30 October 2018
“Three Idiots” Controversy – An Analysis
First Publication Date: 5th January 2010
For all the ardent Mr. Chetan Bhagat’s readers, who loved “Five Point Someone-What not to do in IIT” and fans of the movie, “Three Idiots”, the attribution controversy has not been very pleasant.
In a recent press meet, producer Mr. Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s outburst over the question on Mr. Chetan Bhagat’s allegations of not being given proper credit in the film has led to an important question. The question that needs to be analyzed now is whether proper credit has been given and is it actually required to be given?
In one of the previous posts here relating to “Three Idiots” controversy, the aforesaid question has already been discussed. However, being a fan of both, the book and the movie, it interested me to analyze the entire controversy by comparing the book and the movie in order to understand the allegations of Mr. Chetan Bhagat and producers of the movie. And after the analysis, which is provided as hereunder, I most respectfully disagree with the previous posts here relating to the same topic.
To begin with, let us look at the similarities between the book and the movie. The plot line of the movie is undoubtedly the same as the book. To cite instances, the three central characters meet at ragging, the first class of the semester begins with the definition of machine, Alok (Raju) separate from the other two characters after Prof. Cherian’s (Director’s) advise, Ryan (Rancho) helps Alok’s father and brings him to the hospital, after which Alok rejoins the group. Further, Alok (Raju) jumps from the building to save his suspension and exam papers are stolen from the Director’s office and phone call is made from Prof. Cherian’s (Directors’) office, Prof. Cherian’s (Director’s) son commits suicide after failing thrice for getting admission in IIT (ICE), Neha (Pia) hiding the fact that her brother commits suicide from her father Prof. Cherian (Director), showcase of rigour and monotony involved in the studies and rat race at IIT (ICE) and so on.
Besides the aforesaid similarities, there are also a number of changes that have been made in the movie. Character switch between Ryan (Rancho) and Hari (Farhaan), flight take off aborted by Hari (Farhaan) to deboard, the search for Ryan (Rancho) by Alok (Raju) and Hari (Farhaan), character sketch of Prof. Cherian (Virus), concept of astronaut pen being transferred from Prof. Cherian (Virus) to Ryan (Rancho), absence of character Prof. Veera, “All is Well” line of thought, speech scene by Venkat (Chatur) and his dramatic return after 10 years of college, Ryan (Rancho) characterized as Phunsukh Wangdu in the later half of the movie, heroine, Neha (Piya) being paired opposite to Ryan (Rancho) and not opposite Hari, the narrator (Farhan), whose religion and professional ambition in life has been changed, introduction of character of Mona (Neha’s (Pia) sister) and delivery scene of Mona, the final conflict between Phunsukh and Venkat (Chatur), that shows the theme of the film to “Chase Excellence, Success Will Follow”.
Given the backdrop, a lot of people are asking if substantial portion of the movie is copied from the book or not. In order to understand whether the similarities between the book and the movie amounts to being substantial similar, it should be noted that Courts look not only at the proportion of duplication in comparison to the relative size of the works, but also to the fact as to how creative and original is the copied work and how important and central such creation is to both the works. As there is no clarity regarding the quantum of duplication, which qualifies for “substantial similarity”, the question of determining the substantial similarity depends on facts and circumstances of each case.
Before applying the aforesaid principles to the present case, we must not forget to discuss the landmark case relating to substantial similarity, i.e., “R.G ANAND Vs. M/S. DELUX FILMS & ORS.” The case involved the adaptation of a play written by plaintiff into a movie by the defendants. On a careful comparison of the script of the plaintiff’s copyrighted play with the movie, the Court held that “…although one does not fail to discern a few resemblances and similarities between the play and the film, the said resemblances are not material or substantial and the degree of similarities is not such as to lead one to think that the film taken as a whole constitutes an unfair appropriation of the plaintiff’s copyrighted work. In fact, a large majority of material incidents,episodes and situations portrayed by defendants in their film are substantially different from the plaintiff’s protected work…”
Hence, while applying the principles of substantial similarity to the present case, it should be noted that the proportion of duplication of the book by the producers of the movie in comparison to the relative size of the book is not important. What is important to see is whether the movie copied substantial elements of the copyrighted portions of the book or not. Comparing the similarities and dissimilarities between the book and the movie, there is no denying that the basic structure of the movie is inspired and adapted from the book. The changes made in the movie however are many, which are central to the movie alone and not to the book. In my opinion said resemblances are not substantial and the degree of similarities is not such as to lead one to think that the movie taken as a whole constitutes a copying of Mr. Chetan Bhagat’s book under the copyright law.
In the light of my opinion that the movie is not substantially similar to the book, the question to be considered is whether Chetan Bhagat must be given credit as the story writer. To answer this question we need to look into the contract entered between Vinod Chopra Films and Mr. Chetan Bhagat, which may be found at http://www.vinodchopra.com/agreement.pdf. For understanding whether adequate credit is being given to Mr. Chetan Bhagat, clause 4 of the same contract becomes relevant. It provides the mode of providing the credits to Mr. Chetan Bhagat, which was agreed to be given during the rolling credits as, “Based on the Novel Five Point Someone by Chetan Bhagat”. In light of this clause, producers of the movie are not bound to give any credits to Mr. Chetan Bhagat other than as provided in the agreement because by agreeing for credits to be given in a specific manner, Mr. Chetan Bhagat has waived his right to claim for any other kind of credit. Furthermore, as the movie is not substantially similar, the producers of the movie do not have any obligation to give credit to Mr. Chetan Bhagat other than as agreed under the contract.