The Bengali film industry and its Telugu counterpart are both called Tollywood. Time was when Telugu filmmakers used to draw inspiration from Bengali cinema and literature. Some great Telugu classics like Devadas were film adaptations of Sarat Chandra’s work. Bimal Roy was an inspiration for Telugu filmmakers in the 1950s. But today, it’s the Bengali film industry that’s the copycat, with scene-to-scene remakes of Telugu hits. The trend began in 2002.
Take the recent Telugu film Konchem Ishtam Konchem Kashtam. It was remade in Bengali as Romeo with even the dialogue a literal translation of the Telugu script. And then, Bengali hit Prem Amar was a copy of 7G Brindavan Colony; Bhalobasha Bhalobasha was a replica of the Telugu superhit Bommarillu, and Trivikram Srinivas’ Athadu was remade as Wanted.
The fourth highest Bengali grosser 100% Love, directed by Rabi Kinagi and starring Jeet and Koel Mullick, is a remake of Aadavari Matalaku Arthale Verule (2007). One of the biggest Telugu hits, Dookudu, was recently remade as Challenge 2.
The grammar of these remakes can be comical at times. A scenic Konaseema village is passed off as a pastoral locale purportedly in north Bengal. Bengali movie Jaaneman shows the hero helping the heroine flee Siliguri in a car with a Karnataka number plate. He takes her to ‘Kolkata’ and on the way we don’t see the Farakka Barrage or lush green paddy fields, but a rocky landscape dotted with hillocks, a four-lane National Highway and cars with AP and KA number plates.
Mind you, these are not redubbed versions. Most Telugu remakes are made by Sri Venkatesh Films, currently the most successful production house in West Bengal.
Asked if he knew Athadu was remade in Bengali as Wanted, Srinivas said he didn’t and was surprised that Bengali cinema, once known for film pioneers like Ritwik Ghatak, Satyajit Ray and Bimal Roy, is now looking to Telugu cinema.
Curiously, that nonchalant attitude is shared by some other Telugu film-makers too. “They watch each and every Telugu film and copy the ones they like. Our industry should sue them,” says Suresh Babu, one of the biggest Telugu film producers and son of D Ramanaidu.
Tammareddy Bharadwaja, president of the AP Film Chamber of Commerce, and a producer-director himself, says he had no idea that Telugu films have spawned a remake industry in Bengal. “None of the producers or directors have ever complained about it. I will put the matter before the Telugu Film Producers Council.”
Audiences in Bengal may not realise that their hits are ‘inspired’, but to the Bengali community in Andhra, many of whom get to watch both make and remake, it is common knowledge. “When we go to see a Bengali film, more than often we are disappointed to find that we had already seen it in Telugu,” says Baisakhi Chatterjee, an MNC employee living in Hyderabad.
However, some Bengali film personalities see something positive in this phenomenon. Actor Mithun Chakraborty says this trend is a ‘breath of fresh air’ for the Bengali film industry, which has become stagnant since the 1980s.
The trend has full-fledged support from theatres in Bengal, as is clear by the statistics that nearly 700 of the 800 theatres there have started showing Bengali movies only, up from a mere 200 during the ‘dark age’.