I watched Aamir Khan’s movie Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin yesterday. It is an obvious remake of Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night and it got me thinking, not for the first time, about why I prefer the Hindi film version of some of my favorite Hollywood films. The Hindi film industry is often accused of stealing entire plots without acknowledging (or paying for) copyrights held on their Hollywood counterparts. And to be sure, a movie like DHKMN should acknowledge Frank Capra’s work as its direct ancestor. What I don’t understand is why so many people hold these remakes in contempt and use them as examples of how Indian filmmakers lack creativity. After all, Hollywood itself remakes its old films.
For example, Aamir Khan’s Mann* is a remake of 1957’s An Affair to Remember starring Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant, which Hollywood remade (and not well) in 1994 as Love Affair with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. I remember watching An Affair to Remember after school one day, box of Kleenex on my lap. When my mother called me for dinner, everyone looked at my tragic, tear-swollen face and asked who had died. It is a monumentally heart-wrenching classic**.
So, when I saw that it had been remade in Hindi movie form, I couldn’t wait to watch it. And I was so rewarded! It took that over-the-top tearjerker and upped the ante! Instead of being merely paralyzed like Deborah Kerr, Manisha Koirala has her legs amputated below the knee:
So of course, when Aamir’s grandmother dies (knowing nothing of Manisha’s circumstances), instead of leaving Manisha a shawl (as in the Hollywood version):
Of course this drama is what makes some people look down on Bollywood movies, but it is largely what makes me love them. I went through TWO boxes of Kleenex watching Mann (well, it was also twice as long as the original). Luckily, this time only Gemma was around to witness the storm (and anyway she loves to lick tears off my face…but I digress).
One of the first Hindi films I fell in love with was Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha starring Ajay Devgan and Kajol. Again — an obvious remake of French Kiss, but with Michael Jackson impersonators, a crazy but lovable interfering Indian family, an Indian wedding, a gangland-style shooting in a mall and numerous car chases thrown in for good measure — along with the obligatory music and dance numbers. It’s not really a good movie in the usual sense, but I love it. I liked French Kiss too, but I’ve only seen it once, whereas I’ve seen PTHHT dozens of times.
It’s just more entertaining!
My very favorite Hindi movie is 2003’s Chori Chori starring Ajay Devgan*** and Rani Mukherjee. It is a remake of Hollywood’s Housesitter starring Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin. I really liked Housesitter and yes: I really love Chori Chori. It has all the romantic tension and comic by-play of the original, but with the addition of a crazy but lovable interfering Indian family, two Indian weddings, a mehendi ceremony, Himalayan scenery, and truly truly wonderful songs and dances. Milan Luthria took a cute romantic comedy from Hollywood and made it into an ultra-romantic, ultra-dramatic, ultra-heart-warming non-stop entertainer. And I think it easily qualifies as a good movie too, by any standard (it’s one of my “starter” films for friends who are curious about Hindi movies). I am on my second DVD of Chori Chori (the first one wore out) but am content to have only seen Housesitter once.
I could go on in this vein forever, but since I have other things to do I will stop with these two thoughts:
A movie like Omkara is not a remake or a copy. It is a true original, with its inspiration taken from Othello (and acknowledged) but with story, setting, characters, and dialogue all completely unique (and uniquely Indian) to that film;
and Bollywood: please go on remaking Hollywood classics in your inimitable style (but do consider giving credit where credit is due).
*I am by no means trying to pick on Aamir, it’s just coincidence that I mention these two films first!
**It’s also referenced in Sleepless in Seattle — Rita Wilson recounts the story to Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner and collapses in tears as she talks, as they look at her in utter bewilderment.
***Not picking on Ajay either, honest!