Filmmakers, critics and producers weigh in on whether the success of big-budget south Indian actioners such as ‘Baahubali’, ‘RRR’ and the ‘KGF’ franchise has affected the market for remake films in the Hindi belt.

Actors Aishwarya Rajesh in The Great Indian Kitchen Tamil remake (L), Shahid Kapoor in 2022 Hindi in Jersey, and RJ Balaji in Veetla Vishesham (R)Screengrabs/ YouTube
Flix Cinema Friday, May 27, 2022 - 18:46

Dadasaheb Phalke’s 1913 film Raja Harishchandra, India’s first feature film, is also believed to be the first Indian film to have ever been remade. In 1917, the filmmaker decided to direct a frame-by-frame remake of the film to reduce its run time. Since then, however, the purpose of directing remake films, and the perceptions of filmmakers as well as audiences towards the same, has changed over time. Similarly, has the transient market for remakes witnessed changes in the post-pandemic era as well?

Shahid Kapoor and Mrunal Thakur starrer Jersey, the Hindi remake of the Telugu movie by the same title, hit the big screens on April 22 this year. The 2019 Telugu movie, which starred actors Nani and Shraddha Srinath, opened to positive reception from critics and audiences alike, and also bagged two national awards for the best Telugu feature film and best editing. Though both the Telugu film and its Hindi remake were written and directed by Gowtam Tinnanuri, the latter failed to perform well at the box office.

The Hindi remake was reportedly made at a budget of Rs 100 crore but grossed only Rs 17.20 crore domestically, whereas the Telugu film was produced at a budget of Rs 25 crore and went on to collect almost double its production cost. While the poor box office performance of the Hindi Jersey was attributed to multiple factors including the competition it faced from the record-breaking Kannada film KGF: Chapter 2, it also paved way for a larger discussion around the market for remake films, and how it has been affected following the massive success of hit south Indian films like RRR, Baahubali, the KGF franchise, and Pushpa.

Watch the trailer of Jersey (2022):

Watch the trailer of Jersey (2019): 

So, has the market for remake movies shrunk due to the success of dubbed movies in the Hindi belt? Producer Rajsekar Pandian from 2D Entertainment — the home production banner of actors Suriya and Jyotika — would not say the market has become smaller. “In recent times, remake films have not worked. But we have had films like Singham, Ghajini and the Drishyam franchise that have worked well. Since RRR, Baahubali, KGF and Pushpa were pan-Indian projects featuring larger-than-life characters, they have worked across languages. The same cannot be said for all genres of films,” he tells TNM.

In 2015, 2D Entertainment had bankrolled Jyotika starrer 36 Vayadhinile, which tracks the story of a woman named Vasanthi, who leads a mundane life until her friend inspires her to rediscover her younger self and follow her dreams. The film was the Tamil remake of the 2014 Malayalam movie How Old Are You, starring Manju Warrier. Both the films had opened to positive reception. The production banner is currently backing its second remake venture — the Hindi remake of Soorarai Pottru — in which Akshay Kumar and Radhika Madan will take on the roles played by Suriya and Aparna Balamurali respectively in the original.

The recent success of south Indian actioners among Hindi audiences, and the box office performance of Jersey, has also led to the question — couldn’t a dubbed Hindi version of the Nani-starrer have been released instead of the Hindi remake, given that it would have reduced the production cost as well? The scenario also forces one to rethink the relevance of a remake, when the dubbed versions of regional films are able to overcome obstacles such as the language barrier and have a good run in the box office. Producer Karthik Gowda from Hombale Films, the production banner that bankrolled director Prashanth Neel-actor Yash’s KGF franchise, says KGF or KGF: Chapter 2 cannot be remade in Hindi since it has already become the second highest grossing film in the industry, after the Hindi dubbed version of Baahubali 2 which reportedly earned Rs Rs 510.99 crore at the box office.

The rise of over-the-top (OTT) platforms in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has also given viewers the option of streaming a large range of films — be it regional or foreign language — with the tap of a button. While some streaming giants are now releasing the dubbed versions of new films in multiple languages, other platforms like Aha have also been releasing the Telugu-dubbed version of contemporary Malayalam and Tamil films over the past year.

