I blogged once before about Karan Johar’s lovelorn and worshipful presentation of Shah Rukh Khan on screen. This was most obvious in the opening moments of Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna – the scene with SRK on the football field, scoring the winning goal. Johar took great care to shoot his Muse in such a way that his face would be hidden from audience view as long as possible; it was almost as if he couldn’t bear to share it with us. (When we finally got a front-on shot, we still couldn’t see SRK’s face because he had pulled his shirt up over it after scoring the goal!) Watching all this was a bit like encroaching on someone else’s private moments, and I felt genuinely uncomfortable. The eruption of the stadium crowd at the end was clearly a substitute for orgasm.
Or so I explained to a friend who angrily snapped back that I was being an over-analytical idiot as usual, and that this was in fact standard Hindi-movie treatment of its superstars – going back to the days where little weepy Master Mayur or Master Raju would leap off a bridge and a full-grown Amitabh would land on the train chugging beneath.
Now, after watching the trailer for Farhan Akhtar’s Don remake with Shah Rukh in the lead role, I have to gloomily admit that maybe the symptom does extend beyond Karan Johar movies. “Teaser” might be a better word for this trailer, since the whole thing was built on the principle of gradually revealing parts of SRK’s (leather-clad) anatomy while keeping his face out of sight, or shadowed. It was like those multi-part Godzilla trailers where you caught tantalizing glimpses of a giant eye or foot or tail, but never the whole lizard at once.
At any rate, the gleaming visuals, computer-generated effects and sleek black suits on display in this new Don seem to put it firmly in the Matrix/Mission Impossible league; it was hard to relate it in any way to the beloved 1970s Bachchan starrer. Until, that is, I heard the familiar strains of “Main Hoon Don” (even if in an unfamiliar remix format) playing in the background. Very briefly, all was right with the world.
Last year, when plans for the Don remake were announced, I had a minor argument about it with a friend. For some reason (the problems of music copyright perhaps), we had assumed that the remake would have completely different songs, even if their contexts remained the same. I was put off by the idea. He wasn’t. “What’s the big deal?” he said. “The story is the same. Don doesn’t have to be all about ‘Khaike Paan Banaraswaale’ or a couple of other songs, melodious though they are.”
But in a sense, of course it does. Commercial Hindi cinema of the 1970s was more about a pastiche of eye-popping scenes and vignettes (including song sequences) than about the coherent forward movement of a plot (which was the least important element in those films anyhow). When a mainstream Hindi movie has a great, or even reasonably good, soundtrack, it becomes nearly impossible to separate the film from its songs over a passage of time. Why should a remake with completely different music be considered a remake at all? And it’s not like there was anything so unique about the story in the first place.
When I first watched the original Don, as a child, the music didn’t figure very strongly on my radar – what mattered was watching Amitabh scowl, saunter, rage, goof and fight his way through the film. But many years elapsed before I saw the film a second time (on cable TV) and in the intervening period I heard the songs very often, so that they became representative of the film for me. Consequently, when I did see Don again, I was almost disappointed by the visuals that accompanied the songs: excellent as Amitabh was for much of the film, the vibrant voice in the title track was all too clearly Kishore Kumar’s, and the lip-synching was shoddy and unconvincing. When Helen gyrated in the “Yeh Mera Dil” number, I kept seeing Asha Bhonsle’s face (and Asha Bhonsle’s face atop a gyrating body doesn’t make for a pretty picture).
All this is a way of saying that sceptical though I am about the idea of a Don remake (or an Umrao Jaan remake for that matter), I’m glad they’re retaining the original soundtracks (assuming the tunes aren’t completely massacred). Modern-day Bollywood is so obsessed with showing off its glossiness, being better-looking and more stylish than movies from an earlier age, that music is sometimes the only remaining link between originals and their “tribute-remakes”. (However, there are some links we don’t need: please, please let the remake not feature an unbilled “surprise cameo” by Amitabh...)