April 8, 2010



I saw Ramesh Sippy's Sholay, the 1975 Bollywood classic, for the first time this weekend, and I couldn't help but be struck by the wholesale ripoff of the "McBain family massacre" sequence from Sergio Leone's 1968 Once Upon A Time in the West during Thakur Singh's second major flashback sequence. It's not just "shades" of Leone's masterful, horrible scene, as Dinesh Raheja suggests in this recent appreciation of Sholay, but an utter, shameless copycat. Granted, it didn't seem outrageous once you'd sat through the broad but hilarious take-off of Chaplin's Great Dictator during the prison scenes - but it was hardly a subtle homage.

Stealing plots is apparently a venerable tradition in Hindi cinema, and it continues to this day, as this Guardian article details. Two major Indian releases - Awara Paagal Deeweena and Raaz - apparently bear more than passing similarity to, respectively, The Whole Nine Yards and What Lies Beneath. An unreleased film, Kaante, apparently bears more than a passing resemblance to Reservoir Dogs. Actually, I'd love to see a Bollywood version of Tarantino, and from what I know about the director, I think Tarantino would be delighted and flattered.

While some Indian directors regard the practice of copycat filmmaking as shameful and ultimately destructive to Indian cinema, Raaz director Vikram Bhatt responded slyly to the accusations: "Once you understand and accept that an idea has existed before you did, then you look at the whole aspect of 'copying' in a different light." An amazingly witty comeback, and one that manages to combine postmodernism and reincarnation in one seamless, cynical sentence.