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Bollywood Takes On 'My Cousin Vinny'


There's a saying in Hollywood, there are no original plots. Everything is ripped off from something else.

BRAND: Alex, I think you mean homage.

CHADWICK: Oh, right. These are tribute films to the earlier masters.

BRAND: Right. In Bollywood, the center of India's prolific film industry, that saying has really taken to heart.

NPR's Nihar Patel has more.

NIHAR PATEL: A Bollywood director recently announced that for his next film he would be adopting a minor American classic, "My Cousin Vinny." He then said something unusual by Bollywood standards. He was seeking approval from 20th Century Fox, the studio that made the original.

(Soundbite of movie, "My Cousin Vinny")

Mr. JOE PESCI (Actor): (As Vincent LaGuardia Gambini) Are you sure?

PATEL: That Joe Pesci's title character Vinny Gambini - point-taken, Vinny. For decades, Bollywood had lifted plots from Hollywood movies without obtaining permission from the copyright holders - "Sleepless in Seattle," "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Fight Club."

Professor TEJASWINI GANTI (New York University): "Sleeping with the Enemy," "On the Waterfront," "Indecent Proposal," "French Kiss."

PATEL: NYU professor Tejaswini Ganti has studied the Bollywood film industry from the inside.

Prof. GANTI: There's a constant criticism of the lack of originality. I've actually been in story sessions where we've actually watched the DVD of a particular Hollywood film. And during that experience, it really hit home to me how much effort actually still goes on in the adaptation process.

PATEL: The filmmakers concoct new subplots, characters - those famous lavish musical numbers. The final result is often twice as long as the original, even though the basic story remains the same.

Mr. MIKE RYAN (George Washington University Law School): That is not necessarily something that we should think of as, quote, "illegal."

PATEL: Mike Ryan of George Washington University Law School has surveyed copyright infringement issues in developing countries like India.

Mr. RYAN: The underlying story is not what's actually protected. And so the challenge here is that you have to try to figure out what is a substantially similar kind of work to a previous work. And so it's always a little bit ambiguous.

PATEL: Convincing a court that one work is substantially similar to another can be difficult, says Ryan. This is especially true in the Indian legal system, where the line between what is and isn't in the public domain is as fuzzy as an out-of-focus projector.

Nonetheless, Sony this month threatened a $30 million lawsuit against an Indian production company for allegedly ripping off the 2005 Will Smith movie, "Hitch."

Mr. RYAN: And I think what we're going to find is that they're going to go after these competitors, who really are infringing their copyrights by following quite slavishly, we might say, much more than just the underlying story, but basically just remaking their film. And so I don't think that it's only going to be threats.

PATEL: Though Fox says they have not sold or given the rights for a remake of "My Cousin Vinny," with or without sanction the Bollywood production begins next month.

I contacted Dale Launer, the screenwriter of the original version. All this was news to him. He's busy working on "My Cousin Vinny" the stage musical - but was intrigued by the Bollywood adaptation.

Mr. DALE LAUNER (Screenwriter): Bollywood movies are almost always musicals, so it will be interesting to see it.

PATEL: So you're saying that you could potentially watch the Bollywood musical version of "My Cousin Vinny" and go, hey, that's not a bad idea; I may use that in the stage musical of "My Cousin Vinny."

Mr. LAUNER: Maybe I can steal there's if they're stealing mine. (Unintelligible) fair play here, I would think.

PATEL: Nihar Patel...

(Soundbite of movie, "My Cousin Vinny")

Mr. PESCI: (As Vinny) I got no more use for this guy.

PATEL: ...NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nihar Patel