Sonam K Ahuja lit the fuse by tweeting her anger about a proposed trilogy of sequels to Mr India, the beloved Hindi movie from 1987 about an impecunious music teacher who gains the power of invisibility, an intrepid reporter, and a despot who resembles Muammar Gaddafi in dress and Ivan the Terrible in temperament.
In Mr India, Ahuja’s father, Anil Kapoor, plays Arun, who has adopted a brood of cute orphans. They live along with the cook Calendar in a sea-facing mansion in Mumbai, and are trundling along until Arun gets his hands on a gadget that can make him invisible. The tyrant Mogambo (Amrish Puri) is desperate to get his hands on the blinking object, but he hasn’t reckoned for Arun or, for that matter, Seema (Sridevi), a fearless investigative reporter and Arun’s tenant.
As the invisible Arun and the very visible Seema team up to defeat Mogambo, writers Salim-Javed spread out the laughs and tears, Laxmikant-Pyarelal roll out the chart-busting songs, and director Shekhar Kapur expertly steers the film to a thrilling finish.
The proposed sequels are set to be directed by Ali Abbas Zafar (Gunday, Sultan, Tiger Zinda Hai) and produced by Zee Studios. No cast details have been announced, nor has a deadline been set for the production.
Sonam K Ahuja was irked that neither her father nor Shekhar Kapur was consulted about the proposed project. Ironically, her father’s elder brother, Boney Kapoor, has produced Mr India and is its copyright holder.
Kapur weighed in too, suggesting that he should have been consulted, at the very least.
Javed Akhtar leapt into the debate, reminding Kapur that he wasn’t responsible for the concept or the characters. What right then did Kapur have to complain – even though he was the one who orchestrated all the elements into a successful, crowd-pleasing and memorable symphony?
Has anybody consulted the movie’s fans what they think? They are likely to say: Leave Mr India alone.
Remakes and sequels represent the cannibalisation of moneyspinning ideas that has consumed Bollywood. The Mr India reboot is a part of the simulacra sub-industry that thrives within the larger Bollywood complex. This sub-industry flies under the banner of nostalgia, but that sentiment is hard to peddle since the reimagined versions are primarily aimed at younger filmgoers who have no memory of what went before.
As the ticket-buying public grows even more distant from the past, it has become easy – and lazy – for the film industry to rummage through its back catalogue and churn out something that evokes an older work and yet barely resembles it. Except for eagle-eyed journalists and dogged fans, who is to tell the difference?
Already, producers have embraced the remix, which achieves little apart from reminding us of the merits of the original tunes. Some musicians and singers have valiantly resisted this stultifying development – such as AR Rahman , Vishal-Shekhar and Lata Mangeshkar – but this battle has already been lost.
It gets even more complicated when it comes to a movie, which has numerous creators and collaborators from the director downwards. A film production is always a joint effort, with immeasurable contributions by major and minor players. Take a single card out of the deck and it will collapse.
However, only the producers or copyright holders get to decide whether and how a movie will be resurrected. They can either reduce a classic to a cynical reboot, or expand the source material in fruitful ways. As long as there is money to be made, the act of recycling, with the copy often less sharp and more faded than the source material, will continue.
In the case of Mr India, there appears to be ground for a fresh look. Two of its major talents are dead – Amrish Puri and Sridevi. One half of the composers has passed on too, as has the singer Kishore Kumar. Shekhar Kapur has faded from view. Salim Khan, who wrote the zany script with Javed Akhtar, has retired from screenwriting.
For the sake of argument, a sequel could be made, one that could lead the progeny of Arun and Seema into a fresh set of adventures. Mogambo was unattached in the original film, but what prevents an imaginative writer from producing his heir?
And yet, Mr India defies such efforts. The simple, lo-fi effects involved in Arun’s disappearances and re-appearances are a part of the original’s charm. However advanced visual effects have become, they cannot replace the thrill of watching an invisible Arun leaving footprints in the mud.
In an interview with Scroll.in, the film’s cinematographer and visual effects provider Peter Pereira shared his secrets with writer Kamayani Sharma: “We used a stop motion technique in which we made one footprint after another as static images and then shot them one frame at a time. When you played the frames in sequence, it is as though an invisible person’s shoes are leaving footprints.”
Numerous elements defy re-imagining: Anil Kapoor’s believable heroics; the guileless children; the peppy soundtrack; Amrish Puri’s Mogambo, whose gallery-playing is pitched just right; the effective comic scenes. Annu Kapoor, who plays Seema’s harried editor Gaitonde and is the victim of endless cross connections on the land line, will have to be excised in the age of the cellphone. Although Mogambo aims weapons on India, he can never be mistaken for a terrorist by the current definition. Who will the new villain be in our polarised times?
And who will replace Sridevi, who was at the peak of her powers? Boney Kapoor can choose between his son, Arjun Kapoor, and his daughter, Janhvi Kapoor, for the proposed sequels, but if either actor were to be cast, this would be an example of peak Bollywood nepotism.
The one aspect of Mr India that will be nearly impossible to recreate is its innocence. The movie was made for children and adults who retain memories of their younger selves. Its spirit is unlikely to survive the act of cannibalisation suggested by the proposed sequels. The new Mr India films might well bear no resemblance to the 1987 production, which will be a very good thing indeed.