Why Fareed Zakaria failed, and Salim-Javed got away

Vivek Kaul

“So you must be shocked?” asked a friend on Facebook chat on Saturday.
Now given the times that we live in it took me a while to figure out that she was talking about Fareed Zakaria and not about yet another train accident, riot or a flash flood.
“Nothing is sacrosanct in the media anymore,” was her far reaching conclusion.
For the uninitiated Fareed Zakaria is a former editor of the Newsweek magazine who has recently admitted to plagiarizing a column he wrote advocating gun control in America. He was stupid enough to borrow portions of the column liberally from a column written by Jill Lepore in the New Yorker magazine. (You can read about the entire controversy here). Till recently Zakaria was Editor-at-Large at the Time magazine and also hosted a programme called GPS on CNN.
As I spoke to my friend on Facebook chat there was a qawali playing on my CD player. Sabri Brothers were singing “ajmer ko jaana hai”. It was one of the random CDs that I had picked up around a couple of years back but had never gotten around to listening.
I had heard the tune before. The tune was exactly similar to that of the super-hit song “ek pyar ka nagma hai, maujon ki rawani hai” sung by Mukesh and Lata Mangeskhar, written by Santosh Anand and set to tune by Laxmikant-Pyarelal (LP).
Soon I logged out of Facebook chat and was trying to figure out who copied whom? Typically some Googling always helps in these cases. (The best website to visit in such cases is www.itwofs.com. The website normally has the original song as well as the copied song).
But it did not help in this case. Various questions cropped up in my mind.
Did LP set to tune their song first? Or were Sabri brothers singing what is a traditional tune? Or did they copy LP? Or for that matter did LP copy the Sabri brothers? I don’t know (Maybe the readers can throw some light on this).
No such problems exist in Zakaria’s case though. It’s an open and shut case. He copied from the New Yorker and has admitted to doing the same.
But such clarity is not always there. Let me give an example to explain. A couple of years back I discovered this Jim Reeves song called “My Lips Are Sealed”. As I heard the song over and over again it sounded very similar to a Hindi film song. But I just couldn’t which one.
It took me an entire day to figure out that the song sounded similar to “ajeeb dastan hai ye” from the movie Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai. The song had some beautiful lyrics written by Shailendra and set to tune by Shankar-Jaikishan.
If I were to use the language of the Hindi film industry the song was inspired and not copied. And the interesting part was that Shailendra had written some amazing lyrics to the tune of My Lips Are Sealed. And Lata Mangeshkar had made the song immortal by lending her melodious voice to it. So something good came out of the copying.
Now here are a few lines to ponder over.
‘So, young man. So now you have also starred frequenting these places?’
‘Yes. I often come by to pay Flush,’ Imran said respectfully.
‘Flush! Oh, so now you play Flush…
”Yes, yes. I feel like it when I am a bit drunk…
”Oh! So you have also started drinking?’
‘What can I say? I swear I’ve never drunk alone. Frequently I find hookers who do not agree to anything without a drink…’

