Monday, December 9, 2019
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Dear Bollywood, why so much melodrama?

One has to be careful when remaking successful movies; the original work merits some respect in the least

I read somewhere that Shah Rukh Khan watched Dustin Hoffman’s ‘Rainman’ to learn how to play an autistic man in his film ‘My name is Khan’. Having watched Hoffman essay the role in the 1988 comedy-drama, I can’t help but wonder what King Khan learnt. I endured Khan vigorously nodding his head and repeating his sentences through ‘My name is Khan’ and remember wondering why a Bollywood superstar would not do his homework better. Hoffman’s performance was about sensitivity and subtlety, not over-the-top acting. No wonder it won him an Oscar for best actor in a leading role.
The thing is that mainstream Bollywood, like Indian politicians, takes its audience for a bunch of village bumpkins. In the late 80’s and all through the 90’s, the kind of films churned out could either make you tear your hair out or fall off your seat laughing (not a good thing when the film is supposed to be a drama). Remember Mithun Chakraborthy and Govinda’s pelvic gyrations and inane dialogue? I confess I actually liked Mithun in those days! It can’t always be about melodrama – lots of songs, come skin show, some tears and villain-bashing. One has to be especially careful when remaking successful movies; the original work merits some respect in the least.

Take the case of Akele Hum Akele Tum (AHAT), a remake of the 1979 Kramer vs Kramer starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. The Bollywood version had Aamir Khan and Manisha Koirala playing the husband-wife protagonists. I watched AHAT years ago, but saw Kramer vs Kramer only recently. Why? It’s a long story, but suffice to say that I was raised in an era when parents considered television and movies a bad influence on children. Hindi films were more accessible on the sly. I am, however, doing a good job of catching up on Hollywood classics as an adult. And can rarely sit through a Bollywood potboiler any more.

Back to the point, having watched the original, my qualm with AHAT is the needless melodrama and song and dance, possibly introduced to sweeten the serious story for the ‘Indian audience’. In the process, the storyline was diluted. Aamir and Manisha were good as the husband and wife torn between their little son and pursuing their ambitions, but Hoffman and Streep brought out the nuanced emotions the story was supposed to convey.

Watch all four movies and compare them scene for scene to decide for yourself. At least AHAT did some justice to the original, but Shah Rukh Khan would do well to apologise to the autistic community. I hope I’m wrong and he did not seek ‘inspiration’ from Hoffman’s ‘Rainman’. That’s the other thing in Bollywood; copying someone else’s work is termed ‘inspiration’ as in I was ‘inspired’ by so and so movie, actor or song. I thought inspiration makes one do special things, but I guess this ‘formula’ does not apply to Bollywood.