Friday 31 December 2010

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a..

..plagiarism accusation!

(Note: please see the update at the end of this post.)(Update 2)

Background and disclosure: I work for Forbes India, where I handle a section of the magazine. Also in my portfolio is the fancy-pants new-age designation, "Editor, Social Media." Which means that I handle the magazine's social media presence: our LinkedIn group, our page on Facebook, and our Twitter handle. And I'm part of the team that creates our covers.


Everything I say below this is my own opinion, and should not be construed as being official communication from Forbes India or it editors and stakeholders. My own personal opinion. Not official. Clear? Thank you.

Today, I got a few alerts from friends that someone called @acorn had said, on Twitter, that the latest Forbes India cover was ripped off from another magazine. Here's the tweet: Forbes India Dec 2010 cover plagiarises from Pragati Oct 2010 cover

This made me grumpy. Make that more grumpy. We're handling regular issues of the magazine, plus a new project that we launch in a bit, and it already looked like I'd have no time to do more than raise a glass with friends to bring in the new year before getting back to work. Now I'd have to go find out who this acorn is and what they were wittering on about.

So, acorn is the Twitter ID of Nitin Pai, who identifies himself as the editor of Pragati, The Indian National Interest Review, from The Takshashila Institution. Now that 'national interest' bit rang a bell. It sounded like a name I'd heard and dismissed from my mind a long time ago. (Dismissed on the admittedly arbitrary grounds that it sounded to me like a rip-off of The National Interest, a US-based foreign policy magazine, and people who can't even think up an original name aren't worth paying too much attention to.) Later, smart pals like Amit Varma linking to The National Interest from time to time persuaded me to check it out a few times. But then I found nothing of particular interest to me in what they had to say, so the blog vanished from my mind. Until now, when I learn that it also has a magazine.

And so, to the plagiarism bit. Mr Pai is saying that we stole their original creative idea. That is a very serious accusation, the kind that lawyers make lots of money on. And one that I, as someone who has made a living out of creating original work, take very seriously.

Let's see now. This 'magazine' did a cover in October, in which a muscular man clad in a kurta, waistcoat and Gandhi cap is shown opening up the buttons of the first two items of clothing, to reveal that he is wearing a blue undershirt on which, within a diamond shape, you see the Ashoka Chakra. The headline says, "Time for change."

(Quick aside. Ye learned ones: Doesn't this flout the Flag Code of India, 2002? It says, among other things, "the Flag shall not be used as a portion of costume or uniform of any description nor shall it be embroidered or printed upon cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins or any dress material." Or are parts of the flag exempt?)

Forbes India's year-end issue cover has a muscular man opening up his sherwani to show that he is wearing a blue undershirt on which is emblazoned a red and yellow diamond shape, within which you see the words "Person of the year 2010." The copy says, "Smarter, bolder, stronger, braver, tougher, bigger, wiser. Better. The Best of the Year."

So, if Forbes India is guilty of plagiarism, it must mean that this person that Pragati portrays is an original creation of their...think tank. Let's see now. Have we seen a similar visual somewhere? No, that can't be true. They wouldn't put a fictional American comic book character on their cover in a pose that large numbers of people around the world would recognise instantly , make a few cosmetic changes, and then claim that it is an original concept. So that must mean this is a totally original thought. (But then, one doesn't get the symbolism of this gentleman taking off his traditional Indian clothing to show us his underwear. Maybe they meant Time to Change. You know, "change your underwear, kiddies," that kind of thing. Good lad. Not sure what the point, but I'm all for hygiene.)

We, in the Forbes India team, are pretty clear where we got our inspiration from. None of us had heard of Pragati before today (and, between us, we do read pretty widely). We were paying homage to a hero of our misspent youths. Who was faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Who would zip into phone booths and rip off his street clothes and spectacles to reveal his superhero costume underneath.

Fabulously original? No. We were paying homage to an iconic image, the mild-mannered reporter turning into the Man of Steel. The cover sought simply to convey that our person of the year was, in a way, a super human. Simple enough.

(I'll admit that I don't think it's as good as some of our previous covers. But we have, more than once, played with old tropes to deliver a thought. This recent cover, for instance, paid homage to a classic VW campaign. Inside joke: VW is now the world's largest car-maker; we took delight in twisting VW's original approach, created by the famous Mr Bernbach and his team, to show what we thought Toyota was trying to do. And this cover was a take on a concept that has had many avatars on the Web, but was originally done by The New Yorker (see this image for a reference) back in 1976. More recently, The Economist did a similar cover, about China's world view.)

