My two paisa worth on plagiarism- I wasn't going to write about this, but came across this post by Amit Varma via Desi Pundit, and also this post by Jabberwock. So, I decided that I should. While one doesn’t really expect high journalistic standards from the ToI, when plagiarized film reviews appear in a publication of such high standing as the Hindu, one feels really let down.
Film reviews that appear in the Hindu are at best, glorified plot outlines, so I never paid much attention to them. Until I read this review of Alexander by Gautaman Bhaskaran (published in the Friday Review section, Feb 11 2005), which sounded vaguely familiar. It turned out to be a rehash of this excellent, excellent NY Times review by Manohla Dargis (published November 24, 2004), condensed and repackaged for the reader’s benefit.
Some passages are direct lifts, and some slightly modified.
The following passage has been lifted verbatim from the NY times review:
"Stone has always made stories about men for whom ordinary life is impossible by accident or by choice. As a storyteller he has long made a habit out of extreme personalities, a preoccupation that during the 1990s was matched by one of the most playfully expressive styles in American mainstream pictures."
Following passage a lift, but with modifications:
“There comes the moment in the career of many directors when they are compelled to tell the story of a great man in whose life they seem to see a glimmer of their own image. Francis Ford Coppola had Preston Tucker, the automotive innovator who tried and failed to challenge Detroit in much the same way as the filmmaker took on Hollywood, while Martin Scorsese and Mel Gibson each had Jesus.”
“One would suppose that many helmers reach a juncture in their career when they begin to see a trace of themselves in some great men. Francis Ford Coppola saw a bit of Preston Tucker, the automotive innovator, in himself, while Martin Scorsese and Mel Gibson each had Jesus.”
I was stunned, to say the least, and finding it hard to believe that the Hindu would publish plagiarised content. Wondered if the Hindu had some kind of agreement to publish NY Times content. But if that were true, then why was the NY Times not credited?
A little bit of investigation revealed that the Alexander rip is not a one-off incident. Bhaskaran has done it several times, and particularly blatant examples (with entire passages being lifted) are Mona Lisa Smile and The Forgotten. The NY Times reviews are here and here.
In other cases (50 First Dates, Mystic River, Troy, Aviator; NY times reviews are here, here, here and here) stray sentences and phrases make their appearance in Bhaskaran’s reviews. These, perhaps, were unconscious influences. But that’s not an excuse, and as a reviewer, isn’t it your responsibility to prevent that from happening?
Bhaskaran’s been reviewing films for the Hindu for 21 years, according to his website. Why would someone so senior stoop to plagiarism? Did he really think he’d get away with this? That no one would figure it out? How dare he underestimate his readers like that?
Perhaps I’m being naïve by expecting writers/reviewers to be original. I ought to have known better.
But I still do feel very strongly against plagiarism. That’s why I’m writing this post. To let the Gautaman Bhaskarans of the world, that no, they do not get away with it. Not always. I suppose blogging is the only way to bring this to the notice of people with views similar to mine, people who still care about journalistic ethics and standards (assuming of course, that this will be read).
Update: This post on Sambhar Mafia
Update: This post.