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It’s a steal!

What does a TV serial do when it starts running out of ideas? Well, it simply turns to the nearest Hindi movie blockbuster and allows itself to be “inspired” by it. A plot line here, a character there, a situation somewhere else — increasingly, Hindi films seem to be providing the much needed grist to the ever churning mill of television serials.

Take a look at Star One’s Dill Mill Gayye (DMG). The character of Dr Armaan Mallik, played by Karan Singh Grover, is slowly taking on shades of Shah Rukh Khan’s Surinder Suri in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. That’s not all. The plots of Star Plus’s Tujh Sang Preet Lagai Sajna (TSPLS) and Zee TV’s Ranbir Rano echo that of Subhash Ghai’s 1991 film Saudagar. Jeevan Saathi, showing on Colors, reminds you of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s 1999 smash hit Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Zee TV’s Hamari Betiyon ka Vivah clearly smacks of Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice (2004).

Of course, teleserial writers dismiss the allegation that they are borrowing from Hindi films to keep their soaps ticking. “Look, there are a few basic ideas around which stories are built. So at times story lines do appear to be similar to those of Bollywood movies. But that doesn’t mean that we are copying from Hindi films,” says Bandana Tewari, scriptwriter of Balaji Telefilms’s new venture, Kitni Mohabbat Hai, that’s being aired on NDTV Imagine.

Arvind Gupta, director of Ranbir Rano, agrees. “Since both Ranbir Rano and Saudagar are about warring families, people might think that it’s a remake of the hit film. But it’s not like that at all.”

Others point out that the shadow of a borrowed idea alone does not make for a successful serial. “Even if we take the idea from a film, you have to understand that while a film is over in three hours, a serial goes on for a long time and we have to give it a new twist daily,” says Archita Biswas, script writer of TSPLS.

Some serial-makers are more matter-of-fact about the charge that they are helping themselves to successful filmi story ideas. BidaaiSapna Babul Ka, a hit serial on Star Plus, has increasingly begun to sound like Rajshri Films’ 2006 blockbuster Vivah. But ask Vivek Bahl, senior creative director of Star Plus and Star One about it and he says, “To be compared to Rajshri is a huge honour. If we can match up to even a 10th of what they have achieved, we’ll be thrilled. Still, we would not blatantly ‘copy’. For copies don’t work, and end up looking forced.”

So how are these Bollywood spin-offs going down with viewers? Not everyone, it seems, is welcoming them with open arms. Says Calcutta’s Sadia Ishaque, an avid follower of the idiot box, “These days most of the serials are nothing but remakes of Hindi films. So much so that two rival channels are running serials based on the film Saudagar!”

But though they know what’s going on, some are coming back for more. “I find it annoying that serials are copying scenes, characters and even the plots from hit films,” says Sweta Dey, a Calcutta-based media professional. “Despite that I keep tuning in to DMG,” she admits.

Does that mean that serials that are dipping into Hindi films for inspiration are managing to grab those elusive eyeballs? There are no clear answers to that question. For while Bidaai managed a high television rating point (TRP) of over 8 on the days it followed the Vivah track, DMG could only muster a low .79 TRP despite its similarity to RNBDJ.

Zee TV’s Gupta feels that there is no formula of success. Sony’s Kajjal and Zee’s Banoo Main Teri Dulhann both went for the reincarnation track post the success of Om Shanti Om. But while the former failed to make much of an impact, the latter did manage to keep the TRPs afloat. “Almost all serials have the same generic content, barring a few that have an out-of-the-box idea,” says Gupta. “One needs to keep experimenting as one never knows what will click with the audience,” he adds.

Bahl too says that high TRPs are not always a function of interesting plot twists. “Simply adding a new twist does not always lead to an increase in TRPs. Of course, we have to get into new tracks and characters to keep viewer interest alive. Sometimes a new track works, sometimes it doesn’t. So, it could also lead to a drop in TRPs,” he says.

Though directors of the films that are inspiring these serials were not available for comment, others in the industry feel that in the long run copied ideas will not do the trick. Says Jamnadas Majethia, producer of series such as Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai, Khichdi and Baa Bahoo Aur Baby, “It’s the out of the box ideas and endearing characters that click with the audience. Copying ideas won’t help in the long run.”

Time, as they say, will tell.

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