Remakes of Films in India

Topics: The Lion King, Kimba the White Lion, The Walt Disney Company Pages: 46 (14349 words) Published: August 31, 2012
School of Law University of California, Davis
400 Mrak Hall Drive Davis, CA 95616 530.752.0243

UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper Series
Research Paper No.239 December 2010


Madhavi Sunder

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Madhavi Sunder*
Free flow of culture is not always fair flow of culture. A recent spate of copyright suits by Hollywood against Bollywood accuses the latter of ruthlessly copying movie themes and scenes from America. But claims of cultural appropriation go far back, and travel in multiple directions. The revered American director, Steven Spielberg, has been accused of copying the idea for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial from legendary Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s 1962 script, The Alien. Disney’s The Lion King bears striking similarities to Osamu Tezuka’s Japanese anime series, Kimba the White Lion. Neither Ray nor Tezuka’s studio sued the American filmmakers and this Article is by no means an attempt to revive any particular legal case. Rather, this Article considers copyright’s role in promoting free cultural exchange, albeit on fair terms in a global marketplace of ideas marked by sharp differentials in power, wealth, and knowledge.


Professor of Law, University of California, Davis. Special thanks to Krista Celentano, Rabia Paracha, and Erin Murphy for excellent research assistance and to Afra Afsharipour, Keith Aoki, Shyam Balganesh, Anupam Chander, and Deven Desai for insightful conversations. This Article benefited from exchanges with the many wonderful participants at the Copyright Culture, Copyright History conference hosted by the Cegla Center at Tel Aviv University and at the 2010 Conference of Asian Pacific American Law Faculty.

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Theoretical Inquiries in Law

[Vol. 12:179

"The East is still as far away from the West as it has ever been, at least in the cinema." — Satyajit Ray1

Ray’s preliminary sketch of the alien, which represented a child victim of the 1943 Bengali famine.

In May 1967 the acclaimed Indian director of The Apu Trilogy, Satyajit Ray, received a "joyous carillon of a cable" from Hollywood: Columbia pictures would back The Alien. Ray would have a free hand. Both Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen were keen to play a leading role. Saul Bass would mastermind the special effects. And what luck — Peter Sellers was in Hollywood at that very moment, playing an Indian in a comedy, and anxious to meet Ray for the second time to discuss playing the Indian philanthropist in the film. As Ray later wrote of his own, as it would turn out, ill-fated Bollywood / Hollywood travails, "With the hum of the machinery in my ears, I arrived in Hollywood on June 1."2

1 2

ANDREW ROBINSON, SATYAJIT RAY: THE INNER EYE 287 (1989). Satyajit Ray, Ordeals of The Alien, CALCUTTA STATESMAN, Oct. 4, 1980, available at

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By 1967 Satyajit Ray was already widely considered a genius filmmaker and the "father of Indian cinema." His films, rooted in the lives of Bengalis in post-Independence India and filmed in the Bengali language, depict ordinary lives: children fated to die of poverty, women trapped in subservient familial roles, a new generation of middle-class Indians now seeking liberation from their elders and the traditions of the past. In his first feature film, Pather Panchali,3 Ray brilliantly directed impoverished Bengali villagers living in the rural countryside in the 1920s. In the film a wrinkled old woman brushes her teeth with her fingers and spits outside the house door; the main character,...
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