“Post the pandemic, I think people have become more used to watching films in their original language with the help of subtitles. This is no longer a novelty. Hence, it is quite possible that a dubbed or subtitled film might work among the audience simply because it will no longer be considered a non-Hindi film,” says film critic Subha J Rao. However, she points out that a well-made remake can still work well, provided it carries the core idea of the original film and is set in a rooted space catering to the language it is being remade into. Actor and filmmaker RJ Balaji, however, remains sceptical about the effect of OTT platforms on the remake market. “Most people still don’t have access to OTT. Even if they do, it is not often that they turn to watching the dubbed versions of movies on these platforms,” he points out.

Read: OTT platforms need to understand India's diversity, go beyond Hindi focus

Successful remakes

Remake films have hit a bit of a roadblock in recent times, but one cannot overlook the successful ones of the past, says Rajsekar. Examples of successful remakes range from older ones like the 1993 Malayalam psychological horror film Manichitrathazhu which was remade in Bengali, Tamil, and Hindi (though the film received flak for its portrayal of mental illness), 1997 Malayalam film Aniyathipraavu which was remade as Kadhalukku Mariyadhai in Tamil in the same year, and 2006 Malayalam film Classmates being remade as Ninaithale Inikkum in 2009, to more recent remakes such as the 2019 film Evaru, an adaptation of the European film The Invisible Guest which was also remade in Hindi as Badla, and 2016 Malayalam film Maheshinte Prathikaram which was remade as Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya in Telugu in 2020.

“Remakes still have a market because people prefer watching movies in their own languages, and starring the actors from that particular film industry. Having the same director on board for the remake is helpful, since they would also understand the crux of the film better. Udaan, the Hindi dubbed version of Soorarai Pottru, has been streamed by many viewers. But we are confident that the Hindi remake, which is currently in production, will also perform well,” says producer Rajsekar. “Filmmaker Sudha Kongara being the director for both the projects is an advantage to us, since she has already been successful in remaking her Hindi-Tamil bilingual film Irudhi Suttru (2016) into Guru in Telugu (2017).”

Subha believes that films that are rooted in a particular region, or have a screenplay that thrives on the culture or backdrop it is set in, might not be as effective if remade. “A film that moors itself to a universal topic or theme will work wonderfully well in any language. I can immediately think of Mrs Doubtfire, which was used as an inspiration for films like Avvai Shanmugi (1996) and its Hindi remake Chachi 420 (1997), because the love that the film spoke about was universal. I quite liked how Kalyana Samayal Saadham (2013 Tamil film) became Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (2017 Hindi film) with the same director helming the Bollywood remake, but with a different writer who rooted it in a different milieu,” the critic observes.

Watch the trailer of Kalyana Samayal Saadham

Watch the trailer of Shubh Mangal Saavdhan

Balaji, who is gearing up for the release of his upcoming film Veetla Vishesham — the Tamil remake of the 2018 Hindi film Badhaai Ho — observes that filmmakers and producers will have to be choosy about the movies they pick before remaking them in other languages. “Filmmakers and producers will have to look at the popularity and reach of the original first. They will also have to evaluate whether the script has room for the film to be remade. It is difficult to rewrite the screenplay for a film like Premam (2015 Malayalam film), which is rooted in the culture and the backdrop it is set in,” he says.

Balaji has co-written and co-directed Veetla Vishesham, which tells the story of a couple in their early 50s getting pregnant. With this film, there was a scope to add to the original and tweak it to suit the Tamil audiences, he says. “We have a different set of actors like Urvashi, Sathyaraj, KPAC Lalitha and Aparna Balamurali on board, who bring their own colours to the script. We have also made changes to the storyline based on our screenplay. The Hindi version had leaned towards a pro-life stance to back the mother’s reasoning behind not aborting the baby. But we thought we could avoid that stance, since we wanted to support women’s right to bodily autonomy and abortion rights. This way, the remake can also be tweaked to suit the sensibilities of the audiences it caters to,” he adds.

Watch the trailer of Badhaai Ho

Watch the trailer of Veetla Vishesham: 

Apart from Veetla Vishesham and the Hindi remake of Soorarai Pottru, Tamil films like 96 (2018), Vikram Vedha (2017).  Anniyan (2005) and Malayalam film The Great Indian Kitchen (2021) are also being remade in other languages.

Read: Hypermasculinity, execution and marketing: How south cinema has cracked the Hindi market

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