K-town’s fixation with remakes can be traced back to the early 1960s when Telugu film Ramudu Bheemudu (1964) starring N T Rama Rao was remade in several regional languages, including Tamil.
With MGR reprising the role in Enga Veettu Pillai, the film was one of the top grossers and became a cult classic for several generations of MGR fans. Despite being a remake, the film was nominated for the National Awards that year, in a rare exception made by the jury. Another notable impact of the movie was its inspiration for similar story lines, with female leads playing the centre roles like Vani Rani (Seeta Geeta in Hindi) and later Chaalbaaz (Hindi).
In the same decade, another significant adaptation was Adutha Veedu Penn (originally made in Bengali as Pasher Bari), starring Thangavelu, Anjali Devi and Vijayakumar
The 60s also saw many successful adaptations like the remake of Western flicks. Hollywood’s Parent Trap was remade as Kuzhandaiyum Deivamum (1965), starring Jaishankar and Jamuna. The trend continued with Shanthi Nilayam (1969), partly inspired two Hollywood big banner flicks Rebecca and The Sound of Music, with Gemini Ganesan and Kanchana in lead roles.
However, the bigger exchange has been between Bollywood and regional cinema, with films of equal proportion being adapted by all the industries. While Southern film producers and directors like L V Prasad, Bhimsingh and C S Sridhar resorted to remakes of their successful flicks in Hindi, Tamil industry too looked for adaptations from various sources, including Tollywood.
Possibly the rise of Rajinikanth resulted in the maximum number of Hindi remakes in Tamil; almost every hit that originally starred Amitabh Bachchan had the superstar reprising the roles in films like Panakkaran (Laawaris), Velaikaran (Namak Halal), Padikkathavan (Khuddar), Thee (Deewar) Billa (Don) and Mr Bharath (Trishul).
As with Bachchan in Bollywood, the roles and success of the angry young man flicks earned an irreplaceable position for Rajinikanth in the Tamil film industry.
Another highlight in the career of Rajinikanth that validated his talent in comedy roles was Thillu Mullu helmed by his mentor K Balachander. Having become a huge hit in its original version in Hindi Gol Maal, starring Amol Palekar and Utpal Dutt and directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Thillu Mullu, that was Rajini’s first full-length comedy flick, had a successful run at the box office.
Over the last decade, a new trend ‘remake of remakes’ has become the latest flavour. Following the remake of Don, starring Shah Rukh Khan, with Ajith stepping in the Tamil version, Billa, the momentum of the remakes has been maintained with Don 2 and Billa 2 respectively in Hindi and Tamil.
Despite the constant debate about the legitimacy of remakes, it looks like they are still a genre with more scope for filmmakers and artistes, considering the available sources.