– By Sanjay Jha
Hi, but was on a much needed vacation hence the long hiatus.
New Year’s began with characteristic color; Vidhu Vinod Chopra , producer of 3 Idiots slamming the media by telling them to stuff it when the latter questioned him on the controversial issue of credits for author Chetan Bhagat. As bedlam broke out, Aamir Khan restrained the irascible Chopra from giving a further demo of his inflammatory temper, while Raju Hirani put on the veneer of Gandhigiri to restore order. But probably Chopra, Khan and Hirani should have gone back to their own scene from the film when Sharman Joshi squeezes out a toothpaste and tells Madhavan to try and put that back in the tube , words once spoken cannot be taken back. Bhagat wasted no time in hitting back with a square punch on the jaw and before long the whole world knew that all was far from well. So let us cut the long chase and summarize in brief , firstly, the two main characters in this petty conflict and then more.
Chetan Bhagat obviously on Cloud 9 after his first pop-fiction book Five Point Someone became an apparent bestseller , was probably too carried away when Raju Hirani, celebrated director of the classic Munnabhai series expressed interest in his work. My feeling is that Chetan, a good old yuppie, was clearly overwhelmed by that event and began visualizing an instant enhancement in his author “ valuations” and a new-found Page 3 celebrity image to really sensibly negotiate commercial terms on a pragmatic basis. Why on earth did he sell full copyrights for a measly Rs 1 lakh is the missing link that no one has looked into with adequate depth, though Bhagat has confessed that Chopra virtually frightened him into meek surrender. Either way, bottomline is that Bhagat sold cheap for obviously other perceived benefits. Frankly, it did get him columnist space and a lot of free media visibility.
I rate Vinod Chopra as one of India’s finest directors ever; Parinda was a masterpiece of unmatched proportions, and his Khamosh is one of the cleverest whodunits I have ever seen in Indian cinema. And albeit many critics trashed Mission Kashmir, I still rate Sanjay Dutt’s portrayal of a broken-hearted cop seeking redemption as one of his best. Then why do most find the genius Chopra insufferable? The answer is simple— he is now more a money-guzzling shark-like producer than a creative story-teller.
Chopra is clearly made fortunes, and in a fickle as flame industry the maxim is hard-line; the mightier party wins, there is no negotiation with the weak. After a point, success does not just get into your head , it also gets into your bottoms, it’s a systemic spread. Chopra’s hubris in throwing peanuts at an intimidated Bhagat manifests Bollywood’s power-play with naïve outsiders. This time it has boomeranged.
In short, it is the same old story; while Chopra quotes the work contract verbatim on his website, Bhagat talks about the spirit of it’s implementation. There is life beyond a lawyer’s lavishness.
Technically, Chopra is right BUT only up to a point. Bhagat has got paid as per agreed terms and his name featured in the rolling credits as was explicitly stated. So far so good. But Bhagat’s grouse is that while he was earlier given the false impression that 3 Idiots was just an inspirational take-off on the book , the truth is that the box-office monster of a film is in fact a “faithful adaptation” of the book , according to those who have read it. But once rights are sold , it is the producer’s prerogative what he does with it, right? .
The crucial aspect is; did Bhagat get an approved copy of the script ? If he did, Bhagat can go fly a kite in IIM, Bangalore. But did Chopra get Bhagat’s acquiescence recorded if it indeed was made available to him ? If not ( as seems the case) , he is not as tight in contract execution as is being speculated. So is somebody lying? I think the categorical answer is YES. Either way, Chopra is adequately covered by the contract since Bhagat failed to ensure it’s inclusion. Legally, therefore Bhagat is standing on a banana peel in a quick-sand.
Thus, I believe the trigger point that made Bhagat into a Bhagat Singh was the rather disparaging manner in which the 3 Idiots team kept insinuating that the screenplay was a mere 2-5% of the book content because, honestly , that was a darned lie. For any author , good, bad or ugly the copyright is his soul. Bhagat is actually reacting today to perhaps his earlier mortification at being condescendingly coerced into selling cheap and the repulsive relegation of his work . It is his repressed angst erupting like a volcano, and something else.
Neither Chopra ,Bhagat nor trade pundits in their wildest dreams expected 3 Idiots to become such a huge money-spinner . The stakes have altered completely overnight. Bhagat is expectedly morose at the missed opportunity of profuse fame; the season of highly televised film awards which will commence shortly wherein he could have been the cynosure of all eyes, the Prasoon Joshi- kind –of- intellectual breed, a new poster boy of Bollywood. That is why the sudden rush for “ Story” credits. Ideally, he should have covered that flank in his written contract. But he has every right to even now belatedly challenge a blatant misrepresentation by the 3 Idiots camp. He has a right to fame, celebrity-hood, money, power et al that he now so stubbornly pursues. He is deftly exploiting “ grey areas “ as legally he has a lost case.
Chopra, Hirani and Khan have displayed a typical ruthless , contumelious Bollywood streak, they methodically trample the susceptible weaker-party. But this time they were dealing with a smart young man seeking justly his moment in the sun who could match a sarcastic sound byte with an equally sardonic one. It is a fair and square battle.
Chopra should ideally incorporate Bhagat amongst the title-holders for “ story” credits (along with Joshi and Hirani) . They can then walk on the stage together, sing each other’s praises till we blush crimson, all three ( idiots?) suitably compensated and send the appropriate filmy message—all is well!
PS: The pussy cat gingerly came out of the bag in this entire acrimonious drama . Our man Aamir Khan is truly not the Mr Perfectionist he claims to be . Firstly , he never really read the book on which his film and script was based . Sacrilege indeed! And secondly, Mr Khan actually chided media for asking questions without reading Bhagat’s fiction when he himself was guilty of the same. But after Rs 100 crores and counting, I guess all is finally well !
Happy New Year!