Still, Mr Pai says we're plagiarists. And Mr Pai is, undoubtedly, an honourable man. So I guess I'll see their lawyers, or communication from them, in the office soon.

Or, perhaps, *gasp* Mr Pai is trying to get some much-needed visibility for his little magazine by making accusation about Forbes India.

Could it be, could it be, could it be?

Naah. Perish the uncharitable thought. Not from a high-minded organisation that aims to be "credible." That unambiguously pursues the national interest "through consistent high-quality policy advisories." They wouldn't do that.

So, perhaps, I should ask my bosses to get the company's lawyers to speak to Mr Pai about slander. What say ye, Gentle Reader?


This evening, I wrote to Nitin Pai. I'm extracting a part of my first email to him.

My relating Pragati's size to the matter was immature, and what is worse, ungentlemanly and irrelevant. I apologise for that, without conditions and without reservations.

(This apology is in my personal capacity, as was my blog post. Like my blog post, it does not have the sanction or approval of my bosses and Forbes India.)

This still stands: Your accusation of plagiarism is completely unjustified. I am, to put it mildly, upset about that, and do not apologise for my conclusions on why you made that accusation

Nitin replied to my email promptly and courteously. We have since exchanged a number of very civil emails and while we haven't agreed on everything, we are finding common ground. Nitin's emails to me are personal, and therefore privileged, and it's up to him to decide what he wants to share of their content.

8Update 2

Nitin Pai had told me why he jumped to the conclusion that Forbes India had ripped off his cover: he knew that a Pragati designer had shown work (but not the cover in question) to someone at Forbes India. I agreed with him that I would very likely have come to the same conclusion under the circumstances. (While I disagree with his tweeting his outraged conclusion rather than contacting us, I have to admit that I might well have done the same.) He asked me to check with our design team. I did, and wrote back to him thus:
I checked with the three people involved with the cover, and all three assured me that they had no knowledge of Pragati. The only Pragati they'd heard of as an entity is the very famous printing press in Hyderabad. I did an extra check with the remainder of the team, just to make sure, and got similar answers.
My design chief says he has seen over 50 portfolios in the last two months (we've been looking rather intensively for a couple of designers), and yes, it is possible that he may have seen the name Pragati in portfolios that he has seen, but has no recollection of it.
I can do no more than offer you our collective word on this. I hope it is enough?

I know that in a situation like this, with hurt professional pride and anger welling up — like this post of mine, for example — it would be easy to dismiss this assurance. Mr Pai has been a gentleman and has taken my word for it. He has since tweeted an apology and an explanation — 1, 2, 3 — and updated his post.

I'm glad we were able to resolve this despite the acrimonious start.

Thank you, Nitin, and good luck to Pragati. Here's to more and better from all of us.


Monday 20 December 2010

In Madras

We were in Madras for a few days (as part of the Poetry With Prakriti festival). Though we've visited the city a few times as an adult, this was the the first time since we were twelve or thereabouts that we saw a bit of the place. We lived there between ages six and nine, and a lot of what we remember had had changed, of course.

These are brief notes on the trip.

• No road seems to meet another at right angles: they merge, curving into each other at acute angles, undulating, flowing around obstructions, never seeming to come to a full stop.

• On the streets, near-misses that would have resulted in fist-fights in Bombay or Delhi are dismissed with a shrug, or in the case of the driver of the vehicle that ferried us around, a giggle.

• Vehicles obey signals at 2 a.m. but ignore them during rush hour.
The right side of the road on a two-way street is merely a suggestion, not to be taken seriously.

• Driving in Madras is as distinct a genre of the art as driving in Bombay, or Delhi. Practitioners of each would look down on the others.

• Did we say Madras has no straight roads? Madras has no straight roads. What it does have is a profusion of one-way streets.

• The city wakes up earlier and goes to be earlier than other metros; things like late breakfasts and dinners are regarded with some suspicion.

• A service apartment is not what you think it is. The one I stayed in had beds, electricity, an AC and a small water heater (more than we expected or needed), but no soap or towel, no heating jug, one plastic chair, no hangers in the closet, no storage one could lock, no room cleaning (all of which we could have used).

