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India TV Network to Broadcast Disputed Serial

In India, a court has allowed a television network to broadcast a new serial which U.S. author Barbara Taylor Bradford alleges is plagiarized from her novel. Ms. Bradford's lawyers say they are likely to appeal the decision. But the controversy has turned the spotlight on charges that many Indian films are remakes of Hollywood movies.

Sahara Television's 260-part series, Karishma, A Miracle of Destiny was held up for several weeks after Ms. Bradford told an Indian court it was a plagiarized version of her novel, A Woman of Substance. But a Calcutta court says the serial can go on the air while Ms. Bradford lawyers try to prove the allegation.

In the TV series, the central character overcomes obstacles to become a business tycoon. Ms. Bradford's novel and its two sequels deal with a woman's struggle to establish herself.

The court battle has focused attention on the happy ease with which the Indian entertainment industry has for years lifted ideas and plots from Hollywood movies and novels by British and American authors. Much of the criticism is directed at Bollywood, India's huge film industry, which churns out 800 movies a year and is the prime entertainment for millions of people in the country.

Critics describe the recipe of many a Bollywood movie: take a Hollywood plot, and season it the Indian way - with romance, melodrama, glamorous film stars, and sizzling song and dance numbers.

Many film critics complain that originality is dead in much of Bollywood, saying plots, shots and even the dialogue are copied. Komal Nata is editor of the trade publication Film Information. He says many Indian directors and writers spend hours watching DVD's of Hollywood films, deciding what to take from where.

"They are just wholesale copying the films, changing a little bit here, a little bit there, and those changes also they are taking from other films, so it is always an amalgamation of two or three Hollywood films together," says Mr. Nata.

Film directors do not deny that elements of Hollywood plots and stories are woven into their movies. But they give it another name - inspiration. They say they are merely taking an idea and routing it through the Indian heart, in the process transforming it completely.

Sanjay Gadhvi is a popular Bollywood film director. Critics charge that his film My Friend's Wedding, borrowed heavily from the 1997 Hollywood film My Best Friend's Wedding. He shrugs aside the criticism, saying there may be similarities, but his film is not a copy.

Anyway, says Mr. Gadhvi, film plots are like the seven notes of music: Similar themes will crop up everywhere and they will crossover from one continent to another.

"There are just about seven or eight or maybe ten plots or angles you can make a film with, so there would be coincidental similarities between films also," says Mr. Gadhvi. "But yes, to an extent it could be said that it is true, but then it has been done all over the world. American films might have been inspired by East European cinema or British films from American films."

Film critic Mr. Nata, however, points out that all of Bollywood's runaway successes in recent times have been original stories, tapping into the Indian culture and psyche. He blames a string of recent Hindi movie flops to the phenomenon of copying - saying it may be easy, but it does not always work.

"Because our sensibilities of the Indian audience are so different from the sensibilities of the Hollywood audience," says Mr. Nata. "Plus they [writers] are so used to now working by such short-cut methods they are not even bothered, they seem to have closed their mind to what appeals to the Indian audience and what does not."

Many Indian moviegoers are indifferent to the controversy. The bulk of the Indian cinema audience is like 21-year-old Pallavi Dhir - they simply want to watch good entertainment. "I don't really care if the film is a copy. It should just be well made. As long as I enjoy a movie, I am happy," she says.

Lawyers say Ms. Bradford's court case against the Sahara television serial could make Bollywood pause for a while in its hunt for the latest Hollywood idea. But they feel courts will find it difficult to pinpoint charges of plagiarism because Hindi films often interweave ideas from several movies.

Another deterrent is the lumbering Indian legal system, where court cases can drag on for decades. So it seems that Hollywood remakes will continue to play out on Indian screens for many years to come.