As Sai points out in his post, the author Chetan Bhagat claims that the attribution (or rather the lack of it) to his book in the movie has been rather “unfair”. Having seen the movie (“3 Idiots”) and the book (“5 Point Someone”), I’m quite sympathetic to Chetan’s claims that he’s been “unfairly” treated. And I also think he may have an arguable case under Indian copyright law, since his book input has not been adequately “attributed”, but rather reduced to a paltry amount of 3-5%. Bhagat writes in his blog:
“Pre-release, the makers made press statements like the movie is only ‘very loosely’, ‘2%-5% inspired by the book’. After release, those who have read the book and seen the movie (and frankly, I think those are the only people who have the right to comment) find the film to be an adaptation of Five Point Someone. The setting, characters, plotline, dramatic twists and turns, one-liners, theme, message – almost all aspects that make up the story are from FPS. Yes, there are some changes, any adaptation requires that – but it is no way an original story.”
Examining the Key Facts/Issues
Let’s examine the specific facts (some of them appear well established; others contentious) and the various issues (both legal and moral) that they give rise to:
1. Bhagat entered into a contract with the production house (Vinod Chopra Films Pvt Ltd), under which he assigned all rights in any audio visual format of the book or its adaptation to the production house.
2. As consideration, Bhagat was to be paid a certain sum of money (totaling about Rs 11 lakhs or so). The facts appear to indicate that he was paid this sum in full and Bhagat does not contest this in his blog post either. So this is not really about the money.
3. Bhagat was also promised credit in the film. Since this clause (Clause 4) is critical, I reproduce it below:
“It shall be obligatory on the part of the Producer to accord credit to the author in the rolling credits of any audio-visual moving image software (of any format or form in any media or medium) produced by the Producer in terms of the exercise and execution of the Rights granted as under:
“Based on The Novel
Five Point Someone
Although, as contractually promised, the credits right at the end of the film do mention the fact that the movie is based on the book by Bhagat, it crams up the attribution (“Based on The Novel Five Point Someone By Chetan Bhagat”) in one line, whereas the contract stretches out the entire attribution to 3 lines. Bhagat could therefore argue that even contractually, the form of placement was not complied with. This is buttressed by the fact that the credit at the end of the movie was so fleeting that even his mother missed it. Contrast this with the fact that the script writer, Abhijit Joshi was credited right at the start of the movie.
(nb: this point about the placement of the credit in the movie was brought to my attention by one of our readers, Sneha)
Of course, one might argue that Bhagat ought to have bargained for better placement of his “credit” in the movie; rather than as a mere rolling credit. But recall that at the time of negotiation of this contract, Bhagat was not as popular a writer. In any case, there is much to be said for the bargaining asymmetries between an individual author and a production powerhouse with ample financial and political muscle. So much for the freedom of contract.
Moral Rights and Lack of Attribution
4. Bhagat claims that in the pre-release publicity and even post the movie, the makers of the movie made statements to the effect that the movie was not really based on the book and that it was “original”. Most damagingly perhaps, the makers claim that the movie was only based on the book to a paltry extent of 3-5% .
If what Bhagat states is true, he has a decent case on moral rights against the makers of the movie. Section 57 of the Indian copyright act vests every author with the right to insist that their works be attributed to them. And this right exists independent of the “economic” right to exploit the work. In essence, the section states that “..independently of the author’s copyright and even after the assignment either wholly or partially of the said copyright, the author of a work shall have the right to claim the authorship of the work … “
In other words, even if the economic rights are assigned away (and in this case, Bhagat assigned away his rights to any movie based on the book), the moral rights continue to vest in the author. The question now is: is it true that Bhagat’s book only contributed 3-5% to the movie. Or was the movie based substantially on the book?
Having read the book (that has now reached some sort of a cult status in certain circles) and watched the movie, I personally think the copying has been rather significant. And not a mere 3-5%! However, I must also state that Abhijit Joshi, the script writer (along with Hirani) packed in some brilliant new scenes and subplots whilst adapting the book theme. Therefore, what they created is also “original”, unlike what Chetan claims. However, their originality does not detract from the fact that they have also, in the process, lifted a significant portion of the plot, characters etc from the book. Therefore, the end product (movie script) could be rightfully said to be a product of joint authorship, involving Chetan Bhagat, Abhijit and Rajkumar Hirani.
Let’s examine the movie and book in closer detail.