If you were starting to wonder whether these lines are from that movie, which they happen to call the biggest Hindi film hit of all time, well you are not totally wrong.
The lines do sound surreptitiously similar to the ‘Veeru Ki Shaadi‘ proposal scene in the biggest Hindi blockbuster of all time Sholay. But these lines are not from Sholay.
Actually, these are lines from a book called The House of Fear written by the grandmaster of Urdu crime fiction Ibn-E-Safi. The book was originally published in Urdu in 1955 as Khaufnak Imarat. It was first in the series of 120 odd books that Safi wrote featuring the quirky detective Ali Imran MSc, PhD.
Ibn-E-Safi was the pen name of Asrar Narvi, who came from the village Nara in the Allahabad district. Born in 1929, his pen name literally means ‘son of Safi’ (his father’s name was Safiullah). Narvi, who moved to Pakistan after partition, was a poet who started writing detective fiction in 1952, with the Jasoosi Duniya series which had Colonel Faridi and Captain Hameed as the main protagonists.
In 1953, Saifi started writing the Imran series in Urdu. The same series of books appeared in Hindi as well with exactly the same story line except for the fact that a character called Vinod replaced Imran.
Sholay was released in 1975, whereas Safi’s Khaufnak Imarat was released two decades earlier in 1955. Given this, Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar (the writers of Sholay) copied (or should we say “were inspired” in the Bollywood sense of the term) the scene which is regarded by many as one of the greatest comic scenes in the history of Hindi cinema, from Ibn-E-Safi.
This is not surprising given that Javed Akhtar in his growing up years is known to have read Ibn-E-Safi. “He had tremendous flair and sophistication…Safi’s novels created an imaginary city that could have been the San Francisco of the 50s in India. His penchant for villains with striking names like Gerald Shastri and Sang Hi taught me the importance of creating larger-than life characters such as Gabbar and Mogambo as a scriptwriter,” Akhtar told the Hindustan Times a couple of years back.
In the book The Making of Sholay, Anupama Chopra, writes about the inspiration behind the scene. “A disgruntled parent also inspired the classic ‘Veeru Ki Shaadi‘ proposal scene. Javed was in love with actress Honey Irani. They had first met on the sets of Seeta aur Geeta and much of their courtship was conducted there. But Mama Perin Irani kept a strict eye on her daughters. And Javed, still a struggling writer, had little to recommend him. He had presented himself but had failed to make an impression at all. Salim was a little senior. He had also worked in Bachpan, which Irani had produced. Naturally, Javed requested his partner to carry the proposal. He didn’t know that partner didn’t approve either.”
What followed was an interaction between Perin Irani and Salim Khan, which went like this:
‘Ladka kaisa hai?’
‘We are partners and I wouldn’t work with anyone unless I approve of him. Lekin daaru bahut peeta hai’
‘Kya? Daaru bahut peeta hai!’
‘Aaj kal bahut nahi peeta, bas ek do peg. Aur ismein aisi koi kharabi nahin hai. Lekin daaru peene ke baad red light area main bhi jaata hai.’

Chopra further writes in her book that the last line of the dialogue in the movie- ‘khandaan ka pata chalet hi aapko khabar kar denge‘ is fiction.
There are a few issues that arise here. The first of course is that Salim-Javed copied a scene without any attribution. But that has always been the norm with the Hindi film industry. The bigger issue of course is that even though the copied the scene they tried to pass it off as an inspiration from real life, which as I have shown above it clearly is not. Unless of course, Salim Khan had also read the book and repeated the lines when he went to meet Javed Akhtar’s would be mother-in-law. But that still doesn’t mean the scene wasn’t copied.
(On a different note, 20 years back I saw Mahesh Bhat’s Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahi at the Sandhya Cinema in Ranchi and fell in love with the movie and its heroine Pooja Bhat. A few years back I saw It Happened One Night, the Hollywood original. Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahi other than the songs it has is a scene by scene lift of It Happened One Night, even its dialogues are translated from the English original.)
Getting back to the topic at hand, Fareed Zakaria unlike Salim-Javed, is unlucky to be living in an era where copying something, and passing it off as your own creation, is getting more and more difficult. Zakaria is just finding that out. He has been suspended by both the Time magazine as well as CNN.
In some cases all it takes it is a Google search to figure out whether the article has been copied or not. Even those who copy do not copy from a mainstream magazine like the New Yorker. They are more likely to copy it from some obscure journal or research paper. But even there the chances of getting caught remain pretty high. Also if the original creators find out these days that someone else has copied them they tend to sue for damages.
When Salim-Javed copied times were different. People were not as much aware as they are today and it was easy to pass off someone else’s work as your own. In fact, the writer duo even went to the extent of creating a background for how they had been inspired in writing the “Veeru ki Shaadi” proposal scene. They got away with it. Zakaria clearly didn’t.
To conclude all I can say is that clearly “The Times They Are A Changin!” Now before I get accused of plagiarizing. I didn’t write this. We all know who did.
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on August 13,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/world/why-fareed-zakaria-failed-and-salim-javed-got-away-416134.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])