More than just remakes!

After more than 75 years of cinema, it is quite natural that there is a scarcity for original ideas. It is difficult to keep finding new ideas and concepts day in and day out that keep the audience interested. Everything has a period of saturation or stagnation, after which it terminally declines or revives to grow exponentially again. Cinema at the moment seems to be going through such a phase of saturation. Almost all the conceivable ideas that can be made into movies have been tried over the past half a century or so. Consequentially, as an audience, we have stopped getting surprised in theaters. The only surprises that we are looking for are in the peripheral elements – the presentation, the make up, the graphics, the songs etc. This does not mean that there are no original good movies coming out these days, but the majority of the products are ones that confirm to a pattern that we are accustomed to. That there is a paucity of original ideas is an open secret. Predictability can kill the joy of watching cinema. But, that does not mean that a poorly crafted storyline can
be interesting to watch, however novel or original it may be.

That’s when the remake craze began. Lets say that the real remake frenzy set in around 5 years back. There were remakes even before, but the frequency has risen rather dramatically over a recent period.

Priyadarshan should be credited for single handedly proving that remaking can be a safe and even profitable bet. Remaking most of the Mohanlal hits of the late 80s and early 90s, he showed the way for many a film maker and producer. But, with the frequency of remakes increasing, the error frequency is also on the rise. Earlier, we used to have around one or two remakes a year, of superhit films from other languages and almost all of them used to repeat the success wherever they were remade. But, nowadays, we are able to see that remakes of superhits can also turn out to be superduds in other markets.

Last Friday was a classic example: Shortkut was a remake of Udhayananu Tharam, almost a cult hit in Malayalam. But, the reviews that the Hindi remake received makes it look like an ill advised adventure. It should also be remembered that the same movie was remade in Tamil last year as Vellithirai. It could not repeat the success of the Malayalam original, but it was not a dud either. Somewhere or the other, the trick of keeping the winning formula in tact has been lost in the crowd of remakes.

But, somehow, one feels that it is too much of ‘in tacting’ the winning formula that has been working against remakes at many times. There is a lot of talk about retaining the essence or the soul of the original when remaking a movie. While the intention is spot on, it should be remembered that it is not the same audience who will be watching the movie. Necessary changes and alterations can be and should be made. More than being faithful to the original, it is necessary to be conscientious to the original and not let it down by producing a faithful adaptation which does not cut ice with the audience.

Lets take for instance, the case of Chandramukhi. Separated from its original by almost 12 years, director P. Vasu made a few changes to give Superstar enough space to free his arms for his fans, gave Vadivelu a bit of freedom to work with and landed up with a remake that did not let down the original. But, the same director got it wrong in Kuselan. He was remaking another superhit. Here, many felt that he tried to do a bit too much fiddling around, the balance was not struck and the essence of the original was lost.

Remakes can behave both ways. There are times when a completely faithful, maybe a scene to scene remake recaptures the magic of the original, like many Priyadarshan movies over the last few years. But, the same director will also be able to testify that scene to scene remaking does not always work. Last year’s Mere Baap Ki Shaadi and Yeh Tera Ghar Yeh Mera Ghar and Kyonki which came quite a few years were not even a shade on their originals. It is common to see that it is difficult to strike a balance between faithfulness and necessary changes when a film is being remade from another language.

But, this problem of balance is seldom seen in the case of remakes of yesteryear classics from the same language. The 2006 Don in Hindi and the 2007 Billa of Tamil are classic cases. They were in a way faithful to the original, but they made sweeping changes to the film’s setting, technique, dialogues and presentation to give new age products that were lapped up by the audiences. Other such instances in Tamil cinema include Naan Avanillai.

One more thing to be remembered while remakes are being attempted is that, most of the time, it is a different actor presenting the central character. Every actor has his own dynamics and limitations. For example, it is not possible for Rajinikanth to play a role the same way as it was done by Mohanlal, or the vice versa. There have to be subtle changes to accommodate all such factors. Only then will a remake be complete.

At the outset, a remake might look like an easy job and sometimes, it is made out to be exactly that. But, a remake has more to it than what meets the eye and ears and if a remake is good, the person behind it deserves as much credit as the one who made the original.

Let me finish off hoping that the biggest remake in Tamil for 2009, Unnaipol Oruvan, gets the balance right. Remaking a movie such as A Wednesday in a completely different setting is not easy and let’s wish Kamal and co. the very best

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