The rash of remakes of south Indian movies by the Bombay industry

With ‘Bholaa’ and ‘Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan’ biting dust at the box-office, it is time for the Hindi film industry to focus on reimagining south Indian films rather than just changing the setting from Bellary to Bhopal

Updated - April 28, 2023 06:03 pm IST

Published - April 28, 2023 10:30 am IST

A still from ‘Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan’

A still from ‘Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan’

For more than a year, the Hindi film industry is unspooling a popular concept of computer science on the screen: garbage in, garbage out. Bachchhan Paandey, Jersey, Cuttputli, Hit, Vikram Vedha, Mili, Drishyam-2, Cirkus, Selfiee, Shehzada, Bholaa, Gumraah, and Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan — there has been a glut of remakes of South Indian masala. A few of these such as Drishyam-2, Jersey, and Vikram Vedha have been fermented organically but the rest raised a stink at the box office and were trashed in review columns.

The art of remake is neither new nor confined to the Bombay film industry alone. But gone are the days when Mehboob Khan updated his film, Aurat (1940), to make Mother India (1957), a masterpiece rooted in Nehruvian socialism. Or when film director Tapi Chanakya successfully relocated the entertaining Ramudu Bheemudu as Ram Aur Shyam (1967) or for that matter, Farhan Akhtar reimagined Chandra Barot’s Don (1978), co-written by his father Javed Akhtar, into a sleek tribute in the new millennium.

Not on par

In the last few years, there has not been a single remake that is at par or better than the original. There is no Amar Prem (1972) that made one discover its Bengali original Nishi Padma or an Akhree Raasta (1986), which made us compare Amitabh Bachchan’s performance with that of Kamal Haasan in the Tamil original, Oru Kaidhiyin Diary.

Over the years, even the best in the business has featured in remakes that played a part in either changing the course or resurrecting their careers. Much before Ram Aur Shyam, when Dilip Kumar was advised to come out of the tragic hero image, he chose to do Azaad (1955), a remake of the M.G. Ramachandran-starrer Malaikkallan, which fetched him a Filmfare Award for Best Actor. Years later, in Shakti (1982), he essayed the role of an honest police officer in conflict with his antagonistic son, played by Sivaji Ganesan, in Thangappathakkam, when the Tamil hit was imbued with a fresh soul and verve by Salim Javed. The writer duo knew the craft of reinventing the original as they did in their first major success, Hathi Mere Saathi (1971), an adaptation of Deiva Chayal. Interestingly, the film’s success prompted producer Sandow M.M.A Chinnappa Thevar to remake it in Tamil as Nella Neram, with M.G. Ramachandran playing Rajesh Khanna’s part.

Jeetendra survived a slump in his career by acting in a series of remakes of Tamil and Telugu films, particularly with N.T. Rama Rao. Likewise, Mithun Chakraborty found a lifeline when T.L.V. Prasad rehashed Amaithi Padai as Jallad and Rajendrudu Gajendrudu as Jodidaar. Meanwhile, Anil Kapoor won respect by doing remakes of superlative films from the South such as Eeshwar (1989), a remake of Kamal Haasan’s Swathi Muthyam.

After legendary actor-director-producer L.V. Prasad set the trend by turning Missamma into Miss Mary (1955) and Edhir Paradhatu into Sharada (1957), K. Bhim Singh, K. Viswanath, Bapu, and T. Rama Rao frequently transcended barriers of language and culture to remake their South Indian films into Hindi. Later, Priyadarshan showed immense skill and a bit of creativity in Hera Pheri (Ramji Rao Speaking) and seamlessly transported the soul of a South Indian potboiler into a Bollywood body with Bhool Bhulaiyaa (Manichitrathazhu) as a shining example, but of late, remaking films from the South has become a formula for those who believe a star can sell trash and that a writer becomes redundant in the remake business.

A still from ‘Bholaa’

A still from ‘Bholaa’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Flashy treatment

Even the translation of concept films such as Sairat and Driving Licence as Dhadak and Selfiee, respectively are marred by flashy treatment, emasculating the essence of the original. Both came from the stable of Karan Johar. So, when recent reports suggested that Dharma Productions is planning to redo Pariyerum Perumal, one wonders whether Johar would make a mess of yet another good film from the south.

The casual approach that is being put in making remakes can be gauged from the fact that director Farhad Samji first wanted to make Ajith’s Veeram as Bachchhan Paandey, but then made Jigarthanda as Bachchhan Paandey with Akshay Kumar and remade Veeram as Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan after Salman showed interest in it.

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Lack of flair

Remaking a film doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of originality in a particular industry but in the present scenario, it does suggest the Hindi film industry’s lack of investment in screenwriting and inability to gauge the taste of the audience. The writers lack the flair that Gulzar showed in turning Uttam Kumar’s Bhranti Bilas into Sanjeev Kumar’s Angoor. In Rohit Shetty’s Cirkus, only those portions worked which were directly lifted from the original. It seems Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan has been green-lit just because director Farhad Samji told Salman Khan and his advisers that the protagonist in the original runs away from making a matrimonial commitment.

Salman is not new to remakes. Be it Tere Naam (Sethu) or Wanted (Pokiri), in fact, when there was a lull in his career, it was revived by a remake. But those were the days when the term, ‘pan Indian’ hadn’t gathered weight and the southern stars didn’t shine on the northern horizon. One feels sorry for the likes of Kamal Haasan and Uttam Kumar who were often replaced in the remakes just because producers felt they could not sell enough tickets up north.

Remakes like Sooryavansham had always been the driving force of television channels dedicated to cinema but during the pandemic, the consumption of South Indian films on OTT and YouTube increased manifold because of time and cheap internet rates. For instance, the Hindi dub of Veeram was already watched more than two crore times on YouTube before Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan arrived this Eid. After COVID, when buying a cinema ticket has become a luxury, audiences expect a little more than fantasy from filmmakers.

They are not only aware of the source material but have also accepted the lead actors as their heroes. Prabhas, Allu Arjun, and Yash are household names now in the north and the audience prefers to watch the Hindi dub of Baahubali, RRR, Pushpa, KGF, and Kantararather than wait for their remake. Technically refined, they touch the raw religious and caste nerve of the masses in the garb of entertainment.

A regressive shift

Industry sources say that the recent spurt in remakes of South Indian films is because audiences have rejected the Hollywood tilt of Hindi film content and want something rooted and polyphonic which the films from the South are providing. Many young Bollywood filmmakers, who handle Hindi films with an English mind and prefer to remake a European or Korean film, find this shift regressive and chaotic, and are taking time to adapt. Also, with the OTT space taking care of the dark, realistic themes, the big screen is increasingly meant for larger-than-life experiences which the single-note treatment of Hindi films has stopped delivering in recent years.

Industry insiders also say that it is not necessarily the film but the budget of remakes that is failing. When the original made in ₹25 crore to ₹30 crore is remade with a budget of ₹100 crore, the creative imagination doesn’t swell in the same proportion as the fee of the star, who in most cases, has a major say these days. For instance, a non-vegetarian Bholaa is no match for Kaithi in the present environment. The writer watched the film at an IMAX theatre with great expectations only to find how director Devgn failed actor Ajay in the din that the background score created.

It is time, the producers employ the rules of remake where reimagining the original is more important than a shot-to-shot copy and try to lace it with something original that we don’t have.

It is time the Hindi film industry gets picky when shopping for a remake, and that if it has to make garbage, why not churn out its own?

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