OTT: The high season of remakes in India

Delhi - From rip-offs to official adaptations, the country appears to have hit a sweet spot in remaking foreign shows on streaming channels.

A scene from 'Call My Agent' (Photo/Supplied)
A scene from 'Call My Agent' (Photo/Supplied)

By Kaveree Bamzai

Published: Thu 30 Sep 2021, 12:53 PM

Last updated: Thu 30 Sep 2021, 2:56 PM

Indian actor Vinay Pathak remembers discovering Call My Agent, the French hit, during the raging Covid-19 pandemic, like much of the rest of the world.
He called his close collaborator, actor and director Rajat Kapoor, and told him it was something they could adapt.
 The two had, after all, successfully collaborated on another French hit, Le Diner De Cons, to make the sleeper hit Bheja Fry in 2007.

Pathak was told by Kapoor that he had just shot for its Hindi version, where he plays the somewhat sly, always manipulative Mathias Barneville, super-agent at the talent firm ASK, which handles half of the French film industry in fiction, with cameos by stars — ranging from Jean Reno to Jean Dujardin, Isabelle Hupert to Monica Bellucci.

The Indian version has much the same storyline, with stars such as Farah Khan and Richa Chadha walking in and out of the scenes. Will it retain its clever lines, its reflections on celebrity culture, and its insider gossip?
 We will know soon when it premieres on Netflix even as the original's global success has ensured that a film and another season are on the way.

For a long time, Bollywood got by ripping off Western entertainment, confident that its thievery would not be recognised. The Sarvodyaya video library log in Bandra, Mumbai, gave an indication as to which filmmaker was watching which kind of movie to copy from. 
However, in the age of the Internet, it is impossible to pass off imitation as the highest form of flattery. 
Inspirations have to be acknowledged and originals have to be secured from the makers.
 And adaptations have to be done faithfully but not to the point that local sensibilities are ignored.

Take Fauda, for instance, the Israeli TV show that tells stories from the Israel-Palestine conflict and manages to maintain a fine balance — its tagline is two sides of the same story.

Fauda is being adapted for India by director Sudhir Mishra and is set in Kashmir, where human tales will be told from both sides of the divide, the local population as well as the security forces. Applause Entertainment, run by Sameer Nair, has bought the copyright for both Call My Agent and Fauda, as well as Luther, BBC's star vehicle for Idris Elba.

Says Nair: "Whenever we select stories for adaptation, we seek to reimagine the soul of the original idea, not necessarily remake the series verbatim. The advantage of an adaptation is that the original story and plot are universal – that’s why we picked it in the first place – and the challenge is to reimagine what are often alien societal behaviours and norms to an Indian context, culture and milieu. This is done by adding/combining characters, localising storylines to fit our reality, and of course great dialogue," he says.

Ajay Devgn in 'Rudra'. (Photo/Supplied)

Does it get easier to cast stars? 
Nair is not so sure.
 "Stars, like all other talent, also seek material that calls out to them. Rudra (Luther) is a case in point. Ajay Devgn makes the perfect Luther and that’s what drew him to the material and us to him. In the case of Fauda, we've assembled a delectable ensemble cast much like the original,” he says.

And Nair has done more adaptations, quite successfully: Criminal Justice (from its English version), from Israeli shows to their Indian variants such as Hostages, Your Honour, and Mind The Malhotras as well as The Office, the original BBC show that became even more popular in its American version.

It's a good strategy to launch with something familiar.
 Lionsgate Play is headlining an adaptation of a Hulu show, Casual, as it prepares to make its streaming service more popular in India.
 Starring Lara Dutta and Prateik Babbar it tells the story of siblings, who are forced to take care of each other and the sister's daughter when a divorce happens.

Says Kunal Kohli, who began with TV before moving on to cinema with films such as Hum Tum (2004) and Fanaa (2006), "It’s not a direct remake. I came in much later. The writing was much before I came in. We did the final draft together. What we've made is on the same lines with some alterations not just in terms of Indianising but also new characters."

That it works is proven by the success of Aarya, which Ram Madhvani adapted from the Dutch original Penoza.
 Even as he wrapped up its second season, he got news of Sushmita Sen's nomination in the International Emmy awards for her lead role in the Best Drama Series.
It's the kind of excitement that Rajesh Mapuskar is feeling currently as he shoots Rudra. 
"I look forward to the shoot everyday with the most amazing cast and crew. It’s exciting to see how the black and white script pages are taking dynamic shapes and colours with dense performances,'' he says.

It's great for actors, especially women actors, to get meatier parts too, with flesh and blood.
It has allowed actors such Sen and Dutta to come into their own, playing their age with grown up children, yet remaining desirable. Globally TV is giving women more authentic roles, with greater range than movies ever did.

Actresses such as Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon have created companies that actively hunt for material that can be adapted for long form narratives, whether it is Australian author Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies and Nine Perfect Strangers, or Little Fires Everywhere. Sometimes all it needs is a little bit of luck.

Says Madhvani: "I was adapting Penoza to a movie over nine years ago while simultaneously working on developing Neerja (2016). A month before Aarya the movie was meant to be shot it fell through and so as the universe willed it.
Instead, Neerja happened. So, in a way I had Aarya growing in my heart and mind for over nine years when Disney Plus HotStar got to know about it. They asked me to take the world of Aarya I had been developing and make it into a series. India was just waking up to OTT and Amita — my wife and co-producer — and I thought the time was right. I’m grateful to Disney Plus HotStar for asking to do something that was in my heart for so long." The wait, clearly, was worth it.

The author is a senior journalist and author, most recently of The Three Khans and the Emergence of New India.

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