We have all heard of Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag, a screen adaptation of Ramesh Sippy’s cult classic Sholay, and how it sank without a trace at the box office. But has anyone heard of Champak Sarmar Sholay? For those of you who haven’t, it’s the remake that has worked. In fact, it’s running to packed halls in Assam.
Champak Sarmar Sholay, presented by Rajashree Theatre, one of 60 mobile theatre groups in Assam, is all the rage since its opening on August 22. The play, however, was in threat of being a non-starter because of a diktat from the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa), which has “banned” theatre groups from copying “Bollywood culture”.
Sarma admits his play is a “Xerox copy” of the original, which is “too good to be improved upon” — which is what RGV did, with disastrous results. Even his dialogues are direct translations: “kimanjon assil” for “kitne aadmi the”, for instance. Ditto with the props — from Basanti’s tanga to the lofty water tank from where Viru threatens to die for love.
Interestingly, the fight between the Ramgarh residents and Gabbar Singh’s gang is like a message to the Ulfa to desist from cultural policing. “The militants probably do not understand art or culture,” says Sarma — writer, director and actor (he has kept the best role for himself, Gabbar).
But if Sarma’s Sholay has upstaged RGV’s Aag, it is facing stiff competition from a Hollywood adaptation. King Kong, presented by Sankardev Theatre, was launched almost simultaneously with Champak Sarmar Sholay. Written by Debojit Sarma, this play also sticks to the original.
“We tried our best to make King Kong look as realistic as possible. And the people love the beast,” says producer Bishwa Saikia, who a few years ago staged Anaconda with great success. High on visual effects, King Kong even show the mighty ape on top of a building as helicopters try to shoot him down.