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Rip-offs are draining Priyan

The director is probably overstretching himself to keep going at the scorching pace that he has set for himself, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Mar 25, 2006 18:58 IST
WIDE ANGLE | Saibal Chatterjee
WIDE ANGLE | Saibal Chatterjee

Priyadarshan is rapidly moving towards a stage where he will probably find himself on test at the box office on a weekly basis, but Kerala’s most successful filmmaker on the pan-Indian stage isn’t exactly malamaal when it comes to original ideas.

His latest laugh riot, Malamaal Weekly, rides on the back of a talented ensemble cast – Om Puri, Paresh Rawal, Rajpal Yadav and Riteish Deshmukh – and, therefore, appears far better than it actually is. But in terms of plot, the film has little that could be described as startlingly new.

The Malamaal Weekly plot is a straight lift from the 1998 Irish comedy, Waking Ned Devine, about a small village that conspires to keep a ‘dead’ national lottery winner alive so that the millions the man has won do not go waste. The original film hinged on principally situational humour. Malamaal Weekly, in true Priyadarshan style, is pure slapstick.

Priyadarshan had hitherto been content to remake his Malayalam hits. Since last year, when two of his films – the comic Garam Masala and the melodramatic Kyon Ki – hit the screens on the same Friday, he has turned his attention to foreign flicks.

Priyadarshan had hitherto been content to remake his Malayalam hits. Since last year he has turned his attention to foreign flicks.

And that is rather sad. In the past few years, Priyadarshan has after all crafted some truly entertaining rip-roaring comedies that have become part of Bollywood folklore. With the exception of the rather tepid

Yeh Tera Ghar Yeh Mera Ghar,

his films have tended to work at the box office, making him a director that the market and the masses alike love.

Priyadarshan’s reputation rests primarily on three outstanding laugh riots – Hera Pheri, Hungama and Hulchul. Does he really need to go scouring around for plot ideas? As a director of slapstick comedies, he has no match in Bollywood with the exception of David Dhawan. That last thing he should do is let his brand equity be frittered on borrowed, largely unappetising ideas.

Priyadarshan’s made his Hindi-language debut in the early 1990s with a gentle romantic comedy, Muskurahat. Critics and discerning sections of the audience loved the film, but it was a commercial disaster. That was probably the turning point of Priyadarshan’s Bollywood career.

The unsettled director abandoned his favourite genre and plunged into action films and grand dramas with a vengeance. He tasted runaway success right away in this endeavour, delivering films like Gardish, Kaala Paani and Viraasat. Once he found himself on a strong wicket in Bollywood, Priyadarshan returned to what he is really good at – the comic genre.

The worry is that he is probably overstretching himself in trying to hold on to his turf. To keep going at the scorching pace that he has set for himself, he is being compelled to lift ideas left, right and centre. Overkill has never done a creative person any good.

Kyon Ki was a rather insipid reworking of the classic Oscar-winning Hollywood drama, Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Garam Masala, on the other hand, was a rehash of a Malayalam film that Priyadarshan made in the mid-1980s, which in turn was ripped off from a 1960s Hollywood blockbuster. Strangely, both the Malayalam film and the Hollywood original had the same title – Boeing Boeing.

And now, Malamaal Weekly. Priyadarshan’s downhill slide shows no signs of stopping.

Three rip-offs in a row do no justice to a filmmaker of Priyadarshan’s stature and ability. His next release, Chup Chup Ke, starring Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor besides the Paresh Rawal-Om Puri-Rajpal Yadav trio, promises to be more desi as far as its source of inspiration and narrative underpinnings go and that would be a huge relief for Priyan fans, who have been longing for a while to see the director regain his Hera Pheri form. Will the Priyan of yore please stand up?

First Published: Mar 25, 2006 18:58 IST