India is yet again debating the ambit of Copyrights Act after a Bengaluru-based young woman writer recently accused bestselling author Chetan Bhagat of plagiarism. Anvita Bajpai, an IIT-Madras alumna, raised many eyebrows when she filed a lawsuit against Bhagat in a Bengaluru court demanding Rs 5 lakh as damages for allegedly copying her storyline.
Anvita's plaint that Bhagat's latest novel One Indian Girl is an unscrupulous adaptation of her short story Drawing Parallels and the subsequent court order on April 19 stopping the sale of the novel have stirred up a hornet's nest, with the legal fraternity divided over the merit of the copyright infringement trial. The short story is part of her anthology Life, Odds, Ends published in 2014.
Bhagat was barred from selling his book until the hearing in June. One Indian Girl, published by Rupa, is his seventh novel.
While leafing through the stories, both of which revolve around a woman, the striking similarities will not go unnoticed. Both Anvita's Aliya and Bhagat's Radhika are feminists, unconventional, middle-class, adventurous women caught in a string of relationships. And, both of them are settling down in their third relationship. The internal conflicts of these two women drive both the stories forward, with Aliya and Radhika seeking balance in romance, family and career.
“Many situations, scenes and names are similar in both stories, though with an effort to put in changed context,” Anvita alleges in her court submission.
The presence of both ex-boyfriends at the heroine's wedding with the third man in her life, the internal dialogues of the heroine and similar names like Mark, Oxford, Kolkata, Goa and Facebook are some of the similarities Anvita points out in her petition.
She makes yet another claim, maybe an overstep, saying that the woman in her story constantly drives analogy between her first boyfriend and Lord Krishna, thereby indirectly comparing herself with Radha. Interestingly, Bhagat's heroine's name is Radhika.
Of course, these evidences cannot be dismissed as allusions. But the charges of plagiarism, here, are related to the idea and not to the language. Bhagat has given a different treatment to all the people and situations in his story. So, the main challenge before Anvita while trying to prove her contention will be the limits of Copyrights Act, which doesn't offer much protection from thematic infringement. Copyright does not protect the original ideas, but only the expression of them.
Anvita, however, is hopeful of a positive verdict from the court.
“In such a case, if one needs to detail a short story in form of a novel, a professional and ethical way would be to buy rights, or give due credits,” she tells THE WEEK.
“For example, I had watched the play Shylock that is based on Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, and in spite of making modifications in the original story, they have not claimed it to be original, and have given credit. There are songs and films, which are released as remakes, but they come with due credits. There are books which contextualise age-old concept with a due acceptance of facts,” she says.
Anvita seeks to buttress her claims by recounting the instance when she presented a copy of her book to Bhagat during the Bengaluru Lit Fest in 2014 after it was released at an event in IIT Madras. Despite her request for a feedback, she didn't get any reply from him.
Bhagat, however, has outrightly dismissed allegations of plagiarism. “This is deeply unfortunate. This is, for one, an absolute surprise for me as I have never read any of this author’s works. My stories are always original – including One Indian Girl – and it is unthinkable for me to do anything like what is suggested,” reads one of his Facebook post.
Anvita's lawsuit has taken many by surprise and she has got bricks and bouquets in equal measure. The author, however, trashes the charges that she sued Bhagat for monetary gain, saying she has a decent job to live. “My attempt is only to bring out the truth.”
“In fact, an acceptance of a situation like this only de-motivates a new author or a passionate author from freely bringing out a new perspective,” she says.