remakes

‘Sairat’ versus ‘Dhadak’: What a director’s cameo tells us about the problem with remakes

Nagraj Manjule makes a fleeting appearance in his 2016 movie, but his presence has overshadowed every attempt to retell the story of caste violence.

Note: Spoilers ahead about Dhadak.

Alfred Hitchcock inserted himself into 39 of his 52 films, the record keepers tell us. In To Catch a Thief (1955), for instance, the suspense maestro is seated next to leading man Cary Grant on a bus.

Marathi filmmaker Nagraj Manjule also makes a couple of appearances in his 2016 movie Sairat. During the song Yad Laagla, Manjule watches quietly as Prashant (Aakash Thosar) catches his reflection in a hair-cutting saloon’s mirror. In the song Zingaat, Manjule is among the revellers swaying to Ajay-Atul’s infectious beats.

Manjule’s unnamed character has sprung out of the same soil as Prashant and his upper-caste lover Archana (Rinku Rajguru). The director had a similar totemic role in his dazzling debut Fandry (2013). Manjule’s silent presence in both movies indicates that the filmmaker is watching over his creations, wondering where their reckless emotions will take them.

Should Manjule have been around in a more meaningful way for the dull Hindi remake of his box-office scorcher? Dhadak, which was released on July 20, has been directed by Shashank Khaitan, who has previously made the hits Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (2014) and Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017). Dhadak describes itself as an adaptation rather than a remake of Sairat, and except for a story credit, Manjule has not been involved in the production.

Khaitan’s version, starring Janhvi Kapoor and Ishaan Khatter, recycles two songs from the original soundtrack and follows the broad story arc of young love threatened and ultimately destroyed by caste differences. But the Hindi version is unable to meaningfully replicate the raw honesty, local flavour and insight into the omniscience of caste that made Sairat special.

Comparisons between the films are unavoidable, since Dhadak would not have existed without Sairat. However, Dhadak’s healthy box office since its release (Rs 53.4 crores as of Saturday and counting) proves two things: that Manjule was on to something, and that even despite the predictable pitfalls involved in the act of remaking, there’s no stopping Bollywood from selling – or buying.

Play
Dhadak (2018).

Sairat’s producer, Zee Studios, was quick to recognise its impact. Remakes in Bengali and Kannada followed. But it was only when Bollywood came calling in the form of Dharma Productions that online protests by Sairat’s fanbase peaked. Rude memes and barbs aimed at Dhadak began to circulate on social media even before the release.

Given Hindi cinema’s reach, marketing muscle and cultural touchstone quality, it remains the most effective gateway for non-Hindi films to find new admirers. But often, the initial sense of pride that local ideas have impressed Bollywood’s power elite soon gives way to trepidation and anger, which gets amplified by social media.

Remake, rinse and repeat

Remakes are nearly as old as the movies in India. Ever since the talkies emerged in the 1930s, films have been reworked with new actors and mildly altered storylines across languages. For Bollywood, remakes have become a sureshot way of keeping the assembly lines humming. Remake directors inherit a ready package of dialogue, situations, characters, and as in the case of Dhadak, music.

A well-made official remake can help smart ideas leap across language barriers and find new fans. Successful reboots also have the potential of introducing existing talent to new employers. For instance, when Tamil director Mani Ratnam’s movies began to be dubbed in Hindi in the 1990s, they introduced AR Rahman’s genius to the rest of the country and then the world. Ratnam himself followed suit a few years later, forging with mixed success a parallel career in Bollywood.

While official remakes are celebrated as a sign of healthy commercial ties between language cinemas, questions related to the handling of the source material are rarely addressed to the satisfaction of fans. In the process of repurposing a movie, are the new owners flaunting a purchased plot as a new creation? What is preferable: directors who churn out carbon copies or freely adapt while running the risk of undermining the source material? In remakes, can cherished cinematic moments be reproduced with the same intensity?

‘Wanted’ versus ‘Pokkiri’ versus ‘Pokiri’

Part of the problem is that it is not the practice for filmmakers of official remakes to own up to how much they have retained from the original production. It’s the rare director or writer who admits to have merely put the original through a photocopying machine. The makers of the new versions bank on the fact that their audiences have probably not watched the source film, and therefore have few expectations.

Take Wanted (2009), one of Salman Khan’s most popular films. Prabhudeva’s Hindi version is a faithful remake of the Telugu hit Pokiri (2006), written and directed by Puri Jagganadh and starring Mahesh Babu. In 2007, Prabhudeva had remade Pokiri in Tamil as Pokkiri, with reigning deity Vijay.

