Chaalbaaz, Coolie No 1 were redeemed by Sridevi, Govinda; why remake of a Bollywood comedy is often dead on arrival
The news of Shraddha Kapoor being cast in the remake of Sridevi's Chaalbaaz is proof that attempts at remakes neither understand the importance of originality nor the soul of iconic characters that make films what they are. In case you are wondering, it is the actor.
The word ‘remake’ is usually a primer to sub-par Indian filmmaking that is more often than not exacted in the effort to rescue previously illustrious careers or desperately launch new ones. Bollywood’s pitiful streak of rehashing not just movies, but even music from the past decades is indicative of the insistence to neither change nor allow people to bring about that change.
Remakes are obviously insincere attempts at making art and they represent, at times, the worst instincts of capitalist cultural production. That the rich can dismantle classics as easily as they could, if allowed, create new ones is enraging. Like fast fashion remakes are insincere but instant attempts at cashing in on nostalgia for bygone eras.
But the news of Shraddha Kapoor being cast in the remake of Sridevi-starrer Chaalbaaz (1989) is proof that these attempts neither understand the importance of originality nor the soul of iconic characters that make films what they are. In case you are wondering, it is the actor.
Chaalbaaz is a classic because of Sridevi’s childlike candour, the inimitable ease with which she changes gears between being Anju and Manju, twin sisters who are vastly different courtesy the circumstances around them and how they have learned to cope. The twins separated at birth format was not new to Bollywood at the time the film came out, but what was new was the comedic switch in the middle and the umpteen ease with which Sridevi played two victims who react to suffering in different ways. It was a coda to the liberal cinema of today, women surviving as women have to, with what they have and what they can muster.
Sridevi’s beguiling charm, her effervescent energy is what makes Chaalbaaz come across as a comedy when it is actually a tragedy of brutal and violent proportions.
To her, credit Shraddha can make a tragedy seem like an even bigger tragedy by acting out of the body of her characters. When she is not straining to achieve the first step in the road to comprehensive acting – an expression – Kapoor is seen bypassing qualifications required to become an actor, by dancing.
To be honest, remakes are a kind of plague, bad ideas that take lesser humans hostage and convince them to do stupid things. Of the most recent post-mortems that a dead remake has warranted, Varun Dhawan’s Coolie No 1 must be the most painfully fun to execute. Remake a Govinda film when it is well established that no one, not in a million years, can do a Govinda ever again. Cast Sara Ali Khan as the co-lead in a film that is laughingly short of authenticity anyway. Ask Varun Dhawan to agonisingly recreate Govinda’s eccentric magnetism. And then assume we are all living in the '90s, and would buy the socio-economic bullshit that films were able to sell in the pre-internet age. What is stupendous in all of this is that Dhawan is actually capable of exhuming a performance or two from the cemetery of bad choices he is known to make – think Badlapur and October. For Shraddha, however, that cemetery shall remain off-limits for resurrections with the masterful Sridevi’s name now shamelessly dragged into the visitor’s handbook.
We who grew up in the '90s, familiarised ourselves with Bollywood’s shameless knack of imitating foreign classics. To be honest, remakes are not ethically without their rights. Hollywood itself rehashes old films, time and again, but in most cases, there is at least the desire to import the present into the past.
Here in Bollywood, the trend is worryingly the opposite, where producers feel the mere re-enactment of a cultural classic is worthy of the audience’s attention.
Nobody seems to want to point to studio execs that certain classics are shouldered on the pedigree of the artists and in cases like Sridevi and Govinda, at least, defined by the eccentricity of their work. Not just that, how do mere mortals get the courage to denigrate institutions, approach them with anything but apprehension. Ram Gopal Varma’s remake of Sholay, the excruciatingly titled Ramgopal Varma ki Aag (2007) perhaps occupies the zenith in terms of remakes so singularly poor and farcical they must be wiped from memory, if not kept on a pedestal as the single-most ludicrous creative decision taken at a brutally slow pace.
Chances are this is not even the last of the remakes on the cards. Shraddha has more cinema left in her that she is capable of destroying than the audience has money to buy tickets to. An actress who can barely change expressions between the opening act and the climax must now embody twins who get separated and then get changed back through the middle. This is a plot for a survival film where the audience may indeed be the protagonist. For it includes more tonal switches than Kapoor has pulled off in her years in the industry. But maybe the people placing their bets on her emulating Sridevi know something we do not. I am just glad, sadist as it may sound, the late actress is not around to find out what that is.
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