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"Agar yeh picture nahi chali toh poora bill mere pe fatega" (If the film tanks, the director will say I am responsible for the failure), superstar Salman Khan recently joked at the trailer launch of his big-screen comeback Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan (released today). It gave an impression that even Salman has doubts regarding his first Eid release after four long years. His last film in a lead role Radhe (2021), a terrible remake of the Korean film The Outlaws (2017), was panned universally. Kisi Ka Bhai… is also a remake (of Tamil hit Veeram). Was Salman apprehensive due to the absolute rejection of recent ‘remakes’ in Bollywood? This weekend will decide.
The alarming rate of failure of remakes has scared everyone in the Hindi film industry, particularly in the last year. But what really went wrong? Remaking south Indian films in Hindi and vice versa have been going on since decades. There are primarily two main reasons of remaking films — filmmaking being an expensive affair, producers are generally scared of experimenting with new ideas. Secondly, since the original films are already successful, the tried-and-tested formula is an easy bet. These remakes did wonders for producers as well as top Bollywood stars like Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan.
But it reached a tipping point last year. The instant rejection of Akshay Kumar’s Bachchan Pandey (remake of 2014 Tamil hit Jigarthanda) was a huge blow to the star and the industry. Incidentally, it was directed by Farhad Samji who is also the director of Salman’s Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan. So Salman’s statement despite being uttered in jest conveys a fear. The failure of Bachchan Pandey wasn’t just an exception. Like Bachchan Pandey, Vikram Vedha (2022) was also expected to be a runaway success in Hindi. A gripping script, big stars (Hrithik-Saif) and director duo of the original Tamil blockbuster (2017), Pushkar and Gayatri, the Hindi Vikram Vedha had everything going for it. But despite fabulous performances and excellent reviews it tanked in the opening weekend itself. This failure sent shockwaves in Bollywood. A stunned Saif Ali Khan said, “Nobody has any clue of what works and doesn’t work. I have no idea but something is happening.”
Whatever that ‘something’ Saif referred to was, the shock treatment by the audiences continued with more big-ticket disasters — Shahid Kapoor's Jersey (2022), Akshay Kumar-Emran Hashmi’s Selfie (2022) and Kartik Aaryan’s Shehzada (2023), all remakes of hit south films bombed badly. The epic failure of Laal Singh Chaddha (a remake of Forrest Gump) demoralised Aamir Khan so much that he took a break from acting.
I had a long discussion with the Indian film trade expert Atul Mohan who says this failure cannot be attributed to a single reason, “Losing the essence of the original film in its Hindi adaptation, viewers’ evolving tastes and also, fatigue with the frequency of remakes are some of the factors. There’s also this obsession with inserting songs in remakes. Selfie and Bholaa have many songs that were not in original films.” Trade experts say this phenomenon is not about rejecting just any remake. People are only disappointed by ‘bad remakes’.
I don’t really buy into this argument. By all standards the Hindi Vikram Vedha or the Hindi Jersey were not bad remakes. I think the primary reason has something to do with the original films being easily available online, mostly even dubbed in Hindi. The superb Tamil Vikram Vedha as well as Jersey (both dubbed in Hindi) were available on streaming platforms for years. Secondly, with the Southern cinema stars becoming more accessible and acceptable in Hindi speaking regions owing to blockbusters like Bahubali, RRR, KGF and many more, why should the audience pay to watch the same script and action with a new star cast? Bollywood still refuses to learn. This year Akshay Kumar will be seen in the remake of Tamil superstar Suriya’s Soorarai Pottru. This much talked about film won the national award for best feature film and is streaming on Prime Video in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada AND in Hindi too. Yes, a remake doesn’t really make sense.
Like Soorarai Pottru, some of the remakes are happening too quickly. When the original films haven’t even faded from public memory, what’s the logic of remaking them.
Producer Boney Kapoor has been a veteran of ‘remakes’ with a great success ratio. He adapted Mahesh Babu’s Pokiri as Wanted (2009) with Salman Khan. He even made Amitabh Bachchan's Pink (2016) in Tamil as Nerkonda Paarvai (2019). Boney publicly said that movies like Vikram Vedha and Jersey flopped because they lacked the North Indian nativity essential to cater to the Hindi audience. The statement was made with the confidence of a maker who really knows what went wrong. But then the same year, Boney produced Mili (2022), a Hindi remake of Malayalam hit Helen (2019). Released on OTT, with Boney Kapoor’s daughter Janhvi in the lead, the poor remake was a non-starter from the word go. It simply proved what Saif Ali Khan said about nobody having any clue of what works and doesn’t work. Not even Boney Kapoor.
The success of Ajay Devgn’s Drishyam 2 (2022) was one glorious exception to this scary trend. Glorious because the original Malayalam Drishyam 2 (2021), released during Covid-19 directly on Prime Video, and had a huge viewership across the country including the Hindi speaking regions. It’s believed that suspense films usually don’t have a repeat value. Yet, its scene to scene Hindi remake with exactly the same suspense, proved to be the second biggest Hindi blockbuster of 2022. Credit was given to the star power of Ajay Devgn. But if Drishyam 2 remake was successful despite coming one year after the original, how would you explain the failure of Vikram Vedha, Jersey or Bachchan Pandey, all big-budget films with star power?
Riding high on the success of Drishyam 2, Ajay Devgn bet big on his recent action thriller Bholaa (2023), an official remake of 2019 Tamil hit Kaithi. He also directed and released the film in 3D but Bholaa performed below expectations. Aditya Roy Kapoor’s Gumraah, a remake of the Tamil Thadam (2019) bombed on the first day of its release this month.
Bollywood is hoping the enormous star power of Salman Khan will turn the tide. If Kisi Ka Bhai, Kisi Ki Jaan is a hit, we might have to suffer more from the onslaught of the ‘remake factory’ in Bollywood.
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