• On our previous brief visits, we noticed that coffee house franchises weren't as ubiquitous (except for the now defunct Qwiky's) as in other Indian cities. Figures, we said to ourselves: they take their coffee seriously, Tamil folks. This time, we were surprised to see Baristas and Cafe Coffee Days abound.

• In Madras, you understand what sambhar really should be.
And that dosas are not just for vegetarians. Our first meal was egg dosa with chicken curry in a place called Midnight Masala, which was, apparently, the only non-5-star eating option open at 1.30 a.m., when our flight landed.

• When people say they'd like to meet up, they make the effort to do so.

• And, at an event, if you have a low turn-out, it's no point waiting for late-comers; everyone who wants to be there will be there, on time.

• Low-slung, sprawling, set-back-from-the-road type houses still survive, though newer parts of town have their profusion of ugly concrete boxes And in the business districts, glass-walled skyscrapers are sprouting, which seems like a bad idea in a city that is infernally hot most of the year!

• And on Mount Road, we were delighted to see that Indo-Saracenic frontages still survive. We in Bombay are used to Victoria Terminus being used as the ultimate example of the genre. Chandrachoodan tells us that that isn't correct: for one, the school really first took shape in Madras; and VT has a big helping of Gothic in the mix.

• British-era place-names still survive, not just in everyday conversation; they're also there on street signage.

• No one picks on you if you say 'Madras' instead of 'Chennai.'

• Contrary to popular belief, Madras has a winter. And the winter rain is a wondrous thing: a fine spray that keeps dust and the temperature down.

• The only Hindi you hear is from North Indians in restaurants trying to to talk to waiters.

• In Madras, I have an accent.

• They take their movies stars seriously.

• Life does move slower; and there are more courtesies and rituals. A friend says an Open Mic with a time limit for performers, like the one we run in Prithvi, would not work. People would expect to be able to finish their poems no matter how long they last. Remember, she said, this is a place where the alaap of a performance can take an hour.

• And yes, we fell in live with Amethyst (which, we hear, is moving soon, and the lovely mansion in which it is housed may be demolished). Fab food, great ambience, and of course, a beautiful place.

Wethinks we will write about Poetry With Prakriti separately. Soon.

Thursday 4 November 2010

Stet 'Stet'

'Stet' is Latin for 'let it stand.' In publishing, when an editor, writer or proofreader uses it on a copy sheet, it refers to a change already marked, and instructs those reading the copy to disregard or discard that marked change.

It also is the name of the blog (tagline: "life, unedited"), that Mitali Saran uses to archive her popular Business Standard column of the same name. Make that her erstwhile column.

Because, you see, she is no longer writing it. It happened because:
This week, for the first time since its inception in August 2006, Stet was not published in Business Standard's weekend edition (October 30, 2010) . You'll find the likely reason for that in the second-last paragraph of the spiked column, reproduced below.

And a later update:
Business Standard's view that the post below was too dated to run is utterly unpersuasive, and I'm afraid I don't believe it. They also say that since this post was put up on the blog, along with comments about BS, the question of carrying it in the paper does not arise. We shall have to agree to disagree on this whole thing, and I will write a post about that in a few days; but meanwhile, I have terminated my arrangement with them with immediate effect. As of this week, Stet will no longer appear in Business Standard.

The column in question, incidentally, is about the product of Aroon Purie's jet lag, and you can read it in the post on Stet (the blog) where Mitali also posted the extracts above. (You should also read the comments on that post.)


And while on the subject of jet lag, here's Mitali's poem on the topic, also from the column (but the link is to her blog.)


(Some more links to the tiger-nado incident. Nilanjana, Sridala, and via both of them, Abinandanan, Niranjana Iyer (who says that India Today has ripped her stuff off in the past), Rahul Siddharthan, and NITK Numbskulls Page.)

Monday 1 November 2010

O tempora! O mores!

Got this as a tip-off for a writers' listings newsletter I run (Caferati Listings, here and here).

Here's the key bit (the whole thing is here.):

Since the magazines caters to luxury and life style readers, a lot of brands would rather have us create something in the Vogue/GQ/Conde Nast Traveller style for their brand than simply placing an ad, because no one in India understands this set of Audience better than we do. The advertorials follow the editorial style to ensure that the promotional article looks like an editorial point of view and not a paid promotion.

They're actually proudly proclaiming that they will help their advertisers make their ads look like editorial.

Monday 18 October 2010

Does this look like a publishing scam to you?

