DISCLAIMER: This article contains spoilers for both Bollywood and Korean films. Reader discretion is advised.
There’s a moment in the opening credits of Jazbaa, Aishwarya Rai’s recent comeback vehicle, where Anu Verma (Rai) is doing yoga, using a port wall as a plank. It’s a very Zen-slash-martial-arts moment, meant to suggest latent menace, the feeling that this essentially benign and non-violent person can, if need be, throw things around and generally be a badass. Of course, Bollywood being Bollywood, the truth is stranger than fiction: this is Rai’s first film since her pregnancy and the producer was obviously keen to point out that the leading lady still has a killer figure: just one of the many quintessentially Bollywood moments where the producer is also the director. But wait, the producer in this case is … Rai herself: cue a conversation between the actor and the actor/producer in said actor/producer’s vanity van. Who do we blame, then?
We blame Korea, of course: for Jazbaa is the official remake of a South Korean thriller called Seven Days. Damn you, Korea, for your perfectly plotted psychological thrillers, your horrific serial killer flicks and your downright creepy horror films. We hate you because you are the unsung heroes of Asian cinema and because we have all watched Oldboy’s hammer fight sequence dozens of times on YouTube and show no signs of getting over it. You give us dreams of a Bollywood that could be slick and dangerous instead of over-the-hill, over-the-top and wimpy. And then, when our inept efforts at replication embarrass us, you hire some smug-faced critic to write that we made a mockery of the original or some such tripe. It’s a smart plan, Korea, we’ll give you that.
Take Jazbaa, for instance. Here’s a film that had plenty of things going for it, despite a lead who has never quite convinced us of her acting chops. It builds up tension smartly in the first half, boasts of a competent baddie and a more than decent supporting act in the irrepressible Irrfan Khan. By the halftime mark, you are almost ignoring Rai’s shrillness and the occasional bit of silly dialogue. But then, Bollywood had to take over: upping the melodrama to suffocating heights, introducing plot twists that were never there in the original, placing at least one heart-rending shriek per five minutes or so. Why, you ask? Why, Korea, of course: Korea’s pitch-perfect plainness, the overwhelming ordinariness of its on-screen atrocities forces poor Bollywood simpletons like Sanjay Gupta (the director of Jazbaa) to change things for the benefit of Indian audiences.
It’s a case of hit and trial, you see. Earlier, Gupta had tried to tone down the Koreans rather than make his “remakes” even more dramatic than the originals; I add the quotes because Jazbaa is actually the first official remake that Gupta has made, following in the footsteps of “inspired” fare such as Kaante and Zindaa. The latter was a rip-off of Oldboy, that prince among revenge thrillers.
We blame Korea, of course: for Jazbaa is the official remake of a South Korean thriller called Seven Days. Damn you, Korea, for your perfectly plotted psychological thrillers, your horrific serial killer flicks and your downright creepy horror films. We hate you because you are the unsung heroes of Asian cinema and because we have all watched Oldboy’s hammer fight sequence dozens of times on YouTube and show no signs of getting over it.
But while the original had stylised gore, blood by the bucketfuls and a riveting, sick-to-the-stomach story, we had John Abraham, who was playing the Brylcreem heir, by the look of his hair. Oldboy is about a man who is kept in captivity for 15 years, and one of the major plot twists in the film is that a girl who the prisoner falls for upon his release is his own daughter. This completes the revenge of his captor, a man whose sister was having an incestuous affair with him. But Bollywood being Bollywood, of course, we omitted the entire basis of the story, namely incest. Oh, and we also, added a soft rock Strings song for emotional padding.
There’s also the case of Mohit Suri’s Ek Villain, an uncredited remake of I Saw the Devil, a Korean serial killer film. Suri is another director in the Sanjay Gupta mode: he knows how to tell a good story. Pacing has never been an issue with him and he is high on style as well. But just like Gupta, he does not seem to understand that stylised violence alone cannot sustain a film, unless your style is breathtakingly original. Also, the villain in the original was played to perfection by Choi Min-sik (who also played the prisoner in Oldboy, incidentally), but Ek Villain had a hammy, henpecked Riteish Deshmukh who squandered the best role he received for years. Once again, Korea, you baited us with an alluring story and duped us into making a turkey.
But no more, I say. Bollywood has wised up and never again shall we fall into the same trap. Besides, Mr. Bhatt has tipped us off about Malaysian soap operas. Apparently, they’re the bomb. So long, Korea, and thanks for the fake blood.