Five Point Someone vs 3 Idiots (A Factual Comparison)
Based on my rather imperfect recollection, I’ve tried to highlight the key similarities and differences between the movie (3 Idiots) and the Book (Five Point Someone) below:
i) The setting for the story is a premier engineering college in New Delhi. While in the book, it is the world renowned Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), in the movie, it is titled the “Imperial College of Engineering”.
ii) The story revolves around 3 friends who make it to the Imperial College of engineering and their various trials and tribulations, starting with their initiation ceremony (referred to as “ragging” in India) by their seniors.
iii) The smartest of the lot is an “out of the box” non conformist thinker, who goes by the name of “Rancho” (played by the legendary Aamir Khan, a leading Bollywood star). Illustratively, he refuses to go by the bookish definition of “machine” and defines it loosely as anything that makes life easier for humans.
iv) The second of the three musketeers (Raju) is really poor and his parents have just about scraped together all their earnings to put him through engineering school. His father is paralyzed and requires hospital attention. He is therefore under tremendous pressure to score well in college, find a good job, and earn enough to get his sister married off etc.
v) The third friend is a very talented photographer (Farhan) but is in the wrong place (engineering college). I don’t recollect finding any references to this photography talent of Farhan in the book.
vi) In both the book and the movie, Farhan is the narrator of the story.
vii) On one particular occasion, the three musketeers go up to the terrace of their college (near a water tank) to elevate their spirits and end up thoroughly inebriated.
viii) The entire educational set up is geared towards rewarding students who learn by rote i.e those that do not question their professors or teaching methodologies, but blindly spew out class notes for their exams, something that most Indian institutions encourage even today. Rancho strikes a different chord and in the process incurs the wrath of the institutional powers that be. I personally felt that the movie highlights this aspect with greater impact than does the book.
ix) The head of the institution, whose rather long name is shortened to ‘Virus” deals mercilessly with what he perceives to be student infractions or weaknesses. His Hitler like attitude in foisting his rather conservative and austere value system on his children and students leads to his son committing suicide.
x) During the course of their studies, Raju cracks under pressure and tries to commit suicide.
xi) Rancho and friends steal the exam question paper from the Directors’ room and face the prospect of rustication. Luckily, they come away unscathed, since it turns out that Rancho got the keys from Virus’ daughter, with whom he shares a romantic relationship (jaise filmo main hota hain).
The differences between the movie and the book are:
i) While the book appears to center around Farhan (the 5 pointer, a reference to his rather average grades), the movie focuses more on the unconventional Rancho. Having said this, the book does glorify Rancho’s maverick nature and one could say that he is made out to be a hero of sorts.
ii) While the film has Rancho romancing the Director’s daughter (Piya), the book has Farhan doing so.
iii) The film portrays Rancho as generous boy who loves learning for the sake of learning and enters engineering college only to acquire a degree and hand it over (fraudulently) to the son of his dad’s boss. The book avoids this fraudulent act.
iv) The film shows Rancho turning out to become a world famous inventor at the end of the movie, with over 400 patents to his name. However, he is more of an informal innovator, and some of the inventions depicted in his remote and rather picturesque Ladakh open air lab were borrowed from NIF innovators. The book does not contain this inspiring ending.
v) The movie also ends with Pia finding Rancho in his innovation friendly Shangrila and slapping him for deserting her. The book misses out on this resounding ending.
vi) One of the funniest moments in the movie is a speech read out by Chatur Ramalingam, the polar opposite of Rancho, in that he is the typical conformist who cosies up to his professors and crams too hard. Rancho switches the speech and has Chatur spouting out nasty adjectives for the Director in his Hindi speech (a langauge he is not familiar with since he is born to expat parents). I can’t remember any references to such a speech in the book.
vii) Chatur vows to avenge his humiliation and wagers that in 10 years, he would have become highly succesful, while Rancho would be rotting in hell. The movie begins with Chatur returning from the US (where he leads a successful career, with beautiful apartment, voluptuous wife and Lambhorgini) and attempting to locate Rancho and his friends to demonstrate that he has indeed won the wager. He manages to locate the friends and get them to the college terrace,,but Rancho is nowhere in sight. In fact, even Rancho’s closest friends have lost touch with him after college as he gave them the slip. The hunt begins and Rancho is found…not rotting away but flourishing in the beautiful Ladakh as a world class inventor, with whom Chatur’s US company wishes to collaborate. The book does not contain any of these Bollywoody references.
viii) And lastly, though perhaps insignificantly, the names of all the characters in the book have been changed in the movie.