This refers to this listing, and this one, both on Caferati Listings (free sign-up needed to view).

Via our friend, the novelist Venita Coelho, we learn that things are not quite what they seem at Cedar Books. I'm pasting in a letter Venita forwarded to me, with the name of the writer to whom it was sent removed.

To: _____
Subject: Re: submission
Date: Mon, 27 Sep 2010 11:17:57 -0700
Dear _____,

We are glad to inform you that we are ready to publish your novel provided you agree with our certain terms and conditions.

Following are some of the terms which you will be required to agree before we take things forward. A detailed contract will be send to you once you agree with these terms.

1. Considering the word count, we will keep the price of your book at Rs 175.

2. You have to buy back 300 copies of the book at a discount of 25%.

3. You have to make one time payment either through DD or Cheque along with the signed copy of the agreement which we will send, after you agree with these conditions.

4. An additional Rs 5000 will be charged if we design the cover for you and if you chose to design your own cover then for the final designing part we will be charging Rs 2000.

5. As we promote our books through various digital mediums we charge Rs 3000 for that.

6. And lastly you will get a 4.8 % royalty on the cover price for each book.

Hope you find these terms suitable.

Do acknowledge the receipt of this mail along with your response. Please feel free to mail your queries, if any.



What this means is that to publish this author, Pustak Mahal would charge her/him Rs 39,375 (75% of the cost of 300 copies s/he would be forced to buy) + Rs 2,000 as a design fee even if s/he designed her own cover (Rs 5,000 of she wanted PM to design a cover) + Rs 3,000 for promotions. That's Rs 44,375 (Rs 47,375 if PM did the cover).

I'm not sure of current prices, but it looks like the author would be paying Pustak Mahal / Cedar Books enough to totally cover the cost of printing, with a handsome profit left over. Note that Pustak Mahal / Cedar Books has no obligation to actually print any more than the 300 copies that the author must buy. Even if they did, the author would get a piddly 4.8% royalty on any sales, despite financing the entire operation.

Sounds like rather more than the 'benign scam' of the type of website. There, at least, you can choose to buy only one copy of the book, even if at a high price.

If you know of similar publishers elsewhere, do please tell us about it in the comments.


Sunday 10 October 2010

10-10-10 10:10:10 – 10-10-10 10:10:10

By the powers vested in my by, erm, myself, I hereby declare that on the tenth October, 2010, at ten minutes and ten seconds past ten a.m., it will be Pink Panther Day. The Day will end at ten minutes and ten seconds past ten p.m.


Via Manjula, we learn that we can also say:
Happy Douglas Adams Day!
Douglas Adams fans would know that 42 is the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, calculated in 7.5 million years by a supercomputer named Deep Thought. Today is the 10th day of the 10th month of the year, and if Y2K never happened, this year would be ’10. In binary notation, 101010 is 42 in base 10. Today’s the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything! Happy Douglas Adams Day!

Much joy!


Megha wished us a happy tennitus day (we feel the buzz).

And her dad declared it Filmi Drama Day.

Rather a full schedule, what?

Thursday 19 August 2010

Grandson of Godawful Poetry Fortnight - 19th to 31st August

Godawful Poetry Fortnight made its, erm debut in 2008 and came back in 2009.

And now it's time for the the third in the series. Hopefully, like all sequels, it will be even worse.

To reprise, the essentials:

• Godawful Poetry Fortnight runs from the 19th to the 31st August.

• Our Patron Saint is William Wordsworth.
And he gets this signal honour for saying that poetry "is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings." Way too many aspiring poets have rallied behind that banner, too few going so far as recollecting those emotions in tranquillity, let alone reading the rest of the preface to Lyrical Ballads (which can be found on Bartleby, for those interested).

• To join in, all you have to do is post on your blog* a godawful poem you have written, with—all totally optional—a brief note about GPF, a bit about what godawful poetry means to you, and a link to this post.

• Post godawful poems as often as you like during the Fortnight.
•• The True Believers Challenge: Post thirteen godawful poems, one on each day of the Fortnight.)
Squeeze your muse like a boil. Get it all out. Pester your friends to post too. Once GPF is done, you will write good poetry for the rest of the year, yes?

• Please use this Technorati tag on your post: . Here's the HTML for the tag: <a href="" rel="tag">Godawful Poetry Fortnight</a>

• To those who feel the need to point out this Fortnight lasts only thirteen days, we draw our cape around us, and say, in a marked manner, "Poetic license."

