When asked by critic Roger Ebert, no less, to clarify a “blasphemous” rumour of acting in a remake of Orson Welles’ 1949 classic 'The Third Man', Leonardo DiCaprio said exhaustedly, after a long, plausible explanation, “The undertaking seems foolhardy.”
But we are talking of Bollywood here, in which seldom a remake has bettered the original—in some infamous cases like 'Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag', a stomach-churning version of 'Sholay', this theory takes on a fresh meaning, one that asserts that the re-imagining business is a rotten business. In that respect, remakes spell a total absence of original expression.
Yet, more and more remakes are being thrust into your nearby screens. A proposed remake of Salim-Javed’s earliest, rage-soaked drama 'Zanjeer' has already angered the duo. First, the very idea of doing 'Zanjeer' at a time when the Indian public isn’t angry anymore just doesn’t make sense. The film, Bachchan’s first big hit after a series of flops, was, in one respect, a response and an expression of national sentiment during the Emergency.
“'Zanjeer' worked because people felt frustrated and saw in Amitabh Bachchan’s Vijay one among their own. They felt that this man had seen a lot of suffering and they identified with him. If it is to be remade today, I would simply say it’s not a good idea because it may not be able to match up the original,” says Salim Khan, who wrote, along with Javed Akhtar, the 1973 Prakash Mehra film.
It’s not the classics alone that are being considered for remakes. In another instance, David Dhawan is all set to give tacky, sarkai lo khatiya -inspired spin to Sai Paranjpye’s 'Chashme Buddoor', which was in many ways, an early Bollywood romance, prefiguring 'Dil Chahta Hai'. It beats us why anyone would want to revisit 'Satte Pe Satt'a, starring Sanjay Dutt in Bachchan’s role, which itself was plagiarised from 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers'.
Again, Abbas Mustan’s 'Players', a hugely-mounted 'The Italian Job' redux, serves as a reminder that an all-style, no-substance Hollywood re-imagining needs more than that — it needs some real imagining, if anything.
As if that wasn’t enough, the south Indian remake market is still going strong, thanks to the phenomenal success of 'Ready', 'Wanted', 'Bodyguard' and the likes. Actually, mostly Salman Khan’s recent blockbusters, a Rajinikanth-like formula that he has perfected, of catchy hooks, crowd-pleasing dialogue, mindless action and ridiculous comic sub-plots.
Next, Akshay Kumar, who has been going through a rough patch, has his hopes pinned on 'Rowdy Rathore', a Prabhu Deva-styled potboiler taken from the Telugu hit, 'Vikramarkudu'.
Director Rohan Sippy says there is nothing wrong with remakes as long as a filmmaker has a clear vision. “A director has every right to choose his material but in case of remakes, things can get touchy. First, classics shouldn’t be fiddled with because it has been proven before that remakes can’t stand up to originals. Also, classics are classics because they are perfect, in which case what new can a filmmaker, however credible he is, bring to the remake? Nothing is left to explore,” says Sippy.
It must be pointed out that not all remakes are washouts. When Farhan Akhtar’s 'Don' was re-styled and released (sequel not included), it was received favourably, despite initial resentments from the admirers of the original. The recent 'Agneepath', in fact, is that rare example of a remake outstripping the original vis-à-vis box-office returns.
Filmmaker Rohit Shetty, whose upcoming 'Bol Bachchan', starring Ajay Devgn and Abhishek Bachchan is inspired by Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s laugh-riot 'Gol Maal', says there is a new twist every filmmaker can give to an original. “As long as there’s honesty in the remake, there shouldn’t be a problem. You cannot cheat the audience. Tell them it’s a remake and try to bring your own point of view. In most remakes, only the story idea comes from the original; the rest is all fresh.”