Given the space of his blog post, I’ve not listed out each and every similarity or difference between the book and the movie, but merely jotted down what i think to be the critical ones. I’m hoping that some of you reading this might offer to help out in the coming days by listing more such differences and similarities in the comments section.
I personally think its highly misleading and downright dishonest to claim that only 3-5% of the movie was taken, if at all it is possible to precisely quantify such factors. The net implication is that the rest of the movie script really originated from other authors, a proposition rather difficult to digest. To me, it appears that a significant portion of the book’s storyline, most of its characters and sub plots, including some dialogues were all reproduced in the movie. The fact that some new scenes and sub plots were added afresh to the movie does not detract from the fact that significant portions of the book were copied onto the movie in the first place. Therefore, the claim that the book only contributed 3-5% of the movie is blatantly false. On the contrary, Chetan could claim that the script borrows significant amounts of copyrightable elements from his book and he is therefore legitimately entitled to be treated as a joint author of this script. Consequently, the lack of appropriate attribution in favour of Chetan amounts to a violation of his rights to authorship guaranteed by section 57 of the Indian copyright act.
Even otherwise, by crediting the movie to the book as per clause 4 outlined above (albeit a fleeting credit right at the end of the movie that one was likely to miss), couldn’t one argue that the movie makers impliedly accepted that a significant portion of the movie was based on the book? Else, why would they need to credit at all? (though technically, one might argue that the contract demanded it, irrespective of whether or not significant book portions were taken).
The Public Vote on This?
Interestingly, there are a number of blog posts and other articles, where numerous commentators have expressed their disgust at such forthright copying of a substantial chunk of the book without due attribution. Some others have expressed the opposite view.
In that vein, we’ve also put up a poll on our blog to test what our readers (who’ve been lukcy enough to savour the movie and the book) think. As many of you may know, the key test in many IP cases hinges on the perception of the “reasonable” man or woman: do they think that the movie contains substantial portions of the book? If you have a view on this, do vote on our poll section (see top left hand corner of the blog home page).
Big vs Small: A Matter of Justice for All
Chetan should pursue this matter, not just for himself, but for every small artist or writer who ends up getting a raw deal from wily producers/publishers. Chetan notes in his blog:
“Soon, they started doing media promotions for the film, and kept me completely out of it (you’ll never find me in an interview with them). Crores was poured into publicity on shutting me out and cementing the fact that 3 Idiots is not based on Five Point Someone. However, the book had been read by millions of people and the FPS buzz just did not die down.
Ten days before the release, I was called into their office. They said ‘we should be friends now’. I said I am always up for friendship, and the success of the film is good for me as well. They also said, and I quote verbatim ‘even though this is an original film, we have given you a great credit, right upfront. After all, we love writers and a king should treat another king with respect. You are family’. I believed them.”
If what he claims is true, this is nothing short of treachery. And he must fight to vindicate his stand. If the haughty film makers fail to make amends and settle this matter in a fair manner, he should send out a legal notice to them demanding rightful attribution, failing which he must sue them in an Indian court. Indian courts have been very “activist” in their stand on moral rights, extending the scope of it to even works that were hidden away from the public eye (Amar Nath Sehgal vs UOI).
If perchance this matter reaches court and Chetan gets a judge sympathetic to the cause of authors and concerned about high handed treacherous practices of producers with a deep stranglehold on the industry, he could walk away with a robust order mandating appropriate attribution and heavy damages too.
But lets hope that better sense prevails over the film makers and that they turn out to be as principled as the hero that they fleshed out so inspiringly in the movie. And that this bitter fiasco end well. For, as the age old aphorism goes: “All’s well that ends well”.
And on that parting note, may I once again wish all our readers a terrific New Year ahead.
ps: Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest
I am a die hard fan of Aamir Khan, having watched most of his movies since “Qayamat se Qayamat Tak”. Since he blazes the screen with his presence only once a year, its far easier to keep up with this star than the others in Bollywood who belt out a dime a dozen each year. My admiration for this fabulously innovative method actor stems not just from his emoting skills, but also his public persona which appears to depict an intelligent and socially sensitive human being. It therefore comes as a surprise to me that he would go out of his way to lash out at Chetan Bhagat, without so much as even having read the book! For an actor known for his perfectionist streak and eye for detail, this is rather startling.