When was the last time an ‘inspired’ or should I say lifted (is stolen too strong a word?) film do well in India? Can anyone remember? I can’t think of a single one that’s done well in the last couple of years. While out and out chori hasn’t worked even the legit remakes have by and large been duds. Leave aside a few stray examples like ‘‘Don’ and ‘We Are Family’, both didn’t set the box office on fire or get any critical acclaim, most have been duds. ‘Wanted’ and ‘Ghajni’ seem to be the only real hits. But those were more star power driven than content driven. Why then does Mumbai’s film industry still trust in remaking/adapting films? Is it possible that nobody has done an analysis of money made vs money lost by such ventures? I think a study like this could surprise quite a few of these short cut seekers.
Why does Bollywood trust in remakes? It is an interesting question to ponder over even if you disregard my suggestion that there is no money or a good name to be made out of it. There could be many reasons but I suspect the primary reason would be a lack of confidence on the holy trinity’s (Producer, Director & Star) part in their own ability to read and judge a script. Reading a script is still an alien concept in Mumbai. Reading a script means being able to visualize what the words on paper are saying. Sadly, most directors, who are supposed to be able to decipher a script, are as at sea as the producer. This lack of confidence then flows and infects the only marketable commodity they have i.e. the ‘Star’, who are famous for being illiterate anyway. In such circumstances it is so much easier to just pick up a DVD and you have the recipe for a success.
Unfortunately life is not that simple.
Adaptations are tricky. It takes a writer of great ability and understanding to adapt a piece of work. It takes hard work to find, identify and then translate into contemporary language the moments that made the original. In cinema it gets even more complicated as a simple translation from English (or Korean or Spanish….) to Hindi is not the end of the job. Characters have to be reworked and cultural subtext has to be weaved into the narrative. Making it infinitely more complicated than it might seem. All of this goes beyond the simple task of translation as is undertaken by the producers and the hacks commissioned by them. And, as is well known, producers don’t spend too much money or time on a writer who has to ‘merely adapt’ as opposed to create original work.
So what motivation does the writer thus hired bring to the job? Do they get their hands dirty and dig deep? Clearly not it seems from the superficial tripe that passes for popular cinema in India. Directors, who are given the original DVD to work with similarly don’t get too involved in the script and look mostly for styling cues while making their magnum opus. So, good looking but sadly vacuous cinema gets produced. Neither audiences nor critics are impressed and producers are left wondering why they have a turd on their hands.
It is tempting to ask, it has been stated by a great number of acclaimed producers and directors, are there no Indian scripts or writers of merit? In fact this lament has become fashionable and appears regularly in interviews by producers and directors just before their adaption hits the screens. This is utter RUBBISH! These are feeble complaints from incompetent illiterates. The stench of their ineptitude would put Mumbai’s gutters to shame. To use an example from the business of publishing; is it conceivable that a publisher will publish material that is either stolen or re-written? When was the last time you heard a publisher say – Let’s rewrite Gone With the Wind? Why then remake films? The fact is that none of Bollywood’s production houses have put in position a system of reading and evaluating scripts. I will agree with the producer’s complaint that they are subjected to insane number of half baked/inept scripts sent in by untalented hopefuls. The nature of the business is such that it attracts a lot of not so great talent that bombards producers with material. But it is in the producer’s interest to set up a system to sift through this material. Prospecting and panning for gold is a good analogy. But you must believe there is gold in that pile of dirt.
I think there are a great many really good writers out there with many interesting stories. Stories they have lived with for years, stories that have been worked on and polished word by word. Writers who are hungry. Writers who belong to India’s gullies and mohallas. They share the pulse of India’s audiences. These writers and their stories are waiting to be discovered while Producer and Directors watch DVD’s and contemplate ripping them off.
A word of unsolicited advice for the holy trinity then; before you rip-off that DVD please walk around the graveyard, it is full of such unhappy ventures. Ventures that bankrupted bigger better names than you.