Bollywood The Matrix?!
My brand new show, “Deja View”, premieres right now! It’s all about remakesploitation — that is, foreign remakes of popular American movies — and in this episode I take a look at the so-called “Bollywood The Matrix”. But as you might expect, not everything is what it seems…
Deja View is a Telly Award-winning series that explores foreign remakes of popular American films.
Spread that feeling of Deja View! Submit this episode to your favorite cinema or pop culture blog, embed it on your favorite message board, or post the link on Facebook/Twitter.
Let me know if this scene sounds familiar: A man dressed in back, complete with sunglasses and a trenchcoat, enters a fancy hotel lobby policed by security guards. Stepping through the metal detector, he sets off the alarm, and when accosted by a guard he opens his trenchcoat… revealing an arsenal strapped to his body. He clobbers the gobsmacked guard and begins an all-out assault on a small army of heavily armed soldiers, performing spectacular stunts that defy all logic. And after riddling each opponent with with a storm of bullets, he casually makes his way to the elevator at the other end of the room.
Sound familiar? Oh, but there’s just one more thing. The movie I’m talking about was made in India.
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a serious case of Deja View.
Hello! My name is Ed Glaser, and I am fascinated by foreign remakes and ripoffs of popular American films — the product of a filmmaking practice I like to call “remakesploitation.” It’s such a passion of mine, in fact, that in 2009 I produced the first ever English language release of the so-called “Turkish Rambo”.
What I love about these films is that regardless of their quality, they allow us to see our own pop culture through a completely different lens; and to see other cultures through a much more familiar one.
So I’d like to take you on a tour of some of these foreign remakes and, perhaps more importantly, share with you a little about the context in which they were produced.
So that lobby shoot-out scene is from the 2002 film “Awara Paagal Deewana.” And it doesn’t take a serious cinema buff to realize that this is obviously an Indian remake of… “The Whole Nine Yards”.
Actually, I’m serious. That’s exactly what it is. After that scene, our Neo-lookalike hitman escapes to a suburban neighborhood next door to a dentist who has a secretary with a thing for hitmen and it’s the exact same movie as “The Whole Nine Yards”. It’s like a comedy was struck ill and needed a scene transplant, and “The Matrix” selflessly gave its most famous action sequence to save its best friend.
So why is that?
Well by the 1980s India’s film industry, “Bollywood,” was producing more movies per year than Hollywood. But the cost of making movies was rising, and 75% of finished films were unable to secure distribution. That meant that making movies was a huge financial risk. So filmmakers needed a way to reduce that risk, and one way was to copy proven Hollywood successes. And that’s exactly what they did. Indeed, unauthorized remakes have been a Bollywood staple for well over 20 years.
“Awara Paagal Deewana’s” director Vikram Bhatt makes no bones about it. Hey says:
“Financially, I would be more secure knowing that a particular piece of work has already done well at the box office.”
But what frequently also happens, as with “Awara Paagal Deewana”, is that a filmmaker will sort of glom onto a particular scene or element from another movie entirely — like “The Matrix’s” lobby shootout — and incorporate it into their otherwise-unrelated film. So suddenly people are leaping six feet into the air and gunning down commandos in the middle of a comedy!
But of course the reason the characters in “The Matrix” were able to defy physics was because they were in a computer program. Here, out of context, the wire-fu doesn’t make any sense. Instead you’re asked to take it at face value, as a stylistic choice — something much more common in, say, Hong Kong kung fu movies. And indeed, the film sets that up early on by having our hero fight a gang of improbably-dressed Chinese gangsters.
Another remarkable thing about the film is that it’s set in America. I mentioned remakesploitation as a sort of cultural lens, and this is a perfect example. In fact it’s more like a fun house mirror! “Awara Paagal Deewana” presents such an idealized version of America — specifically New York — that it borders on parody. In this universe, everybody in America drives a Jeep or a Hummer, our young immigrant dentist has an opulent office at the top of Trump Tower, and everybody’s happy… in New York.
But the best thing about the film is that it’s a really great remake. It hits all the right notes, the characters are a lot of fun, and the action is great. Moreover, the standard Bollywood conventions — like big musical numbers — mesh really well with a bright escapist comedy like this and make it even more fun.
If you’re new to the world of remakesploitation, then “Awara Paagal Deewana” is an excellent introduction. It’s highly entertaining, looks as slick as anything Hollywood has to offer, and is as blatant an unauthorized remake as you can find.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I was asked to be in a Bollywood remake of “Gone with the Wind”. See you next time.