(Whether the word "original" makes any sense or not is a different question. Every writer/film-maker gets an idea from somewhere. It could be some real-life events, a story they heard somewhere, or many such stories. Let us leave that part for now.)
So why is it that I don't consider copying a crime? If one knows the job reasonably well (and does it reasonably well), the viewers stand to gain. There is absolutely no point comparing that work with the original.
Take, for instance, some of Priyadarshan's early films in Malayalam. Most of the Malayali filmgoers that time did not have the remotest chance of watching One flew over the Cuckoo's nest. They saw Thaalavattom and enjoyed it. It was certainly one of the most entertaining films made in Malayalam around that time. Does it make any sense to compare Thaalavattom with One flew over the Cuckoo's nest, except may be for academic purposes? Similarly, I think both Bluffmaster (Hindi, 2005) and Gulumaal (Malayalam, 2009) were reasonably good rip-offs from a hilarious Nine Queens (Argentina, 2000). I watched Nine Queens very recently.
Forget foreign films. In fact, it does not even have to be from a different language. Consider Sreenivasan's 1998 movie Chinthavishtayaya Shyamala (also in Malayalam). It had an irresponsible husband and his wife as central characters. It made people laugh, made people think. More important, a lot of people watched it. Unlike K R Mohanan's Swaroopam, which had a similar theme and also had Sreenivasan in the lead role. Even as K R Mohanan denies it, many people believe that Shyamala was a commercialized extension of Swaroopam. And I think Sreenivasan deserves credit for taking it to a wider audience.
As long as there are no complaints or "conflicts of interests", I think it is good to have copies. A copy could also happen by pure coincidence. Recently, there was a mail making rounds that Avatar was a remake of Vietnam Colony. Hindi film Aamir had striking resemblances to Filipino movie Cavite, though the director said he had never seen Cavite.
But there are some copies that irritate. When one wishes that the director did not apply too much creativity of his own. For instance, take Sathyan Anthikkad's remake of Pursuit of Happiness (2006). It is called Katha Thudarunnu, released earlier this year. The first is about a father whose wife left him has to raise his kid by himself, and the latter about a mother whose husband was killed has to raise her kid by herself. For a detailed comparison, see this post by Jo. May be he thinks that Keralites cannot digest a father bringing up a son alone. Or he is afraid suggesting such a possibility would damage our "value system" that is created for (and by) men for their convenience.
This is the Sathyan Anthikkad we have been seeing of late. One who makes only safe films, that are supposed to carry "social messages". In Bhagyadevatha he carried a message that paying up dowry solves all problems, including that of dowry. In Innathe Chinthavishayam, he showed the hero sending three women (who were living a happy life) back to their useless husbands, carrying home the message that the onus of "holding a family together" is on women. Vinodayathra was another nightmare, apparently copied from a Korean film. Worse, he got a best scriptwriter state award for that film. (Copy or no copy, I think we have had enough of Sathyan Anthikkad. Can't believe he is the guy who made Appunni once).
In an interview given to Deshabhimani Varika, I see him claim that women and children can go watch his films without worrying about violence. Unfortunately, violence in his films (especially on women) are worse than what we get to see in "violent" films like Chota Mumbai or Big B.
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[This post is inspired by Jo's post "The story never ends" and the comments there and a discussion about Sreenivasan on a mailing list.]