Hit, flop, or boycotted, Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha is a milestone

Warning: This could be an apocryphal story.

In his younger, more innocent days, a male Hindi movie star once braced himself with eager anticipation for a story narration with a director known for making box office hits. The narration was to be at the star’s home, and he prepared meticulously for it, creating the right seating arrangement and ambient lighting. He was ready to settle in for a pulsating few hours.

It did not quite turn out that way. The director, when he arrived, did not waste much time on a preamble. He took out two DVDs from his bag and put them on the low table in front of him. “The first DVD is the first half,” said the director, “the second is the second half.” The DVDs were of two hits.

The star was flabbergasted, but only because he was new to the industry and thought Bollywood, the Hindi film industry based in Mumbai, had changed its ways. It had not. But now it has.

Laal Singh Chaddha, which released on Thursday, is an authorised remake of Forrest Gump, the 1994 movie that was not only a big hit but also earned Tom Hanks a Best Actor Oscar. Reports say Aamir Khan, the lead actor in the Hindi version, whose company has co-produced the movie, spent nearly a decade trying to obtain the rights.

In that long a period, Old would have churned out scores of unauthorised remakes of flicks from Hollywood, Hong Kong, South Korea, Germany, France, East Europe and perhaps from other countries whose films are not that known or watched in India.

But the New is cleaning up its act. In the recent past, we have had several authorised remakes. Badla, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Taapsee Pannu, was a crisp adaptation of the Spanish film, Contratiempo, meaning The Invisible Guest. Andhadhun, starring Ayushmann Khurrana and Tabu, was based on the French film L’Accordeur, or The Piano Tuner. Looop Lapeta, another one starring Pannu, was a remake of the old classic, Run Lola Run. The Girl on the Train was remade in Hindi under the same name. One of the early instances of paying to remake a movie was when Karan Johar bought the rights to Stepmom, starring Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon, and, a tad ironically, remade it in Hindi under the English title, We Are Family.

The Old Bollywood wouldn’t have spent much thought on this rights-buying business. Filmmaking was, after all, a creative pursuit. And didn’t all great creative artists take inspiration from somewhere or the other? Filmmakers of yore got inspired with an uncaring abandon.

Here is a casually-drawn-up list of foreign films that contributed to Hindi movies, one way or the other: The Godfather (several times in several ways), Unfaithful (Murder), Oldboy (Zinda), Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (Phir Hera Pheri), Reservoir Dogs (Kaante), Mrs. Doubtfire (Chachi 420), The Silence of the Lambs (Sangharsh), I Am Sam (Main Aisa Hi Hoon), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Satte Pe Satta), Collateral (The Killer), Kramer vs Kramer (Akele Hum Akele Tum), My Best Friend’s Wedding (Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai), A Few Good Men (Shaurya), Liar Liar (Kyo Kii… Main Jhuth Nahi Bolta), Primal Fear (Deewangee), The Fugitive (Criminal), While You Were Sleeping (Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega), A Perfect Murder (Humraaz), Hitch (Partner)…. There are simply too many to list them all here.

Sometimes, the Hindi filmmakers were not content to remake a foreign film once. In the late 1990s, we had three back-to-back remakes of Sleeping With The Enemy: Agni Sakshi, Daraar, and Yaraana. In one instance, the same film was remade in Hindi twice, but decades apart: Chori Chori (1956) and Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahi (1991) were both remakes of It Happened One Night (1934).

Those mentioned above are more or less faithful to the original source — Bollywood’s biggest creative inputs in these were the songs and a bit of drama. In many other cases, however, the idea or some ideas were borrowed and reimagined as . In some of these cases, the Hindi versions could lay claims to being much more than mere remakes.

So, Sholay is a wonderful piece of work despite having passing similarities with The Magnificent Seven, which itself was inspired by The Seven Samurais. Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander takes a tiny bit from Breaking Away and creates its own world among the schools in an Indian hill town. There is something in Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. that would remind you of Patch Adams, but there is a lot else that wouldn’t.

An example of the difference between the first style of movie making and the second is the two inspired by the Meg Ryan starrer, French Kiss. Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha is faithful to the original, to the point of some body movements by the actors. In contrast, Subhash Ghai, the most successful moviemaker of the 1980s and 1990s, ruminated over the central idea of the French Kiss — the matchmaker gets the girl — and made Pardes, which few would recognise as French Kiss.

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