Are Remakes a Canker at the Heart of Indian Cinema?

Quoting an amphigoric verse of the latest Tamil song “let me sing a Kutti story”, let me write a small story! A beautiful rich girl and a starveling poor boy become best friends only to be separated by the vicissitudes of life. Years later, as the separation has caused the friendship to evolve into love, the boy and the girl engage themselves in the pursuit of finding their better halves while the circumstances and people are against their union. Will the boy and girl, after going through years-long separation, be reunited successfully or will their chase end like a Shakespearean tragedy? This is a storyline of an evergreen love story of a hindi movie called Anmol Ghadi which was released in the year 1946. The story may sound kitschy. But, a timeless love story with little twists and turns sprung upon it, is always up for grabs. That is precisely the reason why this movie was remade in Telugu as Manasantha Nuvve in 2001, Jeena Sirf Mere Liye (2002) in Hindi, Manasella Neene (2002) in Kannada, Thithikkudhe (2003) in Tamil, and finally Nei Jaa Re Megha Mate (2008) in Odia – the story brought huge successes in box office and was appreciated by critics which made them block-busters.

The potential of remakes in Indian film industry is endless. Anmol Ghadi is a tiny example. But somehow, remakes of recent times and Bollywood’s special attention to South Indian film industries after Bahubali have managed to bring about an appalling scenario into the contemporary zeitgeist that is striving to create progressive works like Pariyerum Perumal (Tamil) and Thappad (Hindi) that are sensitive to contemporary issues of the society.

The incessant craze for recreating movies from other languages has brought in a great deal of works that lack content and cultural relevance. An example of this would be the recent remake of a multilingual (Telugu-Tamil) film called Baagamathee into Hindi called Durgamati. Baagamathee, per se, is a movie that did not fare well in box office and got pilloried by the film critics. Probably the only qualification for the movie to be remade in Hindi is that it is an Anushka Shetty starrer film, the actress who played the lead role Devasena in Bahubali, as a result of the Bahubali effect in Bollywood. Same is the case with the Tamil remake of the Hindi movie Pink which is imbued with cultural irrelevance and poor acting skills of the cast-not to mention the least effort put in choosing the cast who can utter some Tamil. And the infamous Tamil remake of a Telugu block-buster Arjun Reddy which bungled the remake even before it was released shows the incompetence of the film industry to create a decent remake.

What surprises the critics (and some ardent movie lovers too) is that the perseverance of the producers and directors who do not seem to cease their mediocre additions to cinema. Asking if they are well-endowed with money to make movies that tank as soon as they are released would be a rhetorical question.

What makes a good remake? A good remake should have the following qualities. First, it should keep the original story alive and should not affect the crux of it. Second, it should be culturally pertinent so that it does not move far away from the contemporary mindset of the audience and the cultural and creative climate. Third, it should do justice to the language it is remade into and should respect the linguistic practices, rules and colloquialism of the language. The final quality that makes a good remake is simply that it should not look like a remake to the layman. A good remake is the one that can be as close as an original. Of course, the list is not exhaustive. Yet, the recent remakes totally lack these qualities which makes it worthy of mentioning.

Interestingly, these essential qualities of a remake are derived from many successful remakes that Indian cinema churned out through the ages. Some of the greatest movies that were remade from to other languages secured enormous reception and celebration from the regional audiences.

When Ghajini (Tamil) was released in 2008, it was as if a tsunami struck in the industry. Breaking all the records, the movie received a huge positive response and it was inevitable to recreate it in Hindi. And when it was remade in Hindi with Aamir Khan playing the lead role, the result was fantastic. Zooming in, one can see that the movie had all the qualities that were mentioned above for it to be more than successful. Rewinding further, classics like Bhool Bhulaiya, Saathiya, Sadma were all films that were made again in Hindi borrowing from movies of different languages. The remake of a Tamil film Kadhala Kadhala (called Housefull in Hindi) was a block-buster which ensured sequels. When the famous Manichitrathaazhu (Malayalam) was remade into Bhool Bhulaiya in Hindi, it received ebullient response from the audience. These remakes are testament to the hardwork and effort that was put into making them and hence they came out with flying colors. What we see in the remakes of today is a raw, ossified approach of simply following the remake recipe and presence of nary a single unique content. The recent Hindi movie starring Akshay Kumar ‘Laxmii’ deftly acts in favor of the above argument.

So, what makes the film-makers and producers turn a blind eye to the content? Why do they not seem to care about the content and other artistic factors while remaking a movie? Citing pecuniary factors as a reason would be an attempt to blanket cover the issue in hand. There might be several reasons for the growing trend of blandness in remakes of today. The concerns of creating a movie within a fixed budget limits the creative space for a movie-maker. Moreover, a remake means a movie that guarantees success as it has performed well before. A remake assures a safe space where the producers can fall back to. It means that the movie need not do extremely well to create enormous profit. At least, it’s reputation from the original make can ensure a certain profit which encourages directors to set foot to create remakes.

Another major factor that pushes the creators to not alter original movies for improvement is that the emerging censorship issues that are becoming increasingly prevalent recently, much to one’s askance. It is putting a bridle on the liberty of artists who are compelled to contain their artistic freedom. While this is indeed a serious concern, it might be more relevant to the original works rather than remakes. In addition, the consistent releases of distasteful remakes does not support the above argument substantially. This is definitely a sign of laxity among the movie-makers who are not ready to work on a movie to create a meaningful remake. Of course there are always exceptions to the above argument like Kabir Singh (a Hindi remake of the Telugu film Arjun Reddy), but, as we know, exceptions cannot be examples!

After churning out some classics over the last several decades, the Indian cinema is starting to evince monotony and is becoming insipid. The practise of grinding the same dough again and again is becoming increasingly prevalent in films. Ceaseless supply of same content with minimal alterations for betterment and cultural relevance is simply an act of being disrespectful to the art itself. While remakes are consistently disappointing the audience, the growing trend of making sequels and prequels to an already boring story is only rubbing salt on the wound.

It is not that the Indian film industry is incapable of creating a good remake. In fact, this article began with the example of the film Anmol Ghadi to remind that there is still hope for the remade movies after all, however bleak it may seem now. There is hope because Indian cinema has seen great remakes in the past and it is perfectly competent to create great ones in future too. Only that it needs to impinge the box-office collection bar and meet the artistic bar too. There is a dire need for the creators to rekindle their creativity when it comes to remaking a movie. It is ,after all, their duty to do justice to their art. Instead of making movies for mercenary pursuits, movie-makers should be driven enough to want to show their audiences the wonderful and mesmerising stories and meaningful art that influences the society at large.

-Subiksha Kumar (Freelancer)

Picture Credits: bit.ly/3iD8Uku

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