Whether movie remakes are good or bad is a totally subjective issue. If the script is good, and if the actors execute their roles well, then, the viewers wouldn’t even care if it is a blue print of some Hollywood film. Almost all Malayalam movie comedies knowingly or unknowingly imitate Jamie Uys’s 1980 film The God’s Must Be Crazy. The scene where Andrew Steyn stumbles upon things in front of Kate Thomson has been repeatedly imitated by Mohanlal in several films.
This leads to the question does it really matter if movies are rip offs as long as the viewers remain unaware about the original? There is the question of artistic integrity, but if you are having a “really good time at the movies” (as Quentin Tarantino puts it), does it matter at all? Below are some movies, which, despite being movie rip offs, found their way into the heart of moviegoers.
1. August 1
When it comes to movie remakes, Sibi Malayil’s movie August 1 (1988) has to be one of the best. The movie is a remake of Fred Zinnemann’s 1973 film Day of the Jackal, which is based on a novel of the same title written by English novelist Frederick Forsyth. Set in France, the movie is about a professional assassin known by the code name ‘the Jackal’ who sets out to execute the French President.
What makes Sibi Malayil’s version watchable is its successful transplantation of the story about the political crisis in France to that of Kerala. He concentrates on the political fights within a party when it gets elected and the various vested interests that tries to influence the party members.
Instead of directly going into the assassination of a minister, he puts forth the reason for it beforehand. The film never moves away from its trajectory and is a thriller from beginning till end, perhaps even more engaging than its original because we can relate to it more. Also, August 1 is more cinematic with its intriguing hired-assassin ‘Gomez’ (Captain Raju) and the curious mix of political misfits surrounding him. The film sheds more light on the universe of villains and their activities, perhaps the only Malayalam movie to do so.
Priyadarshan’s Thaalavattam (1986) is a tragic love story based on Milos Forman’s 1975 drama film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Except that Priyadarshan’s movie includes a separate set of characters to suite the love angle, Thaalavattam is more or less same as its original. However, there are several things in the film which makes it a perfect remake.
Any malayalee director who tries to remake One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest would think about the story where nurse Mildred Ratched falling in love with McMurphy. Priyadarshan, instead, develops another set of characters to suit his story. Thus we have Anitha (Lizzy), Savithri (Karthika), Hari (Mukesh) and Dr. Unnikrishnan (Nedumudi Venu). The parallel story line of Thaalavattam makes it hero-centric and gives it a hero and heroine to suite the taste of malayalee filmgoers. We see and understand more of Vinod than his inmates at the sanatorium. The love relations, Mohanlal-Lizzy and later Mohanlal-Karthika are also very well executed.
Priyadarshan knows that malayalees won’t accept a female villain. So he tactically removes Nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher) from his script. We do have nurses in Thaalavattam in the form of Kaarthika and Sukumari, but none of them look or act like Ratched, nor are they villains by any standards. The director also adds two songs in the film which supports the film’s storyline, which in turn increases the running time by a dozen or so minutes.
3. Big B
Amal Neerad’s Big B is cut + copy + paste of John Singleton’s 2005 movie Four Brothers. Instead of finding new ways to twist the story and destroy its essence, Amal chose to remake it exactly like the original. However, Big B has one aspect that most movie remakes doesn’t have. It has got character.
Big B is style personified. Style doesn’t imply looks, camera angles or techno trance music alone. It is also about attitude. Each and every actor who appears on the screen leaves an impact on the viewer. From Nafisa Ali who plays Mary teacher to Shereveer Vakil who plays Tony (villain), Big B is a film that rests entirely on the shoulders of its casting.
This is the marginal line that separates Big B and Four Brothers. Four Brothers is a loose adaptation of John Wayne’s 1965 film The Son’s of Katie Elder. Director John Singleton made few variations in his version. Big B takes Four Brothers to another level and if you have seen all three versions, then it will show you the perfect way of remaking movies over a period of time.
Amal Neerad is Malayalee’s genre filmmaker. Whatever faults you may find in his movies, he has got his style of filmmaking and no one does it better than him. Instead of changing the storyline or bringing in parallel narratives, he slows down the pace of the film. Characters are more serious. Their mannerisms, actions and dialogues reflect this. Most of them speak in one-liners. Dialogues by Unni R and Amal Neerad provide them in surplus amounts.
4. Udayanaanu Thaaram
On the surface, Rosshan Andrrews’s Udayanaanu Thaaram is not a rip off. However, some vital sequences in the film are taken from one or more Hollywood films. Bowfinger (1999), a film written by Steve Martin, directed by Frank Oz and American teen comedy, Big Fat Liar (2002), starring Dan Schneider and Paul Giamatti are two of them.
The script stealing side of Udayanaanu Thaaram is taken from Big Fat Liar and the scene where Udayan shoots Rajappan without his knowledge has similarities to sequences in both Big Fat Liar and Bowfinger. Nevertheless, Rosshan’s film is enjoyable and has qualities of its own.
One can find several similarities between the character Rajappan in Udayanaanu Thaaram and Kit Ramsey in Bowfinger. However, people soon identifies Raajappan as a superstar in our film industries who are spend thrifts and just wants to show off. Sreenivaasan played that character exceptionally well in the movie. Also, the movie discussed several problems that the Malayalam film industry was facing at that time, which made it more relevant and entertaining for the moving going public in Kerala.
The movie could have done a fairly good job even without the Udayan-Madhumathi love angle. But that is typical malayalee movie consciousness reflecting in Rosshan. Perhaps, without that narrative, the film would have seemed a direct copy of its original. Both Bowfinger and Big Fat Liar are comedies, while Udayanaanu Thaaram is more of a drama with elements of comedy in it.
All the movies mentioned above where box office successes. But only a small section of viewers would have noticed their similarities with the original. Ram Gopal Varma remade Bollywood vintage blockbuster Sholay as ‘Aag’ and made it a perspiring experience for the viewers. It shows that even for someone as experienced like RGV, remaking a movie and putting them in a new cinematic context was a hard trick to pull off. Priyadarshan, who remade several Malayalam films into Hindi, too has faltered at times.
The success of a movie remake depends on how successfully it transplants an original movie, its characters and social background from its imagined social, literal and economic context to another. If the remake transposes the original and places it in an entirely new cinematic world, if it is able to find that imagined space, then the audience would definitely have a good time at our cinemas.