Which came first, Bob or Kriti? The war of words between the directors of two short films about disturbed men, psychiatrists and imaginary lovers refuses to die down.

Perhaps no Indian short film has ever been as controversial as Kriti. Directed by Shirish Kunder and released on YouTube by producer Muvizz.com on June 22, the short was taken down after Nepali filmmaker Aneel Neupane claimed that Kriti was pilfered from his film Bob. Kunder has claimed that it is Neupane who was the thief. The debate now hinges on who posted the film online first. At a press conference in Mumbai on July 1, Kunder and his team claimed that Neupane had manipulated the date on which Bob was uploaded to the Vimeo video sharing site to buttress his accusations against Kunder.

“Is it possible to back date a video on Vimeo?” Neupane countered in an interview with Scroll.in from Kathmandu, where he lives. “Kunder could have seen my film first as I had been sending it to film festivals and privately sharing with friends. Maybe someone shared it with him privately.”

Viewers of both the films, which are derivative in their subject matter and treatment, might wonder what the fuss is about, but the matter assumes great seriousness for Kunder and Muvizz.com. Kunder has been screaming himself hoarse against the suggestion that he is a plagiarist. At the press conference, which was attended by Kunder’s legal advisor Rizwan Siddique and Muvizz.com owner Abhayanand Singh, the filmmakers claimed that Neupane had manipulated the upload date of Bob. Abhayanand Singh demonstrated to the media scrum how a technological flaw in the design of the video sharing website could allow for such an anomaly.

Both films are about men with make-believe girlfriends. In Bob, a schizophrenia patient discusses his imaginary friend with his psychiatrist, who helps him overcome his problem with an unusual solution. In Kriti, starring Manoj Bajpayee, Radhika Apte and Neha Sharma, a writer tells his psychiatrist that he has a new girlfriend, but the psychiatrist refuses to believe him since he has had pretend partners in the past. Bob is set mostly in the psychiatrist’s clinic, while Kriti opens in the clinic before moving on to the writer’s house where he lives with his alleged girlfriend.

Neupane claimed that he wrote Bob in July 2015. “It took me some time but I had completed it by August and my film was ready in October,” he said. Bob was initially released through Vimeo as a private video in October 2015 and was posted on YouTube on May 12, 2016.

Kriti went live on June 22 after a widespread promotional campaign. The short film received lukewarm to poor reviews until it got an unprecedented boost from Neupane’s one-man campaign. On June 24, Neupane wrote a Facebook post accusing Kunder of stealing Bob’s plot and story treatment. Neupane’s allegations caused enough of a row to be taken seriously by YouTube, which removed Kriti from its platform. The film is now playing on the Muvizz.com website.

Kunder’s defence, that Neupane is the one who has plagiarised Kriti, has not spared the Nepali filmmaker. Bob has also been removed from YouTube and Vimeo. “I don’t have the kind of clout these guys have,” Neupane said. “It took me five days to have their film removed. They took less than a day to block my film.” Bob continues to be available for viewing on Facebook.

At the press conference, Bajpayee said that he had discussed the film with Kunder in July 2015, around the same time that Bob was being written. “We were lunching together when the idea to make the film cropped up,” Bajpayee said at the press meet. “Kunder told me he had a script idea with younger actors in mind that could be re-written to accommodate me.”

Kunder and his team have claimed that Neupane is playing on existing tensions between India and Nepal and using the “poor man” card to draw attention to his low-budget effort. Kunder said that rather than copying from Bob, it is Neupane who could have been inspired to make Kriti. “Neupane appears to be a wedding videographer using a handycam to shoot in record time and then he tweaks the upload date and accuses us of stealing his film,” Kunder declared.

Both films have tremendously benefitted from the storm. Kriti had a record number of views before it was taken down, while Bob, which had been sitting unnoticed on YouTube before Kriti, also saw an uptick in traffic. In show business, there is simply no such thing as bad publicity.