already approved of Dev.D, a retelling of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel Devdas, in 2009, and Tigmanshu Dhulia’s adaptation of Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam into Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster in 2011 (and its recent sequel), it perhaps spells good news. For the writers, however, reworking a well-remembered and long cherished story is anything but easy.
Ajay Devgn in a stil from Himmatwala.
Suresh Nair, writer of Zanjeer and the Hindi remake of Hollywood film Knight and Day, calls it a “suicide mission”. Sajid-Farhad, writers of Bol Bachchan (last year’s film inspired by the 1979 hit Gol Maal) and the Himmatwala remake refer to it as a time bomb. “With a cult classic like Zanjeer, you know the odds are against you,” Nair explains. “The film has set a trend in Hindi cinema, shaped Amitabh Bachchan’s image as the angry young man and was written by the iconic Salim-Javed.” Sajid-Farhad believe that it’s pointless to assume that no comparisons will be made to the original. “But the audience should not say ‘this is crap’,” they say. “There should be something new for the old audience as well. In Bol Bachchan too, Ajay’s character could not speak English well. And in order to distinguish the new Himmatwala from the old, the action scenes have been played up.”
The writer of a remake has to surmount the twin peaks of retaining the essence of the original story and have it resonate with a new generation. For Nair, with Zanjeer, the biggest test was distilling the soul of the story, which had, in many ways, become the template for numerous cop dramas thereafter. Director Apoorva Lakhia describes his Zanjeer as a “reimagining” of Prakash Mehra’s original. “Since we have contemporised it, we’ve removed certain elements, like the choori (knife) and the horse,” he says. “We have incorporated real events, such as a J Dey-type character researching the oil mafia,” he adds, referring to the Mumbai crime reporter who was shot dead in 2011. Elements that have been retained include the names of the characters (Vijay, Mala, Sher Khan Teja and Mona Darling), a few important scenes and iconic dialogues.
“The most popular scene in Zanjeer is the confrontation between Sher Khan and Vijay, and that famous line ‘Yeh police station hai, tumhare baap ka ghar nahin’,” says Nair. “The problem was that this scene has inspired many variations. But we had to keep it and give it a fresh approach,” he says.
Duo Sajid-Farhad has retained the same base story from the 1983 Himmatwala, a revenge drama that plays on the emotions of a mother, sister and son. Thirty years later, the change comes mostly in the style and action which have been imagined keeping the star, Ajay Devgn, in mind. Another ’80s remake, Sai Paranjpye’s 1981 bromance Chashme Buddoor, retains the non-garish look of the decade. Farhad and Sajid point out that the subtlety and emphasis is on humour and the dialogue has much to do with the appeal of the original. But for screenwriter Renuka Kunzru, her first reaction on hearing that Viacom 18 had acquired the rights to the remake was: “Why the hell are you remaking it?” She says her motivation for working on a new version of the classic was to “retain the charm and to take it on so that someone else would not screw it up.”
Director David Dhawan’s brief to Kunzru was to “ensure the script is fresh”. Kunzru, in turn, tried to find what would make her (and thus, the audience) want to watch it again. “Some films cannot be re-visualised; some you can see afresh,” she says. “The new story has to stand on its own feet. These boys are edgier, naughtier, more relatable. The choices the characters make today are different from the ones Jai, Siddharth and Omi made in the original.”
Apart from the obvious commercial motivations, remakes are viable because there’s always a new audience which is unfamiliar with the original work. “The effort is often to try and retain the core elements – basic plot, key characters and the most memorable scenes – from the original,” Nair says. “The challenge then is to make it seem familiar, yet fresh. For example, I loved the way the most famous dialogue from the original Agneepath ‘Naam Vijay Dinanath Chauhan, gaon Mandwa…’ comes at a point in the remake.”
This time around
Sajid-Farhad use the 2012 version of Agneepath, more successful at the box office than its 1990 predecessor, as an example of promoting a remake well. “I kept the basic revenge motive and emotions intact and added my perspective,” says Karan Malhotra, the remake’s director and a fan of the original film. “I had conviction about my adaptation, yet it was scary. I had no intention to make a Xerox copy. Every character in my film is different. But it is tough to forget the impact of the original and let go of it.” The only point of contention, Karan felt, was the character of Krishnan Iyer. “We decided not to have him because there was no way of portraying that character without spoofing him.”
In the case of the much-revisited Devdas, the writers of Dev.D went back to the source – the novel. Co-writer Vikramaditya Motwane recalls that the first thing they did to distinguish their younger Dev was to change the setting from Kolkata to contemporary Delhi and Punjab. The story was turned on its head when Kashyap questioned the ending: Why does Dev need to die? “We were making our film for a different audience. Not the same one that was loyal to Bimal Roy’s and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s films,” says Motwane. “In reimagining Devdas we always knew where we wanted him to go; the challenge was figuring out the journey.”
All the writers agree that adapting a hit film is not easy because, as Sajid-Farhad say, “The original may have more weight, but a remake has to respect the original and match it.” Malhotra adds, “The audience should take something more than the story home – they should take home a part of you.”
From HT Brunch, March 31
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