Spoilers Ahead by Rajeev Masand: Same old bottle, same old whine

Published on Nov 12, 2022 12:05 AM IST

Remake Fatigue seems to have hit Bollywood’s audiences this year. It’s time now for genuine creativity

Brahmastra, an original film, was one of only four Hindi movies that performed well in 2022
Brahmastra, an original film, was one of only four Hindi movies that performed well in 2022
ByRajeev Masand

For an industry that’s struggling to return to its pre-pandemic glory days, Bollywood hasn’t done too badly this year. There are still a few weeks to go before the annual report card can be signed and stamped, but it’s safe to say (after a washout 2020 and a dismal 2021) that folks are finally going back to the cinemas, even if they are choosing judiciously what to spend their time and money on.

It is worth noting that only four Hindi films saw record-making footfalls in cinemas: Brahmastra, The Kashmir Files, Bhool Bhulaiyya 2, and Gangubai Kathiawadi. None of these may be ‘great’ films, as critics have pointed out; yet with the exception of BB2, which is a pre-branded franchise movie, the rest are original offerings.

A cursory glance at the long list of films that didn’t hit the mark suggests that audience appetites and consumption habits have changed. While it’s hard to make any definitive conclusions about what movie-goers want to watch, there appears to be enough evidence to support the conclusion that Remake Fatigue has set in.

Copy-paste jobs

At least 12 prominent Bollywood remakes (of everything from popular Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Hollywood, European, and older Hindi films) underperformed at cinemas, or underwhelmed on streamers since the start of the year, making it clear that what was once regarded ‘a sure thing’, is anything but.

No one had especially great things to say about Akshay Kumar’s Bachchan Pandey, a shoddy remake of the wildly inventive Tamil film Jigarthanda, but the cold shoulder the audience gave to Aamir Khan’s ambitious (and heartfelt) Forrest Gump remake Laal Singh Chaddha came as an unexpected blow.

Yet, it was the crushing failure of Vikram Vedha, the Hindi remake of the Tamil hit of the same name, that may have been the most cruel cut. The remake, which starred Hrithik Roshan and Saif Ali Khan, earned mostly strong reviews, and by all accounts was a smart adaptation rather than a lazy copy-paste job. But the audience largely stayed away.

Laal Singh Chaddha (top) & Vikram Vedha (middle), both remakes, underperformed at the box office, while The Departed (above), also a remake, won an Academy Award
Laal Singh Chaddha (top) & Vikram Vedha (middle), both remakes, underperformed at the box office, while The Departed (above), also a remake, won an Academy Award

If the all-India success of South films like Pushpa, KGF2, RRR, Ponniyin Selvan 1, Vikram, and Kantara have shown us anything, it is that movie lovers are no longer turned off by subtitles. Additionally, streamers like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have exposed us to quality storytelling from Korea, Sweden, Japan, and Denmark, proving prophetic the words of filmmaker Bong Joon-ho from his Golden Globes acceptance speech for Parasite in 2020: “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Who needs an average remake when you can get the real deal at the click of a remote?

Let’s face it. The industry’s over-reliance on remakes points to a creative bankruptcy that has plagued popular, mainstream Hindi cinema for a few years now. Not all remakes are bad, of course. But if a remake isn’t an improvement on the original film, or if doesn’t offer a fresh take, should it even exist? The Shahid Kapoor starrer Jersey, an emotionally-charged redemption story about a washed up cricketer who returns to the pitch well past his prime, was a perfectly watchable drama, whose failure was attributed to the fact that it was a practically identical retelling of the original Telugu film that it was a remake of.

The safe option

You don’t have to be a genius to deduce that the whole business of remakes reeks of laziness and a cash-grab outlook. The convenient justification by some filmmakers—that a remake serves the purpose of introducing a new audience to a story that they might have otherwise missed—holds no water in these times when streaming services offer multi-language subtitles and voice dubs, and many cinema chains play regional and international films with accompanying subtitles.

It is one of the greatest ironies that Martin Scorsese, arguably among the finest filmmakers of our time, won his first directing Oscar not for seminal works like Raging Bull or Goodfellas, but for The Departed, his very enjoyable remake of the delicious Hong Kong crime thriller Infernal Affairs. It is also worth noting that The Departed is the only remake in Academy Awards history to have claimed Best Picture.

Other casualties of Remake Fatigue this year include the Taapsee Pannu starrer Loop Lapeta, the Vikrant Massey-Radhika Apte thriller Forensic, the Rajkummar Rao dud Hit: The First Case, Anurag Kashyap’s time loop film Dobaaraa, the critically reviled Akshay Kumar starrer Cuttputlli, and the Ajay Devgan-Sidharth Malhotra comedy Thank God. Before the end of the year, at least two big-ticket retreads are scheduled to check into the cinemas: Drishyam 2, remake of the gripping Mohanlal starrer of the same name, and Cirkus, Rohit Shetty’s take on the beloved comedy Angoor.

There will be more in the months ahead, especially remakes of successful films from the South. A handful could potentially work, if smartly transplanted to a new milieu. But in order to truly bounce back and reclaim its position as the most reliable source of entertainment, Bollywood would do well to take big swings instead of choosing the safe option.

Formerly a film journalist, Rajeev Masand currently heads a talent management agency in Mumbai

From HT Brunch, November 12, 2022

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