When I started making films in Hindi (which were mostly remakes of South films!), my detractors said, ‘What is he doing?’ Today, almost every week, there’s a remake of a South Indian runaway hit that releases. In fact, today some of the most successful films are remakes. Suddenly, Rajinikant is reborn in everybody’s mind although he was initially criticised.
Today, everyone is into remakes and they are all successful, and whatever is successful becomes a trend. To my knowledge I am the only one from the South who has survived 20 years in the Hindi film industry. There are no South directors who have been making films here for 20 years. Earlier, filmmakers (K Raghavendra Rao, Dasari Narayan Rao, GA Seshagiri Rao, S Ramanathan, K Bapaiah and K Murali Mohan Rao) left a mark for four to five years and then faded away. I am very happy that I have survived for two decades.
I started making Hindi films in 1991 (Muskurahat, adapted from the Malayalam film Kilukkam, released in 1993) and have made 30 Hindi movies since. It’s not been easy. Even successful Hindi directors have not made so many Hindi films. That means God has been kind although I can’t say that South filmmakers remaking South films in Hindi is here to stay.
Rohit Shetty, who remade Singham, delivered a huge hit and Anees Bazmee, who has directed several remakes of South films, has also delivered hits. These people are not from the South. They live and make films in Mumbai. So, actually, I don’t think it is about South directors being accepted. It is the perception about South film directors that has not changed. The critics are not lapping up their films and are killing every film. You should see the star ratings these films get. Interestingly, intelligent people who are supposed to be critics have not accepted these films but the common man, who is not supposed to be intelligent, has welcomed them.
I don’t think in the history of Indian cinema a single North Indian director has ever been successful in South. There is not even one film that they could make. Even North heroes are not successful in South.
When you re-make a South film, you are adapting it to North Indian sensibilities. You are also pacing it differently because people in Mumbai do not have the patience for a slow film. As a Malayalam filmmaker, I used to make slow-paced films. In Bollywood, I infused my films with a much faster pace. At times, I added characters. For example, in Gardish (adapted from Kireedom, Malayalam), the characters of Raj Babbar and Dimple Kapadia were not there in the original. I modified the script in such a way that it would be accepted and seen as a North Indian film. I always write a fresh screenplay whenever I have tried to remake a South film in Hindi. That change of sensibility is important if you are trying to reach out to a pan-Indian audience.
Of course, I cannot say that a South director who made his original in the South will make a better film of it in Bollywood. On the other hand, Prabhudheva, who has made remakes of other South directors in Hindi, has understood the spirit perfectly. You have to basically understand what is needed today and work accordingly. Further, you can never make this kind of film without a big star. You can’t make it with a newcomer. You need a readymade star power for such a project to succeed. If you want to join the 100-crore club, you need a star.
South cinema has a well-defined formula. The hero cannot be beaten down by anybody. He is always right. Usually, in the South, the hero never runs behind the heroine. It is the heroine who chases the hero. That is the NTR philosophy. These films are full of illogical happenings, which are nevertheless glamorous. Ninety per cent films are musicals and they adhere to the typical South choreography. But I haven’t followed this blindly, even when Prabhudheva was my choreographer. I don’t allow my choreographers to shoot songs. I ask them to compose the song and then I shoot it myself.
People want to do so many South remakes because they want a successful film. They do it because there is scarcity of good scripts here. Second, it seems to be a successful trend right now, so even distributors want this. Producers are ready to back these films and even actors are ready to do them. Ultimately, everybody wants a successful film.