Abhishek Chaubey's Udta Punjab, widely considered by many as one of the best films of 2016, has found itself in the midst of a plagiarism row.
The Times of India published an article pointing out the similarities between Ben Elton's 2002 novel High Society and Udta Punjab. It is next to impossible to overlook the similarities in the plot, characters and theme and dismiss them as mere coincidence.
High Society revolves around the thriving British drug scene. The characters include a rockstar named Tommy Hanson, who is addicted to drugs.
Tommy is shown to meet a 17-year-old girl Jessie, who has absconded from her Scottish home to London. She is exploited by a pimp and forced into prostitution, much like - NO - exactly like Alia Bhatt's character in the movie.
There's also a police officer who wants to expose the drug cartel in which both politicians and the cops are complicit. Now, did that remind you of Diljit Dosanjh?
Right from the title, ('Udta' to 'High' and society being contextualised with Punjab's drug-laced reality), to the name (and characteristics) of the primary character - Tommy - there are just too many similarities to give Chaubey's film the benefit of doubt.
Scroll.in has published in great detail the specific portions of the book that have been then recreated in the films as scenes, including the famous scene where Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt's characters meet. He in intoxicated and running from an angry crowd from a concert while she's escaping from the men who forced her into prostitution.
While Chaubey remains mum on the issue, the film's writer, Sudeep Sharma, denied plagiarising the book and making it the basis of Udta Punjab.
He told Scroll.in that he had read the book a while back and had 'forgotten most of it'.
"The one big inspiration for me was Traffic. I had read the [Ben Elton] book a long time back," Sharma said. "I don't remember most of it."
Sharma maintains the film is based on an article by Sai Manish in Tehelka magazine that reported in great detail the extent of the drug epidemic in Punjab. While the local details could have been sourced from the article, the broader strokes in the film, especially the characters, seem to be directly lifted from High Society.
Many people expressed their disappointment on learning about the development.
Quite disappointing if the news about Udta Punjab is true https://t.co/NK4zr8Hb9m anyone read the novel? can enlighten?— सात्विक स्नोब (@NotSoSnob) September 23, 2016
Hurts an awful lot when good films turn out to be thieves. Sigh.— Raja Sen (@RajaSen) September 27, 2016
Not pronouncing a judgement already or pointing to any one culprit, but somebody fucked up.— Raja Sen (@RajaSen) September 27, 2016
Before the film's release, Udta Punjab had found itself in a controversial position with the Censor Board demanding as many as 89 cuts.
The film industry came together and passionately fought against the draconian ways of the CBFC.
The film's producers, Ekta Kapoor's Balaji Motion Pictures and Anurag Kashyap's Phantom Films, dragged the Board to the Bombay High Court which passed the verdict in the film's favour, clearing the film with only one cut.
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