The world has had the pleasure of two ‘luminaries’ of Indian cinema—Mahesh Bhatt and Amitabh Bachchan reinforce their views on ‘plagiarism’ and ‘originality’. Bhatt saab has long maintained that nobody is original; while the ever gracious Bachchan saab went further “Originality is the art of hiding your source”. With such cocky but effete statements coming from seemingly popular people in the bigger “We are Family” fraternity, it is little wonder that the Sanjay Guptas, the Karan Johars and the rest of the “Adapters” brigade continue to revel in an unoriginal, false bubble-gummy world.
At the outset, I’d like to declare I have nothing against adaptations—Some of the best movies in the world have been brilliant adaptations of earlier movies, novels, plays, what have you. When Marty transported the crime lords of Hong Kong in Infernal Affairs to the Irish mobs of Boston, the result was not only a crackling, intense, yet original interpretation of the original, but also a standout in a genre that had apparently been done to death. As Vishal Bhardwaj transformed the moor of Morocco to the adha-brahman of Saharanpur or Ramesh Sippy re-created the Warring States Period in Sholay, you can’t help but gawk at the screen in absolutely fan-boy adoration. But when a Sanjay Gupta rips off Tarantino and Park Chan-Wook frame by frame or Johar groupie Siddharth P Malhotra directs a bolly take off on a strictly average holly rom-com, it’s hard not to have those claws out.
This week’s We Are Family, its cheesy English title notwithstanding is a case in point— it is supposed to be an ‘Indian’ adaptation of Stepmom, but has its characters based in Australia. Evidently Johar’s bored of New York City and has decided to explore the land Down Under. My first question is, if it is about Indian characters and everything almost seemingly Indian, why can’t it be based in Bombay or New Delhi? What demands that a My Name is Khan be about an autistic Indian living in the USA but not about an average Indian in Dehra Dun or Bangalore? Would a Dostana have been a box office dud if it was based in Bombay? Does Johar think that the Indian setting does not bring in the so called visual allure of the West? The problem with the Dharma-Yash Raj Films (YRF) mindset is that whatever location they choose to base the story in, every second person there is Indian and speaks Hindi, doesn’t matter if it is sunny Palm Beach or chilly Reykjavik. Years ago, Barjatya did the unthinkable—he created an Indian small-town–Sundargarh based somewhere in New Zealand or Continental Europe (can’t figure out where). Johar and co are pretty much the same, just that they don’t change the name of New York City to Sundargarh or Rampur. This is just a minor rant in the midst of a storm.
India, I would like to believe has a treasure trove of stories, situations, pop-culture, movies that are waiting to be adapted or even remade, yet Johar only manages to find a silly Hollywood movie to adapt? I am no one to advise the executives at Dharma or question how Johar spends his money, but as an aficionado, I have every right to wonder if the moneybags of Bollywood have gone creatively bankrupt? Atleast YRF produces something different once in a while, but all that Johar does is come up with “I Hate Luv Storys”. Gee, he can’t even get his spellings right. And here’s a guy, who can de-construct Pedro Almodovar like no other (according to informed sources), watch and appreciate the crème-de-la-crème of Indian as well as World Cinema? Would it have hurt if he voluntarily took up the marketing of Udaan or Antardwand? What’s worse is when A-listers such as Kajol and Kareen Kapoor agree to be part of such monstrosities, without as much as battling an eyelid? And Elvis–well, that I will reserve for another day.
Will Johar and Co realize they can make distinctly original, fun, ‘commercial’, ‘masala’ yet ‘Indian’ movies too? Or will they continue to act as pimps for foreign tourism boards? Of course I am sure they’d like to believe those movies can and will be made by the likes of Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj and Dibakar Bannerjee only. While the Johars, the Guptas, Malhotras and Anands continue to dish out assembly line bumblefudge and somehow, laugh their way to the banks every single time. Until Johar and co alter their creative sensibilities, I for one will not contribute in any form to the bank laughter.
PS: 1. As I write this, Natkhat K must have picked all the stars in the sketch book of a nursery kid to paste in her review. Sadly she can’t do the same for the review as Roger Ebert or A O Scott would most likely have not seen the movie and will most likely not see it.
2. Call RGV whatever you want, atleast his Aag was atleast an original interpretation, its content and commercial fate notwithstanding
3. My personal opinion about Dostana is that it was a terrible terrible movie full of toilet and bawdy humor and reinforced the gay stereotypes. It could have been better off had it been written by a screenwriter and not a groupie and it was based in Bombay.