Prabhas-starrer Saaho, which released last Friday, has already grossed Rs. 200 crores worldwide according to some reports, though the film has seen a less-than-lukewarm response from critics. This opening weekend the film has also found itself in the midst of not one but two plagiarism rows. First, artist Shilo Shiv Suleman spoke out against a poster promoting the film.
The poster that started the controversy:
Shilo created an installation for the Burning Man festival in 2014. The installation she created and the background in the Saaho poster (as well as the sets in the song Baby Wont You Tell Me from the film) seem to be directly lifted from Shilo’s installation. (Sabu Cyril is the Art Director of Saaho and Sujeeth its director.)
“I’m quite certain that it was intended for me to create this installation. I’m certain that the sand storms, the dust, the rose-pink clouds, the thunderstorms gathered around it intentionally, for me. What happens when that story gets taken without your permission? I am known by my creation. #pulseandbloom,” she wrote on Instagram.
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Where does inspiration come from? What (sacred) wells do we drink from when we create from an original and authentic space? This week people from across the world gather back together in that dust @burningman and I am reminded of how much of my creation comes from my (beating) heart. Pulse and bloom is a biofeedback installation that reacts to people’s heartbeats, and it came to exist because of a series of personal relationships. It was born from love (like me). We had support from @burningman but we also pulled out of our own pockets to make it manifest. I left my home for the first time, moved to another country, went out into that desert. It cost me a heart. It was a gift, and a sacrifice for all of us involved, and changed the paths of all our lifelines. I’m quite certain it was intended for me to create this installation. I’m certain that the sand storms, the dust, the rose-pink clouds, the thunderstorms gathered around it intentionally, for me. What happens when that story gets taken without your permission? I am known by my creation. #pulseandbloom @rd108 @sabarani @lukeiseman @heatheraminastewart @samuelclay with a team of hearts @_gracenotes @jugularbean @vivek_chockalingam @brittanyjanis @_zenrabbit @mattmedved and more. Burningman 2014
She also found support in actor Lisa Ray, who too took to Instagram and wrote, “We need to stand up and speak up. To hold up a mirror to these makers to make them understand this is not right. It’s come to light that a big-budget film production has ripped off one of Shilo’s original creations. This is not inspiration but blatant theft. In no world, is this acceptable. The production did not contact the creator, asking her permission or offer to collaborate or offering a credit. Nothing. This is not right. I believed the Hindi film industry was evolving necessarily past stealing storylines and so-called inspiration, but the producers of Sahoo have obviously not gotten the memo when it comes to art. Here’s the thing. Creators are worthy of worship. What they produce are more lasting and precious so than all the other ‘things’ that can be taken away. Let’s hold these producers accountable for their infuriating, dishonourable action. How would you feel if a thief slid into your home and took away your most prized possessions? Your heart. Your soul. And your livelihood.”
A day later Shilo explained the artwork she created, Pulse and Bloom, for the festival, and why it is so close to her heart.
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Pulse and bloom uses pulse sensors and light to create visible luminous experiences of union. Put your hand on a flower and see your (own) heartbeat visualised. Place a lovers hand beside you and breathe until you merge as one. Here’s the beautiful thing about human connection, it’s both visible and invisible. a (precious) thing with secret passages that lead from the eyes to the heart. mystics proclaimed it first. the lovers knew it best- we find mirrors in each other (again and again and again) Pulse and Bloom is based on studies that prove- when two people spend enough time with each other, looking into each other’s eyes, and breathing (beating.being) with each other- their hearts begin to beat in time like fireflies pulsing in patterns. Biosynchronicity (let’s call it). . . . This is perhaps why they say we have broken hearts. (when you leave you take the pulse with you) When I first met Rohan, we spent some time breathing together,seeing eye to eye.heart to heart (for a hot minute) before we started talking about biofeedback installations. Making art that reacted to the body, and that used the technology of the quantified self to break down the idea of “Self” completely. This was my unionsong. first spoken out loud with @rd108, forged in metal fire by @heatheraminastewart , coded intricate like lace by @samuelclay structurally earthed by @sabaghole. powered in sunlight by @lukeiseman It cost me a heart. (i’ll make another) I am known by my creation. music by @danleavers made for fearless a few moons ago.xx
Here’s the song that features the same backdrop among others. It seems to have been ‘inspired’ by Burning Man.
Later last weekend several people that had watched Saaho tweeted to Jérôme Salle that Saaho borrows its basic plot from his 2008 French film based on a Belgian comic book, Largo Winch.
— Sunil (@sunilguts) August 30, 2019
The director reacted to the tweet with a sarcastic, “I think I have a promising career in India.”
The 2018 Pawan Kalyan starrer Agnyaathavaasi is also ‘inspired’ from the same film. Salle spoke exclusively to Silverscreen when the Agnyaathavaasi controversy erupted. He said then, “I saw the film in Paris, I was probably the only French guy in the theatre. Not just the plot, there were many many other similarities – the third act, location, sets.”
About Saaho, Salle later tweeted:
It seems this second “freemake” of Largo Winch is as bad as the first one. So please Telugu directors, if you steal my work, at least do it properly?
And as my “Indian career” tweet was of course ironic, I’m sorry but I’m not gonna be able to help. https://t.co/DWpQJ8Vyi0
— Jérôme Salle (@Jerome_Salle) September 1, 2019
Large productions running into rows like this, for drawing ‘inspiration’ from independent and smaller artistes do not bode well for an industry that is being watched by everyone more keenly now. Now more than ever there is a need for our industries that make big-budget blockbusters and earn in crores to bring in discipline and address plagiarism rows very seriously.
Telugu cinema over the last few years has grown more vibrant and is home to several emerging interesting artistes making good commercial, popular cinema, of artistic merit. Post-Baahubali, market interest in Tollywood is only growing. By not even responding to or addressing these issues, the makers of Saaho send out a wrong message. That big-money can ‘take’ from others. Credit be damned.