The character of the ruthless underground police officer in Wanted, his seeming indifference to the affections of the heroine, and his laconic dialogue delivery (including the line “Once I commit to something, I don’t heed even my own advice”) were the creations of Puri Jagannadh. However, Salman Khan fans have appropriated Pokkiri’s original cool into the library of stock gestures and lines that make up the star’s blockbuster persona. This is precisely the function of the official remake: to bask in reflected glory and rehash the most winning ideas in the source material without audiences being any the wiser.

Play
Pokiri (2006).

An expensive way to ensure continuity between language versions is to retain the original director. The Tamil filmmakers K Balachander, Balu Mahendra and Mani Ratnam have handled the Hindi remakes of their movies, often by altering only a few essential details, such as the line-up of actors.

A movie, however, is almost a sentient being, with an inner life that spills out onto the screen and then beyond. Not even a film’s creator can control its fate, as is proven by the Tamil remake of Jeethu Joseph’s 2013 Malayalam blockbuster Drishyam.

Joseph’s movie borrows its plot from Keigo Higashino’s Japanese bestseller The Devotion of Suspect X. Mohanlal superbly plays a small-town cable service provider who comes up with the perfect alibi to cover up a murder committed by his wife and daughter. The film was remade by different directors in Telugu, Kannada, Sinhalese and Hindi. Joseph took charge of the Tamil remake Papanasam (2015), starring Kamal Haasan. But even Joseph could not get Papanasam to match the rhythms of the Malayalam Drishyam.

Play
Drishyam (2013).

With regard to Dhadak, it’s debatable whether even Manjule’s participation would have been able to ensure the reproduction of the cocktail of mainstream pleasures (catchy songs, humour, dreamy sprints through the fields, the suggestion of hope and a new beginning) and sobering reality about the persistence of caste identity that animated Sairat.

There have, of course, been many films about tragic romance before Sairat. Other movies have tackled accounts of star-crossed love inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (Ek Duje Ke Liye, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak). Honour killing is the main villain in the Madurai-set Tamil films Paruthiveeran (2007) and Subramanipuram (2008), and both productions have left their mark on Sairat’s narrative. Manjule’s triumph was his ability to absorb his influences and emerge with a fresh and clear-eyed perspective on well-worn material. Among Sairat’s chief qualities is the lack of naivete about the dangers of caste prejudice.

Dhadak works hard to retain the original movie’s commentary on the horrors of caste-linked violence, but some of Khaitan’s narrative choices undermine the impact of the original production. The biggest rewrite is of the character played brilliantly by Rinku Rajguru in the Marathi movie. In Sairat, the relationship between Rajguru’s Archana and Thosar’s Prashant, from an unspecified lower caste or tribe, is one of equals. Archana is never portrayed as a snooty product of privilege, even though she later struggles to face her newfound poverty. Parthavi (Janhvi Kapoor) from Dhadak, on the other hand, makes her lover Madhukar (Ishaan Khatter) jump through the hoops before she is impressed by him.

The real tragedy: that slap

One scene starkly separates the original from its latest remake. In Sairat, a flare-up between Prashant and Archana unfolds in public view. When told that Archana regrets eloping with him, Prashant shoves her around. She breaks down at his sudden ugliness and flees (only to return). Both are remorseful, and the incident is a turning point in their relationship, catapulting them from adolescence into adulthood.

Some of Dhadak’s rewrites align it with the misogynistic strains that characterise the Tamil movies that served as Sairat’s source material. Madhukar suspects Parthavi of flirting with her boss, and he repeatedly accuses her of being the cause of their shared woes. This flare-up has an even uglier outcome: Madhukar slaps Parthavi in public.

More than the tragic climax, it is the unwarranted slap and Madhukar’s small-mindedness that resonate. Parthavi gets many moments to prove her feistiness, but the Hindi adaptation robs the character of her strength and fortitude.

Shashank Khaitan’s film ultimately lacks the sense of a creator inserting himself steep into his narrative, watching over his creations with the mix of caution and foreboding that Manjule included in Sairat. Shashank Khaitan, the director of Dhadak, has his own cameo of sorts in one of the scenes, but it is in the form of an inanimate object – a Khaitan table fan. Some popular classics are best left untouched.

Play
Sairat (2016).
Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

Play

This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.