New Delhi: Telugu director Sandeep Reddy Vanga is releasing his first Hindi film Kabir Singh on Friday, a remake of his own cult Telugu blockbuster Arjun Reddy and the latest in a long list of south Indian films that Bollywood has either been inspired by or plagiarized.
Known for their entertaining and emotional storylines, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada movies have provided ample fodder for Hindi film narratives, for as long as one can remember.
In the last 10 years, data from film trade websites shows that Bollywood has remade 38 south Indian films, 18 of which have been hits.
Tiger Shroff-starrer Baaghi 2 (a remake of Telugu movie Kshanam), Ranveer Singh’s action comedy Simmba (Telugu film Temper) and Salman Khan’s action romantic comedy Bodyguard (Malayalam film of the same name) rank highest on the list, with profits of ₹101 crore, ₹100 crore and ₹74 crore, respectively.
With six films each in the last decade alone, Ajay Devgn (Singham, Son Of Sardaar, Himmatwala, Action Jackson, Singham Returns, Drishyam) and Akshay Kumar (Gabbar Is Back, Holiday, Boss, Rowdy Rathore, Khatta Meetha, De Dana Dan) stand out as lead actors with the most south Indian remakes.
“Films have to be commercially viable and it always makes sense to remake a film that is a proven hit,” said independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai. “Plus, all the movies that have been remade have had universal content and emotions that could work on a pan-India scale.”
Film experts said south Indian cinema has perfected the art of making commercially viable mainstream entertainers with drama and emotions, a formula Bollywood is yet to get right, especially lately, as the failure of big-ticket films such as Thugs of Hindostan and Kalank shows. Most south Indian language films, especially those in Tamil and Telugu, know how to appeal to the lowest common denominator without losing sense of the plot. In an earlier interview with Mint, Kabir Singh director Vanga had said that while the Hindi movie industry was doing well in terms of scripts until five years ago, things have become a little stale now and the uncommon treatment (of these south Indian films) is a bonus.
“A huge problem for directors of our generation is that there are many stories being written but very few of them come with interesting screenplays,” said director Sabbir Khan, whose romantic action comedy Heropanti, debut vehicle for Shroff, was a remake of Telugu film Parugu. Like Pillai, Khan said the advantage of remaking a south Indian film is that “you know the screenplay has a potential for attracting audiences, besides your own belief in the fact that it can be taken to a wider audience”.
Rights for a south Indian hit can today range from ₹1.5-3 crore given that dubbed versions of the film infiltrate television channels and the original is available on multiple streaming platforms. Unlike the 1980s and 90s, you can’t fool the audience into believing it’s an original story. The battle, therefore, only begins with the purchase.
“In India, culture and tastes differ from state to state and the north is a completely different ball game from the south. In a Bollywood remake, for example, you don’t just need a star who can carry the film on his shoulders like the original but also the right milieu, locations where it is shot, for example,” Pillai said.
Reportedly, Kabir Singh is set in Delhi while Arjun Reddy was based primarily in Mangaluru. Industry experts say the modern-day Devdas plot line about a self-destructive alcoholic surgeon owed a lot of its success to lead actor Vijay Deverakonda and the onus to replicate the same now falls on Shahid Kapoor. Laxmmi Bomb, the upcoming Hindi remake of Tamil horror comedy Muni 2: Kanchana starring Akshay Kumar, has also been suitably structured for Hindi film viewers.
To be sure, the number of Hindi remakes that haven’t worked at the box office is equally significant. Devgn’s Action Jackson (a remake of Telugu film Dookudu) lost ₹36 crore, while comedy drama Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal (adapted from Malayalam film Marykkundoru Kunjaadu) lost ₹25 crore.
“I think the challenges outweigh the advantages, with a remake,” Khan said. “Everyone knows the original film is out there and enjoys cult status so the new film has to be equally big, if not better.”