* I'd be happy to link to you if you tell me where your poem is.
If you don't have a blog, you're welcome to either use the comment space here or the Godawful Poetry Fortnight thread over at Caferati.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Ten ways to impress a journalist

1. Don't bother to remember their beats. That's irrelevant. No matter what they cover, they will be interested in the product or person you represent.

2. Of course they want an 'interaction' with your client. They're turking for it. It doesn't matter whether their publication carries interviews. Or even if their publication covers the area in which your client operates. Your client is all that matters and they will see that if you email them three times. They'll thank you for it.

3. Send out emails, yes, but follow up with a phone call if they don't respond immediately and positively. That thing they say about emails saving time? Rubbish. The human touch is so important and so neglected in this hustling, bustling age.

4. Always call their cellphones, not the landlines that are listed on their visiting cards. That way you can reach them when they're out for a drink or getting some 'me time.' They will appreciate the gesture, since they would otherwise miss out on your important launch / event / interaction. And never call from your cellphone. This way, if they ever need to call you back late on production night to confirm something, they'll only have your office landline and they'll get your voicemail. This saves your 'me time' from being interrupted and the journo will remember this and respect your remarkable work:life balance. Respect is important.

5. Never send them links to large files. It would make the poor dears work extra hard to download them. Instead, send them large attachments which will fill up inboxes. This will ensure that your large attachments get their exclusive attention since they now won't get mail from pesky bosses, colleagues and the subjects of their stories. This will ensure that they never mark your ID as junk mail which will henceforth be delivered straight to the trash.
p.s. It may happen that your email might not get to its destination. You should ensure this does not happen by sending your message — with the large attachments — twice. Thrice for luck.

6. Oh, and never put the text of your press release into the body of the email. That is so last century. Instead, attach a large PDF file with plenty of pictures and fonts of many colours. This will demonstrate your aesthetic sense and technical skillz. (In your covering note, do remember to use SMSese and refer to the recipient as 'u.' Not only will they appreciate this liberty with the language amidst the shackles of their style guides and the frowns of their desk people, this also gives your email a nice non-businessy touch.)

7. Even if they're not working for a daily, which may need photos of your event (which they didn't send someone to cover despite your emails and phone follow-ups), to fill up space on a slow news day, send them pictures. Many of them. And remember: high-resolution images. This shows that you are highly professional and you know that they need print-quality images.

8. When you call, slip in a mention of the car that will pick the journalist up, and the place where they will be staying, even if you know that their publication has a no-freebies policy. Journos are easy to influence with a bit of posh treatment. And their publications won't mind; after all, these are recessionary times, and the news media is facing more cut-backs then ever before.

9. Time your emails so that they land up in the thick of the production cycle. That way the journalists' super-fine-tuned news antennae will recognise that they are important; they will then yell 'Stop The Presses!' (every journo secretly wants to do that) and include your press release in toto, dropping the story about Mr Big's secret deal / mistress.

10. Add them to your newsletter mailing lists without asking them. You're doing them a favour. They lead busy lives, so they don't have time to opt in, and they really appreciate your taking the trouble to do it for them. They're simple creatures, easy to please, without interests of their own, and your company's daily email will be a bright spot in their dull lives.

Thursday 1 July 2010

The #TwyttyrLytton contest

You've heard of the Bulwer-Lytton Prize, right? (If you haven't, get thee hence immediately. Come back when you're done!)

I think the problem with that otherwise brilliant contest is that the entries are, inevitably, very long. Take the 2010 winner:
For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss--a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil.
Great stuff, but, hey, can you retweet it?

So, gentlefolk, I propose the #TwyttyrLytton contest.

The basic rule is the same:
Outdo Edward George Bulwer-Lytton's opening sentence to Paul Clifford. ("It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.")

