If Indian censor laws were progressive, audiences bolder and financiers more experimental, would David Dhawan have been a director of sex comedies?
He has the credentials: a relish for bawdiness, a tendency towards slapdash screenplays, an eye for energetic but dim-witted male characters and decorative and cleavage-revealing women, an ear for double entendre, and plenty of irreverence. Dhawan’s latest movie Chashme Baddoor is a sexually charged version of Chashme Buddoor, Sai Paranjpye’s celebrated comedy from 1981. Different spellings, different worldviews, too. Indian morality and sexuality are at a different place from the 1980s, so you cannot expect the innocence that suffused the original, but the impudence with which Dhawan treats the source material is startling.
It isn’t personal, of course. Dhawan wasn’t initially attached to the remake that got underway after the Anand family, which produced the movie, sold its rights to Viacom18. The Anands balanced the act of allowing their most-celebrated production to be re-imagined by restoring the negative of the original. Both films opened on the same day on 5 April—thanks to programming smarts shown by PVR’s Director’s Rare, under whose label the classic was released. The re-release has made it possible to be charmed by the pitch-perfect performances and the easy, conversational humour, and, thanks to the superb restoration, appreciate cinematographer Virendra Saini’s soft tones and feel for Delhi in the summer.
Among the moviegoers who thronged cinemas in 1981 to watch Chashme Buddoor, there must have been some who wondered why three bachelors living together in an apartment didn’t do anything naughtier than putting posters of semi-naked women on the walls. Why, when Neha comes into the apartment as a detergent powder salesman, does one of the three bachelors, Sidharth, sit decorously next to her and watch her wash an already laundered shirt?
Was David Dhawan one of those moviegoers? It seems likely, from his hectic version of events, which are narrated from the point of view of an extremely needy adolescent. Sidharth’s ne’er do well buddies were indecorous to begin with, but now, they are plain randy. Neha has changed her name to Seema, for the sole purpose of letting in a whole lot of jokes about the breaching of limits and borders. Seema is also no longer a detergent peddling saleswoman—that job is entrusted to a new character added to the mix—but a thigh-flashing floozie who rates Sidharth on his kissing skills. The saving grace is that there are no boob jokes, as there were in Dhawan’s recent Rascals .
Dhawan’s version is playing to appreciative roars, mostly from men, judging from a recent viewing at a cinema in Mumbai. The difference seems to be between a female eye and a male eye, but the picture gets complicated when you look at the list of credits for both films. Paranjpye wrote the story, dialogue and screenplay for Chashme Buddoor, while the screenplay writer for Dhawan’s movie is Renuka Kunzru, who also wrote the dialogue on Desi Boyz, the directorial debut of Dhawan’s son, Rohit Dhawan, about two men who become male strippers to earn money.
Dhawan’s unique brand of comedy, best realized during his fruitful partnership with actor Govinda and dialogue writer Kader Khan through the 1990s, has never been anything but manic, but he pushes his lack of respect for the past in Chashme Baddoor. His movie is less screwball and more screw-it-all. Chashme Baddoor is a kick in the groin of anybody stupid enough to get misty-eyed about older movies. Dhawan doesn’t share the nostalgia of contemporary filmmakers who periodically doff their hats to iconic Hindi films and film personalities. Unlike younger writers and directors, he doesn’t feel the need to locate his filmmaking practice within existing traditions. The funny thing is that Paranjpye was one of the few filmmakers of her generation to spoof Hindi cinema conventions and to draw attention to the artifice of cinema.
Chashme Buddoor is the kind of movie in which characters complain about “filmi” behaviour and go about their business as though they are real-life people. Decades before Farhan Akhtar or Farah Khan, Paranjpye lampooned Hindi movie songs and poked fun at formulaic declarations of onscreen love. The line in Chashme Buddoor that what we have seen is only a trailer, and that there is more to follow, was faithfully transported to Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om 26 years later.
It has become a fashion to tinker with movie memories under the guise of paying tribute to cinematic conventions. What was sweet, innocent and pleasurable is now ironic, knowing and derivative. There will be many more occasions for fans of movie classics to take offence in the coming months. Rohit Shetty has bought the official remake rights of Gulzar’s Angoor, based on William Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. There is talk of a remake of Seeta Aur Geeta, in which Katrina Kaif will follow in the footsteps of Hema Malini. Seeta Aur Geeta itself was a reimagining of Ram Aur Shyam and was imaginatively retooled as by Pankaj Parashar in ChaalBaaz. Since the Agneepath remake and Chashme Baddoor have sufficiently charmed audiences, filmmakers aren’t going to stop eating their own tails. As is to be expected, it is not a pretty sight.