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Half Girlfriend: A case of ‘inspired’ lifting?

DC | AMRITA PAUL
Published Nov 26, 2014, 4:27 am IST
Updated Mar 30, 2019, 11:35 am IST
Chetan Bhagat being accused of lifting the plot of his much-hyped book from a play
Too inspired? Chetan Bhagat has been accused of plagiarism by Dr Birbal Jha, an author and academician
 Too inspired? Chetan Bhagat has been accused of plagiarism by Dr Birbal Jha, an author and academician
Hyderabad: Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning author Toni Morrison once famously said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” But novelist Chetan Bhagat has been alleged to have done quite the opposite.
 
Recently, Dr Birbal Jha, an author and academician who runs British Lingua, a chain of English language schools, claimed that the plot of Chetan Bhagat’s recent book Half Girlfriend is lifted from his play Englishia Boli.
 
Jha said that Bhagat had visited his Patna institute in January and interacted with the students there. Jha also showed him few of the books, which had been recommended to the students. One of them was Englishia Boli, which is about a boy from Bihar who goes to Delhi, but faces problems as he can’t speak English. And like the protagonist in Half Girlfriend, he falls in love with a girl fluent in English who also starts liking him eventually.
 
While Bhagat has been tweeting frequently, asking people to compare the two works before accusing him, this incident has again put the spotlight on the much-discussed issue of plagiarism in the publishing world. Even internationally acclaimed  authors like Dan Brown, Stephen King and Stephanie Meyer have at least once in their career been accused of lifting material from someone else’s work. 
 
About the hue and cry surrounding Bhagat’s book, columnist and writer Shobhaa De puts it plainly: “There ought to be zero debate on this subject: original is Original. Period. Anything ‘borrowed’ or ‘inspired’ is theft. Intellectual theft.”
 
Author and popular blogger Arnab Ray, meanwhile, says that as a writer, there might be apparent resemblance between two books, because the number of plots are limited. “It has been maintained for years that there are only a finite number of plots. Hence, similarities at an abstract level are impossible to avoid. For instance, a boy avenging the death of his parents could be in any number of books, but would the Harry Potter author be accused of having copied from them?” he asks. 
 
Novelist Anita Nair too adds that it is fine to have literary influences, because at times one is visibly moved by someone’s work. And it can subconsciously creep into their writing as well. “But if you are slightly vigilant,  you’ll realise it and either evade it or change it,” she says. 
 
Nair has often found several authors’ novels structured particularly like her 2001 book, Ladies Coupé. “If the editor has been unable to point it out to the writers, there is very little one can say about them. That’s why one must constantly re-examine his/her own ideas and where they come from,” she says. 
 
And it goes without saying that there is a very thin line between being inspired and literally passing off another author’s works as your own. “It is very simple. You, as an author, ‘know’ when you are lifting. Lifting is a conscious act and it doesn’t happen without you knowing it,” Arnab adds. 
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