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January 23, 1999


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M D Riti

A still from Thayi Saheb. Click for bigger pic!
To make or just remake. This is the question that Kannada film-makers are now considering as they face the slings and arrows of outrageous financial fortune.

For many years now the Kannada movie scene has been dominated by films copied from those in other languages. And at times every frame is copied even in the detail. Some years ago, the Karnataka government decided that this trend was responsible for the falling standards of the industry, and so it declared remakes ineligible for subsidies and tax rebates.

Now, the Kannada film industry faces an all-time low, beset by all kinds of problems ranging from empty halls to poor quality fare and lack of funding. The state government has attempted some fire-fighting with its recently announced film policy. Seven years ago, it had declared remakes of other language films ineligible for the 100 per cent entertainment tax exemption that all Kannada films are otherwise entitled to.

The new film policy revokes this ban, and remakes are also now eligible for tax rebate. However, only high quality original films are eligible for a subsidy from the government.

This new policy has divided the Kannada film industry into two distinct camps, pro- and anti-remakes. Amongst those now favouring remakes are producers like Rockline Venkatesh and Dhanraj as well as actor (and sometimes producer) Ravichandran, who has starred in the maximum number of Kannada remakes.

"Remakes and copies will now come into the open, that's all," says Dhanraj, who has at least 10 remakes under his belt and has bought the rights for another three that he hopes to deliver this year.

Rajendra Singh Babu
"Until now, film-makers were just adapting hits from other languages and passing them off as originals, even claiming huge subsidies from the government. I think the government will save at least Rs 10 lakhs (Rs one million) in subsidies with this new move.

"I am completely in favour of remakes: after all, they are keeping the Kannada film industry active at a bad time like this. Redoing a popular film from another language gives you at least a 90 per cent chance of box office success. Most of us producers are businessmen: instead of making films that win awards, we would rather be able to repay our backers."

Adds Ravichandran, whose very first super hit, Prema Loka, a copy of Grease 2 made a decade ago, "It's not that I am against original scripts or stories. Any story that provides spectators entertainment -- whether original or copied -- should be encouraged. We cannot help repeating certain stories and characters since the audience loves them. After all, it is our duty, in the entertainment business, to please audiences. We keep trying get good stories, but are not always successful, so we choose the best films from other languages for our audiences."

Ravichandran's second hit film, Ranadheera, also released almost a decade ago, was a remake of the Jackie Shroff-starrer Hero and his other all-time favourite, Annayya, was a remake of the Hindi Beta. All his three consecutive hits in 1998 were remakes: Yaaru Nee Cheluve (a remake of the Tamil film Kaadal Kottai), Mangalyam Thanthunanenu (from the Telugu original) and Preethisod Thappa (from the Telugu original Ninne Pelladatha).

Shivaraj Kumar. Click for bigger pic!
Rockline Venkatesh is the producer of these films, and understandably supports Ravichandran's stand, as he has already purchased the rights to several more hit Tamil and Telugu releases.

"These remakes are like giving audiences instant coffee or fast food instead of healthy, conventionally cooked food," says award-winning director Rajendra Singh (Babu), who just received the state government's Puttana Kanagal award for his film-making skills.

"Can you really believe that a state that has given the country six (this week, the number went up to seven with Girish Karnad) Jnanpith award winners has no good writers or original stories? We are known for making sober family entertainers. Our culture and traditions are being ruined by the import of vulgarity from other states. Besides, outside producers of these remakes pay our artistes and technicians more and get them used to different working conditions.

"Karnataka was at the forefront of the Indian cinema movement from 1974 to 1984, with the films of Girish Karnad, B V Karanth and others," continues Singh. "Remakes then killed the industry between 1984 and 1987, and turned audiences away from Kannada films. This is why remakes were declared ineligible for tax exemption. Giving original films subsidies is no great help, as films have to be completed, screened before a government committee and then get their money much later."

"There are so many original stories available that have excellent popular appeal," says actress Jayamala, who produced and played the lead in Thayi Saheb, directed by Girish Kasaravalli, which won the national award for the best feature film last year.

Ravichandran. Click for bigger pic!
"However, if the intention is to make a quick buck, then remakes are cheaper as you need waste no time on original screenplay or choreography. All you need is a good translator and the script of a popular film from some other language." Ironically, Jayamala, who is now married to award-winning cameraman M Ramachandra, entered Kannada cinema herself two decades ago with the second lead role in Premada Kanike, one of the earliest Kannada movie remakes (of the popular Tamil Ravichandran-starrer Justice Vishwanath).

Says another award-winning director T S Nagabharana, maker of much-acclaimed films like Nagamandala and Santha Shishunala Sharief : "We are now being encouraged to become an industry of borrowers, not creators."

Several other directors like K V Jayaram, Girish Siddalingiah, Kodlu Ramakrishna and P H Vishwanath, share his views.

However, other actors like Shivaraj Kumar, eldest son of evergreen superhero Rajkumar, and now one of the reigning kings of the Kannada screen, have chosen the middle path. "I have decided now that only one out of every six movies that I sign will be a remake," says Shivaraj.

"Previously, producers used to approach us with award-winning novels or popular magazine serials. Now, they carry around cassettes of other language films. I have acted in several remakes myself, and have been approached for another dozen. But I now feel its time we encouraged originality in the industry and did not allow it to sink into oblivion."

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