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Anant Mahadevan on the trend of remakes

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By: Anant Mahadevan. IndiaFM
Friday, October 27, 2006
Consider this...Akira Kurosawa makes The Seven Samurais which Hollywood remakes as The Magnificent Seven which the Hindi film industry [gleefully nicknamed Bollywood] remakes as Mera Gaon Mera Desh which gets remade as Sholay which will now get remade by Ram Gopal Varma and will probably rank as the first time a director's name features in the title of a film. Indeed this must be the longest trail of a remake in the history of cinema, a fad that seems to have hit the Hindi film scene like a virus. It is of course another standing joke, that the Hindi cinema has been remaking the same theme for eighty years, only the titles change.

Hollywood hasn't apologized for the remake trend, though the phenomenon has emanated from there. Classic cult films like the black and white Wages of Fear [French] were remade in Hollywood in colour. The Tarzan, Dracula and King Kong movies have been favourite remake material almost every other decade, as have been Shakespearean plays. Other recent examples have been Psycho, Troy, Bewitched, Godzilla, The Fly, The Bourne Identity, Ocean's Eleven, The Italian Job, The Posiedon Adventure, The Omea, The Maltese Falcon [remade 3 times in ten years!] .... the list seems endless and they just can't seem to resist the temptation. The French film Three Mea and a Baby was remade in Hollywood, then in Malayalam and now a version called Hey Baby is in the embryonic stages in our own world. So if we think that this is some kind of a new fad, one would beg to differ.

What then, sparks off a remake... is it the easy availability of material at hand that reduces burden on the maker's grey matter, with virtually no writing talent involved....or is it the exciting urge to bring to a whole new generation, a film of universal appeal...or is it playing safe by making a film that has already proved its credentials at the box office that any star today would agree to relive... or is it just a lazy way to make a movie?

The reasons are varied and debatable. But if one delves into the psyche of a producer or director targeting a film for a remake exercise, the journey is fascinating and amusing. Official, plagiarized, distorted or disguised...many are the facets of the much fancied remake.

Often, the measure of a remake is how much the director has attempted to adapt a film [that lends itself to a remake], to present times, without losing out on the original USP. Moreover the revamped version should not only stand the test of time but also look good enough for a remake a decade down the line. So as we see, the responsibility is enormous!

A brochure at the 2004 Cannes festival proclaimed that "filmmakers are at their most original when being unoriginal". What they probably meant was that a good film maker is more likely to make a good film even if it is a remake and a bad film maker is more likely to make a bad film, even if it is original! One then has to decide which is bad enough today... the originals or the remakes.

So as the remake fever grips us, our producers and directors are thumbing through filmographies to decide which movie is a soft target. One remembers what Peter Bent, editor, Variety wrote... "The temptation to do remakes is simply that, if the picture worked once in the past, why not try it again?"

As movies begin to cost more and more and returns keep diminishing, for most producers this is risk proof. But even as a Farhan Akhtar takes great delight in giving audiences a Shah Rukh Khan avatar as Don, sadly not all remakes guarantee success. As was the case with Jeena Sirf Mere Liye. Much as Vashu Bhagnani's idea to redo Anmol Ghadi seemed innovative the film looked far removed from today's time and attitudes. That's where a Parineeta or a Devdas scored... though the directors [much to the chagrin of a few purists from Bengal] preferred to give the films their own interpretation; they stuck to the time period of the original. Never mind that in the original Parineeta, the heroine was just fifteen years old, while in Devdas, Chandramukhi never met Paro!

For audiences who have never seen Barua's version of Devdas with K L Saigal or found Bimal Roy's version with Dilip Kumar, a tad too slow for today's MTV times, Shahrukh was the perfect antidote. But the debate will rage forever if remakes actually outdo the original. As far as memory serves, the remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was the only one that critics rated better than the original!

Of course there are some who believe [tongue-in-cheek, of course]... "leave the good films alone, if you should remake, then pick the bad ones... its those which need to be fixed." And then there are those amongst us who subscribe to the feeling that remake sucks, as comparison with the original is obvious. But then the argument is...why target only the movie industry? Every other thing is being remade....cars, tyres, detergents...you name it, they remake them...so spare our movies man!!

But one unanimous thought is "never mess with a classic...that's asking for serious trouble "There are movies that don't need to be remade...Mughal-E-Azam [even colour looked out of place here], Mother India, Sholay [err...did I speak too soon?], Gone With The Wind, Benhur or Lawrence of Arabia. And at least a dozen more are begging not to be touched. Sure it's nice to see old films pop up with a new look thanks to technology, but can anyone imagine Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi in colour without the Ganguly brothers or Madhubala? N. Chandra remade his mentor Gulzar's Mere Apne as Ankush, but that's as far as they went when it comes to the parallel cinema territory. Would someone contemplate a remake of Ankur, Mandi, Aakrosh, et al? If the answer is "no", then it cements the fact that remakes are strictly money spinning propositions, not lessons in art for a new viewing generation.

Of course, the other interpretation of remake for our director faculty is the "ape the foreign film syndrome". But then what the hell...hasn't a director of Martin Scorcese's standing remade Infernal Affairs as Departed. That copyright permissions were in place is another matter. Here, the director ends up falling between two stools while attempting a foreign adaptation. While on one hand, he wants to retain the style and panache of the original, on the other he wants to mould it for Indian audience tastes. The result is a confusing potboiler, neither here nor there.

Having said all that, I realize that so much of the above is relevant to may own forthcoming attempt the remake of the iconic comedy caper Victoria 203 for a 2007 audience. An audience feedback line, which I read somewhere, traumatizes me. "These idiots who do remakes actually believe that a film can be improved and updated for today's audiences"! Now the challenge before me is to circumvent and prove this detractor wrong. So its got me all charged up to actually make the world sit up and take notice of Om Puri and Anupam Kher as Raja and Rana and hark back kindly in comparison to Ashok Kumar and Pran. I am glad I am prepared for battle; at least I know what the enemy is like!

So, the bottom line is that even if the latest round of remakes fails to make the grade, its highly unlikely that we are going to desist from the craze. After all remakes are a world wide phenomenon and an artificial comfort zone for the viewer who knows what to expect!

But my biggest fear is...have all the best plots been told? Has the hay day of cinema come to an end???



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