Same Old,Same New

Same Old,Same New

Films are a reflection of their time. Can remakes contemporise that spirit?

Films are a reflection of their time. Can remakes contemporise that spirit?

When you hear the word ’remake’ in conjunction with ’film’,what comes to mind?  A more recent version of an older film? That’s right.  And when you hear a ’thud’ immediately after,what does that signify? That is nothing but the sound of our collective hearts not merely sinking,but falling.

Creeping upon us inexorably is the prospect of watching Ajay Devgn and Tamanna doing a Jeetendra and Sridevi. The Himmatwala of 1983 was a film representative of its times. To see a full-bodied Sridevi in a shimmering orange lehenga choli with matching shimmering orange lipstick,shimmying on a beach with a bell-bottom clad Jeetendra,was of a piece with the films of the ’70s and ’80s. They used bechara gaaonwalas,evil thakurs,about-to-be-ravished-sisters,perennially-weeping mothers,and pointy-bosomed leading ladies to catapult the fearless,unvanquished leading man into a cheering audience: there could be 50 lathi-sword carrying goons,or a 100,but it didn’t matter because the hero would carve through them with nary a broken bone or a groan,and be the last man standing.

Are we going to get something radically different in the Himmatwala of 2013? (except a change in cast,of course). From the glimpses we’ve had of the film which will be out at the end of the month,to even think of such a question is futile. Because this looks like a faithful reboot,down to the techni-coloured matkas on the beach masquerading as a backdrop for a song-and-dance. Ta thaiyya ta thaiyya ho,it will go,and will make me want to go. I know.


Before you accuse me of being anti-revisionist,I have to say that I enjoy dipping into the past as much as the next person. Casting back to go forward can be great fun,and greatly educative.

It all depends on why it’s done and how it’s done. The ’why’ can be a bit tricky,especially in show business which is driven much more by greed than need. If a producer is convinced that a remake will get him or her requisite returns,that’s enough of a ‘because’,even if it is baffling to the rest of the universe. So okay,you have the rights,and you have the money,go ahead and re-make the darn thing. What it then comes down to is the ‘how’.

With its armada of comic superheroes and avenging metallic bots,Hollywood has long been a votary of remakes. And franchises. And sequels and prequels. Anything that lulls viewers into believing they are getting most bang for their buck. It’s a no-brainer studio strategy,and in that remakes are the easiest to do. To have a well-liked template in place is half the battle won. To have well-loved characters doing what they do best,is almost all the way there. All you need is (maybe) a change of face,a change of location,and a change of situation. With big studios in Bollywood trying to stretch their portfolios like their Hollywood counterparts,having a remake or two on the boil and ready to serve will now be more the norm than the exception. Doing new involves a big-budget,keeping-stakeholders-happy worry: will the audience like it enough to flood the theatres in the opening weekend?

There’s another reason why films are re-made: to share a classic with a new generation. That is a noble enterprise,and if done well (the ‘how’ ),it can give an old film the legs it deserves,to prance on the big screen,instead of being confined to a DVD. There’s something so inviting about watching a film on 70mm with an audience that it trumps even the most sophisticated home theatre systems. Give me a cinema hall any day. And I do not cling fiercely to nostalgia as the only way to enter something new. I am wistful about how a movie I watched years ago made me feel,but I am quite ready to see the shifts in the way the film has been made in its new version, and the shifts in the way I react to it in the present. Because that awareness,to me,is such a vital part of the experience.

But there are some films that are so perfectly rendered that you do not want anyone meddling with them. Sai Paranjype’s 1981 Chashme Buddoor is one of those which captured its era so well ,and which retains its charm with every re-visit. It is a quintessential Delhi film,a youth film (aimlessness and joblessness is the whole point of existence: this was the early ’80s,when it was perfectly okay to scrounge and borrow and subsist on half-smoked cigarette butts,not the MBA-driven times of now when even school students are making stuff on the side in ’summer jobs’).

David Dhawan’s Chashme Baddoor (out in April,with a  teeny-but-ominous change in spelling) is also meant to have three young fellows on the lookout for purpose,and,of course,love. Will it go down easy peasy,or make me queasy?