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CinemaScope: From Akshay Kumar's Singh Is Kinng to Dharmendra's Loafer, and more... Here's how Bollywood filmmakers ripped off Frank Capra's 1933 classic Lady For A Day for decades

With the world getting connected through the internet, though officially buying the rights is the new norm, we still get to see films or sequences heavily inspired by world cinema without any honest acknowledgement

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Bobby Sing | Updated on: Sunday, January 16, 2022, 07:28 AM IST

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Inspired plots or films based on borrowed story ideas from the west have been associated with Hindi cinema since the early decades post-independence. There have been court cases related to plagiarism, with the films getting banned and the prints destroyed, but the trend continues even in the present. With the world getting connected through the internet, though officially buying the rights is the new norm, we still get to see films or sequences heavily inspired by world cinema without any honest acknowledgement.

Considering the decades of evolution, we certainly have come a long way, moving over the forgettable phase of borrowed filmmaking in Hindi cinema. But here I am sharing about the one film that has continued to inspire writers and directors in different eras, beginning from the 1960s to the first decade of the new millennium. It’s a Frank Capra classic Lady For A Day, which the veteran director made almost 90 years ago in 1933 based on the short story Madame La Gimp by Damon Runyon. A light-hearted emotional drama, the film revolves around an ageing fruit-seller lady who gets timely help from a gangster in portraying herself as a rich socialite in front of her daughter.

The young girl, studying in a different city, is not aware of the poor state of her mother and the good-hearted gangster makes sure the secret doesn’t get revealed. Lady For A Day also happens to be (probably) the most important film of Capra’s career, as he chose to remake it as Pocketful of Miracles almost three decades later, in 1961. The film eventually remained his last offering to the world.

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Dharmendra in Loafer

The same year, we witnessed the first Hindi film inspired by the classic as Mem Didi, directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Released in 1961, Mem Didi had the similar basic plot focusing on the Christian character superbly enacted by Lalita Pawar. But here, instead of gangsters, Mukherjee placed two veteran actors, Jayant and David, playing the noble villagers coming to help the poor lady. As an amazing coincidence, just like Capra, Mukherjee too, remade his film Mem Didi as Achha Bura in 1983, featuring Dina Pathak, Amjad Khan, and Ranjeet in the key roles along with Raj Babbar and Anita Raj.

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After a decade of Mem Didi, director A. Bhim Singh intelligently incorporated the idea (with no disclosure, of course) as an important sub-plot of his film Loafer (1973), featuring Dharmendra as a petty thief. Still remembered for its hit songs, the film had Om Prakash playing the poor fruit-seller, who presents himself as a rich person in front of his daughter with the help of Dharmendra.

The landmark American film next inspired another master of his art, Jackie Chan in 1989, who made his film Miracles on the same theme. Also known as Mr. Canton and Lady Rose, the film again had a gangster helping the poor lady selling him the lucky roses.

The inspiration resurfaced in Hindi cinema post three decades of Loafer in Anees Bazmee’s Singh is Kinng, but as usual, with no mention of its source. Released in 2008, the hit film again had the plot of a poor lady selling flowers (played by Kirron Kher) helped by a gangster (Akshay Kumar), leaning more towards the story progression of Chan’s Miracles.

It is said that good stories remain relevant for centuries, and this is a perfect example of the same. That is how a beautifully conceived short story in 1929 continued to inspire writers and filmmakers for decades, even after the new millennium. For cinema lovers interested in watching the classics, both Lady For A Day and Pocketful of Miracles can easily be found on YouTube.

(The writer is a critic-columnist, an explorer of cinema and author of ‘Did You Know’ series on Hindi films also active at bobbytalkscinema.com)

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Published on: Sunday, January 16, 2022, 06:22 AM IST