)
Check out
At the bottom left and right, they have some explanation and agreement with Chetan Bagat. In that agreement they clearly say Chetan Bagat will get his name in rolling credits. So, I think VVC and Raju Hirani are justified to be pissed off, though I think they should have handled it in a better way. Aamir Khan should have stayed away from this controversy as he did not read the book.

Also, I loved the music and the film, though its not my favorite film by any measure. I have seen it with a bunch of my non-Indian friends and all the girls in the group cried and said they wanted to see more Indian movies. Its actually a very good movie for Bolly virgins.
I'd recommend you to go see NOW :)

eliza bennet said...

CB has read the script and didn't oppose to anything. What gets to me about him is that his reaction would have been drastically different if the film was not a success. I bought and read the book just because Raju Hirani is making a film based on it. Otherwise I wouldn't bother with it. (I think it is a very entertaining book and also purchased and read his 2 States which was also very entertaining - he is a good "airport writer" if you know what I mean)

So in this matter, as far as I can see, VVC and Raju Hirani have covered all the legal and moral bases. CB is just making noise.

As for Aamir, I like him as an actor and appreciate & enjoy his performances but I feel it is odd that he was not curious enough not to read the book. Maybe he didn't want it to affect his performance but still..

Also I think it was vain of him to accept this part. He is too old for the role - he should have given a younger actor a chance to shine.

I'm very eager to watch this film only for the fact that Rajkumar Hirani directed it. I love a director who can handle melodrama right.

aham said...

@eliza even I find it weird that he didnt bother to read the book, and your saying that maybe he thought it could affect his performance, bs cause aamir himself claims that CB told book is diff than the movie while shooting, so in which case there was no problem reading.Amir has first time in long time last his face,he should be more careful he did the same with Ghajini, he claimed that the director had not seen Memento from which its copied(many parts of it) and that he had heard about such a movie from some1 and written his own version, heck I can say the same, I can say I havent seen Godfather but I have heard about the story from a frnd now I make a movie, so thats not a copy? grow up bollywood.

@filmigirl kudos to you, you are more Indian and aware about yhe going ons its film industry than even most Indians, great write keep iit up


Filmi Girl said...

@aham Thank you, kindly. :)

@dhevi77 I just started my first cup of coffee of the day but your second comment seems right on the money. Clearly, CB wants his share of credit for writing the 'based on' story - and that includes being eligible for awards.

@kalyan I think you misunderstood my point - I don't think anyone is right or wrong, I'm just explaining where I think the disagreement is coming from. :)

Amol said...

@dhevi77 : Well, Sanghvi's column is not about the why ,unlike FG's, so one can't be better than the other :-)
FWIW, My take is that CB ka dil mange more, after he saw how much positive buzz the movie was getting. If the film had been an unrecognizable mutilation, I doubt he'd be peddling his victimhood so aggresively

dhevi77 said...

@Amol - semantics. VS loves to give sage opinions as a media insider, but he's definitely not as passionate abt BW as some of us are ;)

Just as an aside - anybody see the live video of VVC's apology? The man totally knows how to play the Hindi media crowd - so much rhona dhona!

dhevi77 said...

An example of what I was speaking about before, that it is more common for writers to want to wash their hands off screen credits, due to massive mangling of story. The writer is usually incredibly clear as to the idea that he/she wants expressed, through the storytelling, and can be unforgiving even with slight adaptations.

A local example is RK Narayan, who wrote a very wounded essay about the butchering of his novel in Vijay Anand's Guide. He got the credits but he really didn't want them.

And here, we have instead an author who not only doesn't mind the massive changes, but wants extra credit for the little bits that have been left over! *ROTFL*

christin said...

i read chetan bhagat's 5 point was an interesting book . i was in kinda a different world .it was really a heart touching story which tells about the different stages in cool age is also awesome.i mean the way they took .but i don't like tat all is well part and birth of the of the things are O.K.chetan have more role than others

Faizan said...

I love this piece and the way that it flows so naturally. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the movie but I totally know where you're coming from when you describe your reasons for not wanting to see it. As for the feud, I hadn't been keeping up with it so it was nice to just go through the entire thing at once with you.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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