Public Outreach: Shakespeare meets Bollywood in Dehli’s IP Drama

November 2005

“[The script writer] writes the recipe. I make the banquet.”– Film editor Talab tries to explain the creative nature of his work to a nonplussed police officer. (Photo Pravin Anand)
“[The script writer] writes the recipe. I make the banquet.”– Film editor Talab tries to explain the creative nature of his work to a nonplussed police officer. (Photo Pravin Anand)

 “People shamelessly copy the stories of others and redo them in the most horrible manner. And then, they choose to call it inspiration.” – Script-writer Farrukh Dhondy.

This, we heard, was the world’s first play about intellectual property – not an obvious subject for a theatrical comedy. So when the curtains rose on Brain Child on a Delhi stage in September, WIPO Magazine was curious to know more.

The play came about when screen-writer Farrukh Dhondy was commissioned by a prominent Indian IP attorney, Pravin Anand, to write something which could help to teach law students about IP. It was an idea long cherished by Mr. Anand, a firm believer in entertainment as a means of communication, and whose efforts to spread understanding of IP rights include not only lectures and articles but films, songs and games. His idea fell on fertile ground. Mr. Dhondy, a one-time scientist turned columnist, television commissioning editor, playwright and screen-writer (five of whose scripted films were screened at the 2005 Cannes film festival), had plenty to say on the subject.

The opening scene, set in a Mumbai police station, was directly inspired by Mr. Dhondy’s personal experience while working on a recent film. “The editor ran away with the film edit in his computer because he and his girlfriend had grievances against the production company,” Mr. Dhondy explained. “He was stopped at Delhi airport by the police. The cop in charge of the arrest didn’t understand – the computer belonged to the editor, so what was it that was stolen? The footage? No, the order in which the footage had now been placed. He didn’t get it. This was funny and started me on my train of thought.”

With irreverent wit, Mr. Dhondy satirizes a mindset in which lucrative imitation counts for more than cultural or artistic integrity; and where the theft of intellectual property – be it pirated software or the lyrics from a musical – is fine, so long as you can get away with it. Weaving legal fact with farce, Bollywood pastiche with Hollywood intrigue, Brain Child explores the nature of creativity and paternity; and breathes comic life into questions which usually inhabit the desks of lawyers and academics.

“The play does more than inform. It creates an emotion as well. I felt that we could do with more positive emotions in favor of IP.” – Brain Child’s sponsor, Pravin Anand.

The cast of familiar character types includes double-dealing brothers and their wives, who stand to inherit a fortune from the proceeds of a Bollywood film, which turns out to based on songs stolen from West Side Story. William Shakespeare returns from his grave to complain that West Side Story was a rip-off of his Romeo and Juliet; only to be given short shrift by a table-thumping lawyer, who points out that every one of Shakespeare’s plays was based on someone else’s story.

So what messages should Brain Child’s audiences take away with them? we asked Mr. Dhondy. “That the thieving has to stop, that intellectual property is a tricky subject.” And, he adds with a smile, “that I am an amusing playwright who can make even dry subjects entertaining.”

The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.