Bollywood round-up

The romance of remakes

The List’s new Bollywood film correspondent Ghazala Butt kicks things off with the first of her monthly new film round ups.

If, like me, you love Hindi or Bollywood cinema, you need to start embracing the idea of remakes. Two current releases, Don and Umrao Jaan, are cases in point. The trouble for me is that, having been reared during what I consider the heyday of the Bollywood blockbuster (the 70s), it is difficult to shake off the melodramatic memories of Amitabh Bachchan in Chandra Borat’s original 1978 Don or the lovely Rekha in Muzzafer Ali’s 1981 Umrao Jaan. Yet, the directors of both new movies are at pains to point out that these are not remakes, but fresh perspectives which happen to feature two of the most iconic stars of the new millennium - Shah Rukh Khan as Don and Aishwarya Rai as Umrao Jaan.

Don (2 stars) is the more faithful adaptation, albeit with a few twists and turns added to this exciting but convoluted tale of gangsters, street performers, imposters and Interpol plots. Javed Aktar’s screenplay riffs on the original with a visual gag about the bowties worn by Bachchan in the original and uses a couple of that film’s song and dance numbers. The remaining characters are, however, rarely fleshed out in any depth while the heaving bosoms of the female characters take up the slack.

Umrao Jaan (3 stars) centres on the life of the famous courtesan, with a narrative structure based more faithfully on Mirza Hadi Ruswa’s historic novel. The story is recalled in flashback as Umrao (Rai) is kidnapped as a child and sold to a Khota (courtesan’s brothel). The film is full of gorgeous cinematography and utilises an array of landscapes in Jaipur to stand in for 19th century Lucknow. Rai is stunning but her portrayal of Umrao lacks arrogance and vulnerability. By comparison, Meena Kumari’s portrait of Pakeezah (1979) illustrated the quintessential charm, culture and snobbery of a woman educated beyond the confined world of her contemporaries.

Jaan-E-Mann (2 stars) is more straightforward. Grab some popcorn, sit back, switch off and enjoy the ride. The story revolves around three college friends - Piya (Preity Zinta), Suhaan (Salman Khan) and Augustya (Akshay Kumar) whose lives are intertwined through marriage and unrequited love. Writer/director Shirish Kunder uses NYC landmarks and ‘foreign’ extras to appeal to indigenous and diaspora audiences. There are the usual mass choreographed musical routines, lovely aerial shots of Brooklyn Bridge and Khan ripping his shirt off at any given opportunity. Not really my sort of movie, but a pure commercial Bollywood extravaganza nonetheless (my seven-year-old loved it!).

Finally Sanjay Gadhvi’s Dhoom 2 (2 stars) is the sequel to 2004’s blockbuster Dhoom, a multicast extravaganza that boasted a cast made up of the cream of current stars. This time out the thrills and spills centre on a highly trained but mysterious international burglar Mr A (Hrithik Roshan), some stolen crown jewels and Jai’s (Abhishek Bachchan) attempts to track him down. Filmed across exotic locations with a vibrant, glorious, glossy modern look, Dhoom 2 (pictured) has the added, puerile bonus of a glamorous female action sidekick. One for the boys I think.

Dhoom 2 is on selected release from Fri 24 Nov. Other films still showing at selected cinemas.

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