If admirers of Tamil superstar Suriya file a public interest litigation against the recent Hindi remakes of his hit films Singam (as Singham) and Kaakha..Kaakha (as Force), we won’t be surprised. In fact, I wouldn’t mind signing up as a witness and sharing my anguish at the pedestrian Hindi versions. Neither of them captures the spirit of the original movies, but the fact that they have worked with audiences and some critics indicate that the remake idea wasn’t a bad one in the first place. Why risk inventing something new when somebody else has already taken the trouble to do so—and succeeded?
The latest fad in Bollywood is the “official remake”, which means that instead of stealing plots and characters from other movies, producers are actually paying a fee to the original creators. Nagesh Kukunoor’s Mod, which releases on 14 October, is an acknowledged remake of the Taiwanese movie Keeping Watch. A positive way of looking at this development is that film-makers have become more conscientious and professional and are finally giving credit where it’s due. The uncharitable view is that producers are paying up because they don’t want to be caught out. They don’t like being told by critics and bloggers that their movies are either partly or wholly lifted from some place else. The fact that Hollywood studios such as Fox Star and Warner Bros are attempting to make inroads into Bollywood by producing Hindi films is another deterrent. Many of the films copied by Hindi directors and writers tend to be from Hollywood, and all the studios need to do is reach into their back catalogues to trace the source.
Second avatar: Ayesha Takia in Nagesh Kukunoor’s Mod.
Also, Bollywood producers don’t like being slapped with legal notices. In 2007, Overbrook Entertainment, the producer of Hitch, sent a gentle reminder to the producers of David Dhawan’s Partner about the similarities between the Will Smith movie and the Salman Khan starrer. We never found out the result of that note—did the producers pay as they should have?—but Bollywood’s dream merchants have become a bit more open about where they’re catching their dreams from.
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Just how much progress has been made in this regard can be judged from the fact that Tees Maar Khan’s source was acknowledged to be the Peter Sellers comedy After the Fox. Abbas Mustan’s upcoming Players is an official remake of The Italian Job (the 1969 original as well its 2003 Hollywood version). In the old days, the Burmawalla brothers would have simply plonked themselves in front of a video player and remade the Hollywood movie they liked the most. How times have changed.
Hollywood could work out to be too expensive—and potentially alienating, as Dharma Productions realized with its remake of Stepmom. We Are Family (2010) didn’t connect with local audiences the way the original movie had—it didn’t help that the Hindi movie didn’t try too hard to localize the original story. A less risky option is to retool an older hit, like Don or Chupke Chupke. The more foolproof route is to look south rather than go West. Remakes of Tamil and Telugu hits are all the rage. It appears that Bollywood is so keen on reconnecting with small-town and rural audiences that feel removed from NRI-oriented films and Hindies that it’s looking at Hyderabad and Chennai for some answers. The kind of Tamil and Telugu movies being remade here are broad enough to adapt to new contexts. Bodyguard worked very well in Malayalam and did decent business in Tamil. Combined with the resurgence of love for Salman Khan, a favourable run in the Hindi belt seemed guaranteed.
This means that we will have to suffer remakes of our favourite Tamil and Telugu films for some more time. We are doomed to grumble to fellow southies about how neither Ajay Devgn nor John Abraham is a patch on Suriya, or how Akshay Kumar will make a very bad Ravi Teja in Rowdy Rathore, an official remake of Teja’s Telugu superhit Vikramarkudu.
The cheapest way to avoid paying up for remakes is to go down the “homage” route. If a hero or a villain strongly resembles a previously created iconic character, it’s not because somebody didn’t want to write out a cheque. It’s because the director or writer is paying tribute to the older film. So if Sanjay Dutt’s Kancha Cheena from the Agneepath remake strongly resembles Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, it’s not because the director, Karan Malhotra, has the blessings of Francis Ford Coppola. Cheena could well be a “tribute” to Brando’s Colonel Kurtz. You can whine, blog or send an anguished email to the Brando estate, but you can’t sue.
Mod will release in theatres on 14 October.
Nandini Ramnath is the film critic of Time Out Mumbai
Write to Nandini at email@example.com