The data shows Bollywood’s struggle with original ideas

Forrest Gump's Indian twin Lal Singh Chaddha released in the theatres on 11 August 2022
Forrest Gump's Indian twin Lal Singh Chaddha released in the theatres on 11 August 2022


  • Why is the reuse-recycle-remake formula in Hindi films not going away, yet? Here's an analysis of top-grossing Bollywood movies from the last two decades:

More than seven years is what it took Aamir Khan’s production house just to get the remake rights for Tom Hanks-starrer Forrest Gump. The wait was worth it, and the 1994 hit now has an Indian twin, Lal Singh Chaddha. The film may have joined Bollywood’s recent wave of box office duds, but the reuse-recycle-remake formula in Hindi films is not going away, yet. That’s because it pays more often than not: of the 99 films that have made 100 crore or more in domestic revenue, 58 are either a remake, a franchise, or both. Mint explores the remake formula:

1. Remake mania

Between 2000 and 2019, one in every three successful Bollywood films has been a remake, shows a Mint analysis. Ghajini (2008), the first Indian film ever to enter the 100-crore club, was a remake of its Tamil namesake. Bodyguard (2011), Ready (2011), Singham (2011), Rowdy Rathore (2012), Son of Sardaar (2012) and Kick (2014) also mimicked the South India remake formula to enter the prestigious club.

This analysis is based on the top 50 grossing Bollywood movies each year between 2000 and 2019—a total of 1,000 films. These movies were then segregated into remakes and originals, with a separate category for franchises. A film is classified as a remake if it chose to buy official rights, or was described in the media as “borrowed", “inspired" or “based" on an original that it failed to credit. The sample covers films only till 2019, since theatres shut during the pandemic, after which film releases have largely moved to online streaming platforms.

2. Scouting south

After decades of ripping off Hollywood scripts, Hindi cinema is looking south. Around 40% of recent commercially successful remakes have been based on South Indian films, especially Telugu and Tamil ones. The success of Kabir Singh (2019), a remake of Arjun Reddy (Telugu), started a gold rush. A string of Hindi remakes is in the works based on megahits such as Vikram Vedha (Tamil), Anniyan (Tamil), Chatrapathi (Telugu), and Ayyappanum Koshiyum (Malayalam).

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Yet, looking overseas for inspiration isn’t a goner yet; it’s only Hollywood that’s losing appeal. The French short film L'Accordeur (“The Piano Tuner") inspired Andhadhun (2018), Spanish movie Contratiempo (“The Invisible Guest") was remade as Badla (2019), and Korean film Ode to My Father led to the Salman Khan-starrer Bharat (2019). Bollywood’s big productions and A-listers associated with these remakes are preferring certainty over originality. The chances of an original script attracting big money are much lower today than in the past.

3. Mix and match

In Bollywood, filmmaking is less art, more commerce. If a film delivers, its creators are likely to re-invest to create a franchise universe, which they often colonize with remakes. The Baaghi action-thriller is an assembly of three separate and unrelated remakes—Varsham (Telugu), Kshanam (Telugu) and Vettai (Tamil). Rohit Shetty’s cop universe has three remakes: Singham, Singham Returns, and Simmba which are based on movies made in Tamil, Malayalam, and Telugu, respectively. Salman Khan’s Dabangg also adopted the franchise model, though without remakes, delivering 100 crore-plus not once, but thrice, with the first one reaping a 400% return on its budget. Dhoom and Krrish used the same model, occasionally using remakes. War 2, Tiger 3, Baaghi 4, Golmaal 5 are all in the pipeline.

Tollywood’s Baahubali deviated from the low-risk-high-returns franchise formula. The Hindi-dubbed first part turned no profit but part 2 cashed in on the nationwide anticipation around the question ‘Why did Katappa kill Baahubali?’, making a record-breaking 800 crore.

4. Box office tussle

To add insult to injury, Hindi copies regularly out-earn their South Indian siblings. Simmba (2018) earned five times what its Telugu original, Temper, did; Kabir Singh made seven times what Arjun Reddy did. Tapping on regional hits to capture Hindi-speaking audiences is working commercially. Dhadak (2018) was a rare exception, as it failed to replicate the phenomenal success of its Marathi original, Sairat.

As a result, South Indian movies are fighting to win on both turfs, by releasing Hindi-dubbed versions as part of multilingual releases. With pan-India mega movies such as the two Bahubali films, Pushpa - The Rise, RRR - Rise Roar Revolt, and the upcoming Adipurush, Tollywood is challenging Bollywood’s predatory behaviour. Kannada movie KGF: Chapter 2 even broke the record of Dangal, Bollywood’s highest grossing movie till date. Most big-grossing movies are banking on grand visual effects and follow a two-part release model. Bollywood’s response to this trend, Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva, releases next month in five languages.

5. Old is gold

Prior to rehashing southern cinema, Bollywood repackaged its yesteryear movies. However, tampering with its own legacy always leaves audiences less impressed, show user ratings on IMDb, a movie database. Remakes are known to cause social media uproars.

Of the 24 Hindi-to-Hindi remakes in the top-grossing films of the last two decades, none is rated better than the original on IMDb. Parineeta is the only one that matches up. Ram Gopal Varma’s Aag, a remake of the iconic Sholay, was the worst with a 1.4 rating out of 10 on IMDb, against the original’s 8.1. Himmatwala and Karzzzz were the second and third worst rated remakes. Devdas and Don in their new avatars came close but fell short.

A pandemic-led shift to streaming platforms may give original scripts a chance. But so far at the box office, Bollywood seems less keen to be in search of creative pursuits.

Surbhi Bhatia is a data journalist based in Mumbai.

Elsewhere in Mint

Vidya Mahambare & Praveen Kumar explain why feelings of prosperity are likely to be the highest in Gujarat. Dhruv Garg writes on the conundrum Indian online gaming firms face. Kirit P. Solanki & Sumit Kaushik tell what can speed up India's Amrit Kaal journey. Long Story narrates how Sunil Bharti Mittal turned Airtel around in Africa.


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