Posted this on DesiMediaBitchFest...
Further to Black Muddy River’s blog on plagiarism on DesiMediaBitch...we had a long talk about the subject last evening and one of the things we discussed was: why is everyone so surprised by the Nikhat Kazmi incident? Over the last few years we’ve been looking at the foreign-movie reviews that appear weekly in our major (and minor) papers and we’ve never been under the impression that it’s anything but "inspired" writing. The big surprise in the latest incident isn’t that the plagiarism occurred -- it’s been happening for years, and in all the newspapers, though, as Shamya says, often in neatly disguised form. The real surprise is that a high-profile critic in the country’s leading newspaper was silly enough to lift whole passages without changing anything, thus making it easy for herself to get caught.
Those of us who pride ourselves on watching movies with passion and forming our own very strong, individual opinions about them, are annoyed by the seeming laziness of many established critics. I have a small theory about this: film critics in India who started out on this beat in the 1980s (or before) rarely had to contend with doing reviews of non-Indian films. Ten, even eight, years ago, Delhiites went to the Priya or Chanakya halls eyes agog at the prospect of getting to watch a Hollywood film (usually a very mediocre Hollywood film) a mere eight months after it had been released in the US. Back then, that was considered luxury! Then came the multiplex culture followed by the era of nearly simultaneous release, and it became necessary for newspapers to carry foreign film reviews. Naturally, writing these became the responsibility of the already-entrenched reviewers, who, until then, hadn’t been watching non-Indian movies with a professional eye (notwithstanding the odd film festival), and had little experience in writing about them.
All this started happening in the mid-to-late 1990s, and that was also when the Internet came into its own out here. How’s that for a combination! On the one hand there was a group of film journalists who hadn’t had much exposure to international cinema and (quite understandably) didn’t get all the cultural references in the Hollywood films they were regularly being bombarded with now; and on the other hand, there was this vast, eminently minable database that would supply all the information they wanted. Go on, put the two ends together and see what you get.
I’m not saying everyone was naturally lazy or dishonest to begin with; I think how it probably worked was that in the early days our reviewers checked online reviews for basic information (cast, crew, character names, places mentioned in the story, the other little details one doesn’t always pick up when the people onscreen are talking in unfamiliar accents), and then gradually moved on to "borrowing" ideas and so forth. And soon, realising that no one really took movie reviews too seriously anyway, they developed the apathy that allowed last Sunday’s Shark Tale review to be "written" the way it was.
Much of the above is speculation of course, and I’d appreciate inputs, especially from anyone who was working as a journo 10-15 years ago and has a better sense of how this culture of indolence might have developed.