Bollywood Takes On 'My Cousin Vinny'

The Indian film industry, also known as Bollywood, plans to remake the 1992 U.S. movie My Cousin Vinny. Usually Indian filmmakers take the plots from Hollywood movies without getting legal permission, but this time producers are asking for the American studio's approval, which could be a first for Bollywood.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

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.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Bringing Bollywood To The U.S.

An Indian conglomerate has acquired more than 200 movie screens across the United States in the past year. The company, Reliance, is using the theaters to showcase Indian films. Now it's grabbing headlines for reported plans to set up a new movie venture with Steven Spielberg.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

One of India's largest conglomerates has been making headlines in the United States because of its reported plans to set up a new movie venture with Steven Spielberg. The company is called Reliance. It's based in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay. Its $500 million investment in a new movie-making venture with Spielberg has not been confirmed, but as NPR's Asma Khalid reports, the Indian company is already slipping into U.S. cinemas.

Unidentified Man #1: Two tickets for (foreign language spoken), 7:15 show, please.

Unidentified Man #2: Two for (foreign language spoken), two for...

Unidentified Woman #1: Hi, can I get two for "Love Story 2050?"

ASMA KHALID: We're at the movies in Edison, New Jersey. The smell of buttery popcorn fills the air, but the concession stand at Movie City 8 also sells lassis, an Indian yogurt drink, and samosas, a fried dumpling snack. And while half the movies at this multiplex come from Hollywood, the other half come from Bollywood. That's India's multibillion dollar film industry. Tonight, one of the big hits is "Love Story 2050." Like most Bollywood movies, boy meets girl, they fall in love, sing, dance.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing in foreign language)

KHALID: This movie's distributed by the Indian media company Reliance. Reliance also operates this multiplex. Over the last year, Reliance has acquired more than 200 screens across the U.S., mostly in cities with large south Asian populations. And it bought a majority stake in a U.S. cinema company called Phoenix to manage the operations.

Mr. PHIL ZACHERETTI (CEO, Phoenix): Business has been great.

KHALID: Phil Zacheretti is CEO of Phoenix.

Mr. ZACHERETTI: In some of the theaters that we're playing the Indian films, they can outgross the top Hollywood product of that week two to three to four times.

KHALID: That's despite higher prices theaters charge for Indian movies.

Mr. ZACHERETTI: The loyalty is just phenomenal. We see people driving 40 to 50 miles to come see these films.

(Soundbite of cash register ringing)

Unidentified Woman #2: Enjoy your movie.

KHALID: At Edison's Movie City 8, the air conditioning's not working. That's typical of the run-down mom and pop theaters that show Indian films. But Reliance plans to spend a million dollars on new seats, new carpeting, new bathrooms, a new projector and hopefully working air conditioning. It's planning similar upgrades at other theaters, but the goal is not just to improve the Indian moviegoing experience. Reliance is building up a chain of cinemas to distribute its own films.

Mr. UDAY KUMAR (Reliance Movie Investments): We realize that U.S. is a very big and key market for cinema from India, and we found that the Indian cinema suffered because of lack of good theaters.

KHALID: That's Uday Kumar(ph). He runs Reliance's movie investments here. He admits this is an experiment. But Patrick Frater, Asia editor at the entertainment publication Variety, is skeptical the company can find appeal outside immigrant communities.

Mr. PATRICK FRATER (Asia Editor, Variety): India cinema industry has been talking about the day that the Bollywood industry will cross over into mainstream globally for years and years, and it hasn't happened.

KHALID: He thinks Reliance's foray into the U.S. isn't really about making money. It's more about going global, something many of India's top corporations are trying to do now.

Mr. FRATER: They want to learn the U.S. market from the inside. It's much easier to do that if you're actually running a business rather than looking in from the outside and saying, hmm, I think that's how it works.

KHALID: Uday Kumar doesn't deny that.

Mr. KUMAR: The focus of the group is now to make this business a global business, rather than just an India-centric business.

KHALID: Acquiring a couple hundred rundown movie screens might seem like a minor move, but Reliance is also reportedly investing in a new movie venture with Steven Spielberg. And the company's struck agreements with production houses run by top U.S. actors like George Clooney. It's all part of a multi-pronged approach to becoming a more prominent player in the global movie industry.

Asma Khalid, NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

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