The Indian Font

Shruti Barton MA Creative Economy

Pirates Copy Bollywood, Directors Copy Hollywood.

The Indian Font was fortunate enough to get back to her roots recently. All this talk of copyrighting ideas, Design Thinking and creative original interpretation of the world seemed almost alien in the city of Mumbai, home of the Indian film industry Bollywood. Bollywood may well be the largest film industry globally, producing on average 1,000 films per year (Chowdhury, 2008), yet its integrity is debatable by many in the West and its content not necessarily viewed as particularly original or creative even by those in the East, with one Film Director claiming “Films aren’t about creativity, originality or vision” (Bhatt , 2012).

Close-up from the poster for 1965 Bollywood film The Guide found at Chor Bazaar in Mumbai. Starring Waheeda Rehman, shown here.Read more at Random Specific about Mumbai's Bollywood Poster-wallas.

Close-up from the poster for 1965 Bollywood film The Guide found at Chor Bazaar in Mumbai. Starring Waheeda Rehman, shown here.
Read more at Random Specific about Mumbai’s Bollywood Poster-wallas.

The reasons are complex. Firstly, piracy is rife. As soon as a film is out for cinema release, those rapscallions have already recorded copies whilst sat in the back of movie theatres and DVD rip offs and computer downloads can be found at discount price in every corner of the country. No matter what the Indian government tries to do to stop this, this activity is hard to control and is an undeniable threat to the industry with huge projected losses of circa US$180 million predicted per year to music and movie companies according to academics Iyer et Al. in 2010.

The trouble on the face of it is that it’s not really worth investing in tracking down the pirates since the cost of watching a film in an Indian cinema is only about £1 per person. There’s an example of the film company 20th Century Fox who hired anti-piracy teams throughout India to stop illegal copies of the film ‘My Name is Khan’ being distributed. Sure, they ended up seizing thousands of illegal DVD’s and even went as far as to hold a global launch date for the film which resulted in them netting over $40 million dollars (Girard, 2011). But the deeper issue appears to be that magistrates and police are desensitized to the issue and this is what needs to change. (Moulee, et Al., no date). In March 2010, Alliance Against Copyright Theft (AACT) was formed; a joint venture between Hollywood and India to block out piracy. This is one example of how Hollywood has started to see the importance of partnering with Bollywood for its own benefit.

With pirates sieging the walls of Bollywood, the focus on IP rights has also been under less scrutiny. Well, it’s only too easy to blame the politicians and corruption rife in the country. Nevertheless, India’s intellectual property laws are particularly outdated; think 1957, think colonisation, think Brits on tour putting rules in place to suit their own. So what does that mean in a world of digitalisation and globalisation? It is a time where Indians are now based in every crevice of the world. These Indians have a flair for information technology and India itself is a source of inspiration for others. But internally within India, globalisation has brought McDonalds, Domino’s Pizza and now Starbucks (the first one opened in Mumbai on 19th October 2012 through a joint venture with Tata) as US multi- nationals now see India as central to their growth strategies and Indians revel in their arrival. A journalist in Mumbai told me anecdotally of how a ‘chaiwala’ (tea boy to you and I) offered tea for 8 rupees (i.e. 10p) to all the punters waiting in line to buy their first Starbucks coffee for 240 rupees (i.e. £3.00). That resourceful tea guy must have made a killing.

Bollywood is no different. Okay, so here’s the lowdown on some of the ‘western inspired’ Bollywood films and the name of the film they were inspired by:

  1. Partner (2007) is widely acknowledged to be a rip off of the American film Hitch (2005)
  2. Banda Yeh Bindaas Hai (2013) is a remake of My Cousin Vinny (1992)
  3. Knock Out (2010) is a copy of Phone Booth (2003) Twentieth Century Fox were awarded $340,000 for the Indian copyright infringement (Shah, 2012)
  4. Raaz (2002) bears an uncanny resemblance to What Lies Beneath (2000)
  5. Hari Puttar: A Comedy of Errors (2008) shares an uncanny resemblance to Harry Potter (2001) which, thanks to cultural distance and differing meanings of the words Hari and Puttar in Hindi (Punjabi Son), was not dubbed a copycat film by the High Court in India in 2008. (Warner Bros lost the case)
  6. Hari Puttar: A Comedy of Errors may have sounded like Harry Potter but was in fact a remake of Home Alone (1990)

One of the most bizarre reasons behind why these films are not deemed to be copies, according to the Indian film industry, is that the Directors are merely taking ‘inspiration’ from Hollywood and that this is viewed as the highest form of flattery. Another view (Basi 2011-2012) is that Indian remakes do not in any way cause the US original to lose value or income, since it is through these alterations in language and symbol that the US version may be presented to those Indians who do not speak English and are unfamiliar with Hollywood.  There is also the view that different societal and cultural concerns are being referenced, with a completely different musical soundtrack, hence it is argued that no infringement is taking place and “When you take an idea and route it through the Indian heart it changes entirely” (p.47, Basi 2010-2011).

If we’re really trying to be conceptualise all this copycat behaviour, then there’s this Croce-Collingwood theory (Sawyer 2011 cites Dewey, Collingwood 2000), which states that in the West, creativity is about an idea as “Ideal Theorists” (p.2030), whilst in the East creativity is all about the production and results as “Action Theorists” (p.2030). So lawyers arrive at a chicken and egg situation and question whether IP law protects from the moment an idea is conceived or from when it is executed?

In summary, it is clear that Hollywood needs to understand India (Tucker, 2008). As Film Director Mahesh Bhatt states (p. 47 Basi 2010-2011 cites Bhatt, 2012) “It’s only entertainment…not some high art form to be worshipped with incense and hymns”. For Bollywood is finally in Hollywood’s limelight. And according to Basi, it is now seen as a developing nation with a leading global film industry. Therefore with the likes of Sony, Warner Bros and 20th Century Fox investing in such a successful industry by endorsing remakes, not only will the issue of copyright be addressed through licensing, but Hollywood will also see its own profits rise.

In keeping with the filmic theme, this blog has been created using a selection of unused, edits from an essay on intellectual property issues in Bollywood, hence references appear below:

Basi, Hiriqbal, (2010), Indianizing Hollywood: The Debate over Copyright Infringement by Bollywood UCLA Entertainment Law Review, Vol 18, Available at:

Chowdhury, Ayan Roy, 2008, The Future of Copyright in India, Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice, 2008, Vol. 3(2), pp.102-114 [Peer Reviewed Journal], Available at:

Iyer, Lakshmi, Arora, Namrata, (2010), Hollywood in India: Protecting Intellectual Property, Harvard Business School Premier Case Collection, Available at:

Girard, Kim, (2011), Protecting against the Pirates of Bollywood, Harvard Business School, Available at:  

Moulee, Anuradha and Bevitt, Chris (no date) Slumdogs & Copycats, Copycatting and Piracy: Where Does the

Sawyer, Keith, R., (2011) The Western cultural model of creativity: its influence on intellectual property law. (Symposium Creativity and the Law) Notre Dame Law Review, Sept, 2011, Vol.86(5), p.2027(30).

Tucker, Navdeep Kaur, (2008) Musical Copyright Infringement in Bollywood Music: Perspectives on a Problem, Entertainment and Sports Lawyer , Volume 26, Number 1, Available at:|kaur|tucker&type=matchall.



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This entry was posted on March 11, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , , , .
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