In addition:

• Entries must be posted on Twitter.
• Entries must be up to 125 characters long, including spaces, and include the #TwyttyrLytton hashtag. (125 characters is what you have left after the hashtag and a space.)
• The contest stays open 24/7.
• Winners will be decided by public acclaim. i.e., you'll get retweeted
• Prizes? Hah.
• Oh, and you give me permission to post my favourites to this blog.

p.s. Short URL for this post:

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Irregular Conjugations

#IrregularConjugations on Twitter

I am firm; you are stubborn; they are thick-headed bigots

I am a bit out of condition; you are plump; they are fat

I have taste; you are a bit picky; they are spoiled layabouts

My kids are precocious; your kids need a little discipline; their kids should be in reform school

I'm a patriot; you are jingoistic; they are flaming xenophobes

I tweet often; you are getting a tad obsessive about Twitter; they don't have a life

I am open about my relationships; you can be indiscreet sometimes; they are exhibitionists

I am mellow; you are tipsy; they are dipsomaniacs

I am well-read; you are bookish; they are pedantic bores

I am open-minded; you vacillate occasionally; they don't have two principles to rub together

I am a pop-culture maven; you keep up with trends; they jump on every passing bandwagon

I have personality; you are eccentric; they are barking mad

I have my way of organising things; you are untidy; they are slobs

I am decisive; you are impetuous; they are rash fools

I am an online diarist; you are a blogger; they are a bunch of wankers

I am decisive; you are impetuous; they are rash fools

I have influential friends; you are star-struck; they are brown-nosers

I'm a gourmet; you are a gourmand; they are gluttons

I am a perfectionist; you are obsessive; they are anal

I have a unique personal style; you carry that off quite nicely; they are fashion disasters

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Modern Proverbs

Our contributions to the day's popular hashtag.

His blog is worse than his Twitter bytes

Never judge a Facebook by her profile picture

The grass is always cleaner in Uttaranchal

If at first you don't succeed, get a Rajya Sabha nomination.

A stitch in time saves wardrobe malfunctions

You can't teach an old blog new tweets

Facebook expands to fill the available time

Why keep a Social Media expert when you can bark yourself?

Those who cannot learn from history got MBAs instead

No news is a cable TV strike

Little thongs please little minds

The early bird gets the worm. I prefer muesli.

He who lives by the sword gets a part in a daytime TV show

He who laughs last is just conforming

Too many cooks get TV shows

What's sauce for the goose is a light gravy for the gander

To travel hopefully is a better thing than to be an MTV Roadie

Familiarity breeds

All good things come to he who waits at the dark alley with a cosh

A picture paints a thousand words. But I still don't want your MMS.

A penny saved is bloody impossible

A fool and his money answer ICICI telemarketers

Absence makes the heart go thanda

Birds of a feather retweet each other

Discretion is the better part of contract negotiation

Don't wash your dirty linen in public. Sign an exclusive contract with NDTV Imagine first.

Every picture tells a story. Except a Karan Johar movie.

Good fences are necessary to flog the stuff you nick from your neighbours

Money is the root of RDLJ

Man cannot live by bread alone. He must have some reality TV.

All roads lead to @netra

To err is human, to cover it is CNN-IBN.

Where there is a will, there's litigation

Some have greatness thrust upon them, some achieve greatness, and then there's @jhunjhunwala

Saturday 20 February 2010

Friday 12 February 2010

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Saturday 2 January 2010

Idjut ramblings

Warning: this is written without having seen read or heard all the arguments on either side, but after reading what is claimed to be the agreement between VV Chopra's company and Chetan Bhagat (PDF file) and seeing this absolutely hilarious clip from a press conference, where Mr Chopra, evidently quite the charmer, asks someone to 'shut up!'

Additonal disclaimer: We're not a Bhagat fan: we think he's a good story-teller, but we don't admire his writing. We have, though, met the man, and we had a fun chat. And we're not an Aamir Khan fan either. We have seen just one of his movies, Ghajini, and though we admired the dedication evident in his prep for the role, we were underwhelmed by both the movie and his performance. And we haven't seen—at least, not that we know of—any of Hirani's or Chopra's work.

Final warning: This post meanders, even by our standards.

We're puzzled.

- Bhagat wants to be recognised as the author of the work that the movie is based on.

- The movie's producers bought the film rights to that book.

- The film's credits, from what Bhagat has tweeted, do acknowledge that it was based on his book, albeit doing so only in the end-credits, somewhere after the names of the extras, which, by his account, he and his mother were upset about.

Aside for self promotion We interviewed Bhagat a little while ago for a story we were doing, and had asked him about the movies. He was realistic, but upbeat:
Forbes India: So far, your impact on popular cinema hasn't been as big as your impact on the book world. By this I mean that the films adapted from your books haven't been promoted as being the product of your mind, as compared to, say, The Da Vinci Code. Do you agree? And if yes, do you see that changing?

