The boycott by right-wingers might be one of the reasons, but what happened with Lal Singh Chadda’s box office performance in India has an age-long problem with the Indian film industry.
The Aamir Khan starer remake is a poor copy of 1994, Tom Hanks classic, Forrest Gump. A frame-by-frame remake of the Hollywood classic has failed to work. The blunder that Mr. Perfectionist did that he did not understand the psyche of the Indian audience is far different from its western counterpart. Any remake of a foreign film should be done by proper cinematic Indianization.
42 years ago, Basu Chatterjee scripted and directed Man Pasand a shot-by-shot remake of the classic, My Fair Lady. It was ridiculed as a super flop though it starred big names like Dev Anand, Girish Karnad and Mehmood. Girish Karnad later confessed that the Indian viewers could not digest a film that lacked Indian emotions and feelings.
However, Basu Chatterjee gave an excellent Indian touch to Ek Ruka, Hua Phaisla the original version of Twelve Angry Men well and directed a memorable film. Pankaj Kapur delivered a stellar performance in it.
Making films on foreign literary works is not new to the Hindi screen. When Chetan Anand adopted Gogol’s, Inspector General for Afsar in 1950, it was a challenge for him. In his script he opted for an Indian flavor with finesse, controlling the romantic angle between Dev Anand and Suraiya via the immortal songs Nain Diwane and Man Mor Hua.
The climax song was picturised on the entire cast in one shot. Suraiya fondly remembered how Chetan Anand coaxed his actors to get into the skin of a difficult satire. As a historical testimony, Afsar was too intellectual for the Hindu escapist entertainment-loving audience. It did average business.
Chetan Anand’s remake of Afsar as Saheb Bahadur was a not forgettable film by all means. Raj Khosla opted for AJ Cronin and O Henry’s stories for two of his memorable films Kalapani (1958) and Bombai Ka Babu (1960). For the former he took a lot of creative advice from Guru Dutt and the latter was guided by Chetan Anand.
Kalapani had the original story altered properly, especially in the climax with original Indian emotions and hit the bull’s eye. Bombai Ka Babu though truly well made, was far ahead of its times. Another example of how an offbeat subject was rejected by an audience that could not think and react.
Guru Dutt summed up the issue correctly. He said that to give a thorough Indian essence to a subject with occidental origin and make it acceptable required true creative craftsmanship. His own iconic Kagaz Ke Phool flopped badly. It was inspired by Sunset Boulevard, and had cinematic excellence but could not touch viewers’ hearts. Illiterate critics blamed the defeated soul of Mr Sinha (Guru Dutt) the protagonist of Kagaz Ke Phool as the reason why it flopped.
Madhur Bhandarkar agrees along the same lines. He feels Pyasa, Guide and Abhiman are classics. He feels the strong Indian emotional quotient with specific comic touches and evergreen melodies have made these films immortal. None of them were adopted from Western literature.
Pearl S Buck, a Nobel laureate herself, was an unsuccessful script writer for the English version of the Guide. Vijay Anand who directed Hindi Guide felt Buck could not bring out the emotional and spiritual essence of the original novel. Her bent of mind was very different from that of Raju Guide and Rosy, characters whom she never penned in her novels.
When Dhruv Chatterjee wrote the screenplay of Gumnaam based on Agatha Christie’s, And Then There Was None, he required assistance from Manoj Kumar. The script was given a proper ethnic Indian touch with the right doses of emotions, comedy and suspense. Manoj Kumar like in Woh Kaun Thi never took any credit for his scripting. As he always says, an Indian audience expects a thali from an average film. It wants a perfect mixture of sweet, sour and salt. In the West, scripts are penned with a far more advanced mental setup as their viewers are more mature than ours.
There is no harm in giving an Indian cinematic turn to an Eastern or Western subject. Gulzar gave a brilliant Indian touch to an otherwise Japanese story in Koshish. No wonder Satyajit Ray confessed it is always better to experiment with literary masterpieces of Indian origin as the audience can identify with them. Ismail Merchant in his English films maintained the Indian soul to make memorable films like Householder, Shakespearwallah and Pretty Polly.
However, Laal Singh Chaddha is doing well before international audiences.