Bollywood films, Bala starring Ayushmann Khurrana and Ujda Chaman starring Sunny Singh were set to release in Hindi on 7th November, 2019 and 8th November,2019 respectively but recently the makers of Ujda Chaman preponed the release date from 8th November to 1st November, 2019. Evidently, this has to do with the copyright violation claims levelled against Bala by the makers of Ujda Chaman and it appears that they want to stay ahead of the litigious tide. Both the storylines revolve around a young man, a teacher by profession, suffering from premature baldness and who, as a result of bullying and insecurity, experiments with different remedies for natural growth of bald hair. After watching the trailers of both these movies, it has been noticed that there are uncanny similarities not only in their plot, but also in their posters and dialogues.
What is truly surprising, is that the makers of both the movies are disputing between themselves regarding the originality of the storyline, whereas, in fact, neither of them are the original creators of the storyline to begin with. It has been borrowed from the 2017 Kannada movie, Ondu Motteya Kathe. The makers of Ujda Chaman have secured the rights to remake the said Kannada movie in Hindi. On the other hand, the makers of Bala claim that the movie is original content. According to the Ujda Chaman director, Abhishek Pathak, Maddock Films, i.e., the producer of Bala had been sent a notice in early 2019 stating that they had acquired the rights for the remake, and thereby, the storyline. Despite the notice and constant assurances by the filmmakers of Bala that there will not be similarities between the movies, the trailer speaks otherwise. Presently, Ujda Chaman’s producer has filed a case on the makers of Bala over copyright violations.
Funnily enough, this is not the first time that this particular issue has arisen in Bollywood. It seems like Bollywood’s lack of creative skills has become prevalent these days. There is a plethora of remixes of old songs and remakes of old movies or Hollywood and South Indian movies in Bollywood currently. The film industry is, after all, is a serious competitive business since it involves satisfying the entertainment-starved public. To cope with it, the movie makers have to come out with good content, rapidly, all guns blazing. As a result, some of them resort to “borrowing”, and other non-taxing strategies. The movie making strategies will always be modified to coincide with the object of the art- critical acclaim or box office success. The makers attempt to bank on various factors to achieve this success, by producing good content or by relying upon the actors’ popularity and market value. It is difficult to know what happens behind the scenes, but it is safe to assume that, often, poorly made stories are carried on the back of popular actors, good marketing and cinematography.
The audience, nowadays, is more open to, and rather in search of profound and sometimes even polemic content. For example, movies like Badhaai Ho, Gully Boy, and Padman created a storm with their stories touching socio-economic and political domains of the society. These movies not only earned tremendous profits but were also well received by all audiences. When viewers decide to watch a particular movie, they not only consider the actors, directors or the production houses but also focus on the content. Due to the sheer volume of content available on various platforms today, both traditional, like television and cinema houses, as well as non-traditional platforms like Netflix, Hotstar, Amazon Prime, the audience has become more selective and particular about the content they consume. This gradual shift is being perceived by the makers as well now, and a corresponding gradual change has been observed in the methodology of movie makers. In absence of original content, or to ensure that a plot reaches wider audiences, the makers do sometimes choose to remake movies. Firstly, such tactics should never be a substitute for originality. Secondly, even if a story is selected to be remade, the legal requirement of acquiring the appropriate rights needs to be fulfilled. This approach of not “appropriating”, or some may even go so far as to say “stealing” would help in ensuring that no copyright violation takes place.
In conclusion, it is apparent that both the films lack originality. Ujda Chaman has at least one redeeming factor that they have acquired the rights to the content and are giving due credits to the original makers. Unfortunately, the same does not stand true for Bala. In their case, the controversy, however, does not end here. Bala released a soundtrack from the movie recently, “Don’t be shy again”, and it just so happens to be a remix of “Don’t be shy”, the early 2000s classic dance hit, produced by Dr. Zeus. The artist, Dr. Zeus has alleged copyright infringement and has threatened to take legal action against Bala for not acquiring the necessary permissions. Although the makers of Bala have refuted such claims and stated that all necessary rights have been acquired from Karman Entertainment as they own the worldwide rights to the original song. It might not be long shot to say that the filmmakers of Bala are not very keen on being fair regarding the rights and just want to cash in on the work of others. Clearly, even Ayushmann cannot pretend to be blind here and carry the movie on his skills and popularity alone. The case is pending before the Court, it will be interesting to know how the proceedings unfold in the Court and also in the court of public opinion.
Ojaswini Doshi (IP & Brand Protection Associate, Brand Defence Consulting)
Sanika Gupte (IP & Brand Protection Associate, Brand Defence Consulting)
Niyati Eleswarpu (Intern, Brand Defence Consulting)