Bollywood flick ‘I love NY’ accused of plagiarising classic Russian cinema

The makers of the classic festive Russian comedy ‘The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy your Bath!have accused the producers of the soon-to-be released Bollywood flick I Love New Year of plagiarism. The Irony of Fate, released in 1975 was directed by Eldar Ryazanov, and is highly popular in modern Russia. The Russian makers claim that the remake has been filmed without obtaining requisite permission from them. 
I Love New Year is being promoted as romantic comedy film directed by Radhika Rao and Vinay Sapru, starring Sunny Deol and Kangana Ranaut. The film is produced by Bhushan Kumar and Krishan Kumar under the banner of Super Cassettes Industries Ltd. As this piece reports, the Indian makers have simply changed the locale of the movie( from Leningrad to New York) and the profession of the male protagonist( from a doctor to a Wall Street banker) while keeping the storyline intact. So much that even the movie sets have been claimed as a spiffing copy of the Russian original. I love New Year has been well received by viewers and critics abroad, and is slated for an early-September release in India.

Reportedly, neither director Eldar Ryazanov’s nor screenwriter Emil Braginsky’s names appear in the credits. Ryazanov’s assistant recently said that “the director has no knowledge about the film and has nothing to do with it.” On the other hand, sources close to the production team of I Love New Year have denied any copyright infringements. The Irony of Fate enjoys a classical status in Russian cinema, with a sequel released in 2007. The movie has been feted with several awards, including the USSR State Prize in 1977.
Super Cassettes Industries Ltd is an Indian film production and distribution company which also owns T-Series. This is not the first time the Bhushan Kumar owned production house has been accused of plagiarism. Previously, the music label T-Series was accused of copyright infringement by an Iranian band,, and by re-use of an old Hindi soundtrack. The allegations are not shocking, considering that Bollywood movies have hardly shirked from lifting storylines from their Hollywood counterparts (Knock-out, Time Bomb[Indian Television]). Hollywood studios have approached Indian Courts for relief, but have hardly met with any success. Generally, Indian movies keep the original plot intact (i.e the idea), and change the expression radically. This is done to make a profitable box-office business: the sets, dialogues, dance numbers and various other Indian elements are added which change the final expression drastically. And copyright vests only in the expression of an idea, and not the idea per se; thus Indian remakes/adaptations escape infringement accusations. In the case of 20th Century Fox Film Corporation v. Zee Telefilms Ltd. & Ors., the Court observed that a mere outline or theme is not copyrightable since it is only an idea, but a distinctive treatment of a plot or theme is copyrightable as a literary work or as a dramatic work. When 20th Century Fox contended that the ‘concept and feel’ of the show had been copied, the court held that what really mattered was the qualitative difference between the two shows. The Court observed that ” in such cases it is difficult to determine the difference between idea and expression. It is difficult to determine where idea ends and expression begins. There is no final and exact way of determining what a copy is, or what a copy of the expression is, or what a copy of the idea is, or what a copy of the idea is only. Therefore copyright judgments such as this one should be read in light of their facts and circumstances.” A continuing reason for foreign studios’ unsuccessful infringement claims of their work  is the Indian portrayal of the same storylines, thereby escaping any similarities in expression. Prashant has previously discussed the legal aspects of this ‘inspired’ copying in this excellent post here
Meanwhile, on a related note, the Bombay HC denied an injunction against the release of an Akshay Kumar production ‘72 Miles- Ek Pravas.‘ Kshitij Movies International had applied for a temporary injunction by virtue of being the assignees to the literary work( a marathi novel titled ’72 Miles’), which apparently entitled them to rights to a cinematic adaptation as well. The Court found that the agreement had expired in 2012, and further covered rights limited only to translation of the Marathi novel into the Hindi language. Thus, the Court held that no case was made for granting interim relief. 
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