Chetan Bhagat: Yes, of course my impact is limited right now in films, and I’d like people to have reasonable expectations of me. It takes a long time and a lot of luck to make a name in Bollywood. Even the superstars have worked hard for decades to get to this point. I am super fortunate that all three books were taken up to be big, mainstream films and even 2 States has attracted a lot of interest. However, in Bollywood, adaptations are just starting, while in Hollywood, it is a seamless industry. Also, don’t forget the language switch that happens in my adaptations – which changes the audience and thus the marketing has to change. All I can say is, my name does add to the buzz of the movie. Even 3 Idiots, which is a megastar Aamir project all the way, became a little more exciting because of its Five Point Someone connection. And that, to me, is huge.

Forbes India: What was it like working with Bollywood?
Chetan Bhagat: It is a lot of fun, and I think it is largely to do with the fact that I’ve worked with very good people. Writing books is lonely, but in movies you at least have some colleagues and leave the house so my kids can’t say ‘my daddy stays at home and doesn’t go to office’. Most importantly, the reach of Bollywood excites me. It is a chance to reach the maximum number of people possible.
He may now have changed his mind about the last bit. Aside ends.

- The PDF file we linked to in the first para includes signed receipts of payments made to Bhagat for the rights to say the film was "Based On The Novel FIVE POINT SOMEONE by Chetan Bhagat": a Rs 100,000 advance and a Rs 1,000,000 'ex-gratia' payment. (Admittedly these sums are a trifle compared to the crores that go into making a film. But Bhagat was less well-known in 2005, and by the standards of author remuneration, it was decent. He'd probably negotiate for much higher sums now, aside from wanting his name more, erm, up-front.)

- Bhagat brings his own following to projects he's associated with. Even assuming, uncharitably, that exactly the same people bought all four of his books, and all those copies were read by only one person each, he still brings a potential audience of around 700,000 people, going by the figures his publishers shared with us. And he does devote a lot of time to nurturing that audience, through his site, blog, tweets, columns, public appearances and what-have-you. If he asked them to see the film, they'd pony up for the multiplex tickets first day, first show, and that's not a bad audience to count on. (We know eff-all about the FDFS economics, we hastily admit.)

Anyway, we were wondering: why are the film's producers vehemently denying the link?

Why is Aamir Khan, that well-known legal luminary, reportedly advising Hirani and Chopra to sue Bhagat?

Why is Chopra frothing at the mouth so entertainingly? (You must see the bit where Khan grabs the microphone from Chopra and keeps it away from him, even to the extent of sticking it between his legs while VVC paws the air ineffectually.)

Why has some chap going to the effort of making, practically overnight, a website which, as of this writing is mainly a a slide presentation calling Bhagat a liar and enumerating, in faulty English, the scenes in the film which aren't from the book? (That's hardly the point, fercryin'outloud. Of course a film will differ from a book. The way a story is told in print cannot be duplicated in film. The grammars of the two media are different. The creators are different: with books, the author is in command, sort of; the reader paints the scene in her own mind based on the words she reads and her own experiences; with film, it's always the director who is the auteur, and the script is moulded to his requirements for telling the story.)

Another aside Oh, and by the way, the IMDB page for the movie has this listing:
Chetan Bhagat (book)
Rajkumar Hirani (story)
And the page also contains this entertaining item in the FAQ section, by someone signing himself 'Souvik, thepunisher65':
Which novel is this movie based on?
This movie is based on the Novel 'Five Point Someone' by Chetan Bhagat. But it has not been entirely based on it. Actually this can be called as a totally different movie, just that the characters are inspired.

Anyway, since we earn our daily bread, and a modest amount of very nice strawberry preserve, by the written word, we have to say that we instinctively want to weigh in on Bhagat's side. For writers, credit is a big thing. Our bylines get us noticed, get us assignments and job offers. (Another bloody aside. Ad copywriters get much, much more money and give themselves many, many more awards: because they don't get bylines, and to keep them working for you, you have to compensate in other ways. Journos and authors are suckers. Or maybe the next major 'right-sizing' efforts in the ad biz will see creative types getting offered bylines in lieu of increments. Aside to the aside: we were once employed as a copywriter.No more asides. We think.)

Strikes us that there are many idiots here. Not least, all the people devoting so much time to thinking and writing about this kerfuffle, thereby keeping the movie and book in the news and saving their PR departments much effort.

Like, sigh,

The Idiot Who Writes This Blog