From snarky remarks regarding America's creaking Amtrak infrastructure to stoic refusal of Americans to read subtitles, the announcement of an English remake of the Korean thriller Train to Busan left many bemused on Twitter. "Lemme tell y’all something. This is gonna be trash. And I need y’all to read some subtitles and leave directing this genre of horror to Asian folks. You should not be touching this or Alive, because American film lacks this type of imagination," said one disgruntled Twitter user.
The conversation sparked by this movie announcement begs a pertinent question: Do we even need movie remakes when OTT platforms have democratised content, even more so since the onset of Covid pandemic? Movie remakes are even more relevant for Indian cinema considering how much the industries feed off each other. South Indian remakes by the Hindi film industry have resurrected many careers and the reverse has been true to a certain extent.
But, for good or bad, Covid feels like a game changer and resorting to remakes feels borderline lazy more than ever before. A recent instance was the frame to frame remake of Dhanush-starrer Asuran in Telugu with Venkatesh as Narappa. The remake isn't bad as such but the movie has this blithe indifference to it that suggests that the director (Srikanth Addala) was sure about a faithful remake being enough for something going straight to OTT. When even the lighting pattern and costumes are copied, does the movie even need to get made in the first place? Funnily, both Asuran and Narappa are available on Amazon Prime.
Obviously, not all remakes are duds. If done right, they can be woozy masterpieces. For instance, Martin Scorsese's delightfully insane remake of Infernal Affairs, The Departure, earned him his first Oscar.
Covid has altered movie viewing at least for the next three years. While I don't have a crystal ball to gaze into, I would wager that multiplexes will survive but their heydays seem to be well behind them. Big-ticket releases will still land in multiplexes because OTT platforms lack the financial muscle to buy out lavishly mounted movies. However, low-to-mid budget cinema will mostly find a home at the OTT platforms because one might not be inclined to risk it to go to the cinema at a time when booster doses might be the norm across the world.
Such an uncertain situation gives rise to a chicken and egg situation, which also bodes well for the future of Indian cinema. Should remakes still be churned out until each movie industry reaches its critical mass where the audience is actively seeking out original content with subtitles or in a country as diverse as India remakes will continue to rule the roost? There are no easy answers but Malayalam cinema might have a point or two to make.
While the rest of the country's movie industries buy remake rights from Malayalam studios, the industry rarely produces a remake. That rigour came in handy for the industry during Covid. While rest of the movie industries have been scraping the bottom of the barrel to get hold of decent content, Malayalam cinema gave us plenitude of excellent movies; including Joji, which got a rave review from the hard-to-please New Yorker critic Richard Brody. "There’s finally a movie that integrates the pandemic gracefully and intelligently into its story," writes Brody.
At a time when the awareness is growing, even in Tier-2 and -3 cities, about brilliant cinema that can be viewed with subtitles, it's high time big bucks are spent on getting hold of arresting content.