I have been waiting with almost breathless anticipation for the film Dabangg ( 2010, dir. Abhinav Kashyap) --and I think that's pretty much an interesting reflection on how my feelings about its star, Salman Khan, have changed in the last few years.
Because there was a time, not too long ago, when I'd pretty much avoid anything with Salman Khan in it -- and then came this shift. I'm not sure I can put my finger on what it is exactly, but I think it's a combination of a few things. First, there was Partner (2007, dir. David Dhawan) -- I watched it for Govinda, but was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually enjoyed Salman's turn as the Love Guru more than Will Smith's original in Hutch. And the buddy relationship with Govinda was just delightful. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I am immensely grateful to the Khan brothers for standing by Govinda and giving his career a shot in the arm when it needed it badly.
So there was that. And then, there was last year's Wanted (2009, dir. Prabhu Deva). I'd pretty much decided that Partner was a glitch in my Salman watching, and hadn't planned on going, but changed my mind, and oh, I was ever so glad I did. I loved it. It was an incredible amount of fun, and got me thinking that if Salman was willing to play with his badboy tough guy image, and maybe draw on the South Indian hero type to reinvent himself a little, well, this was a place I was willing to go with him.
Which meant I was immensely pleased when all the promos started for Dabangg, because it looked like, once again, the team behind this film, including producer Arbaaz Khan and the film's star Salman Khan -- it looked like they were playing on that Southie film style once more, and it was looking like the film would be an enormous romp.
(I'll admit it, too: as an unabashed fan of Anurag Kashyap (SUBLIMINAL MESSAGE: SOMEONE PLEASE ARRANGE IT SO I CAN ATTEND A SCREENING OF THAT GIRL IN YELLOW BOOTS AT TIFF THIS YEAR. I TRIED, OH I TRIED TO BUY TICKETS BUT THE ONLINE ORDERING SYSTEM CRASHED. PLEASE OH PLEASE OH PLEASE OH PLEASE) I'm kind of curious what his brother Abhinav will do in his directorial debut.)
That said: I kind of had this tickling at the back of my head, wondering if Dabangg might be another remake of a South Indian film, as Wanted had been. Now, I don't have a problem with remakes, as long as credit is given where it's due, and the folks doing the remake manage to retain the essential sensibility of the story in doing so. But I'm still curious to see how films get remade and changed to suit slightly different audiences.
And when I first went searching, I could find no trace of anything for Dabangg -- until recently, that is, until the promos for the film really started to shift into gear. And that's when the rumour started going around that the film was a remake of the 2003 Tamil film Saamy, directed and written by Hari and starring Vikram and Trisha.
I know the Vikram posse out there is more than familiar with his films, including this one -- but I'd only seen bits of it, so decided to make an effort to see it to see what I thought about the remake rumours.
Saamy (=God, but also the name of Vikram's character, which affords much wordplay during the film) is about a District Commissioner of Police -- an honest man who finds himself forced to work the system of corruption and bribery in order to more effectively serve the local population of the latest town he's been transferred to -- those transfers being the result of him trying to resist the corruption and remain honest, something that just wasn't working for him.
Saamy's rule is this: he takes only from the bad guys, and uses the bribe money to help those who need it most. And he manipulates the system only so that he can deal with the local don, Perumal Pichai.
And along the way, he falls in love with Bhuvana (Trisha) and marries her.
The film is well crafted and well written -- no loose ends left dangling, and there's even a subplot involving the brother-in-law of Bhuvana, the local priest who goes around delivering social commentary, mostly on the problems of the caste system and the importance of education, in the guise of comic relief.
But mostly? Saamy is a film about style -- it established a new genre of stylish police films that apparently did not match the success of the original.
So what is Saamy style?
Yes, you've got it. Essentially? Saamy is saamy. God. And when he's not fighting the bad guys? He's dancing with his lady love Bhuvana:
All this, however, does not answer the essential question: is Dabangg a remake of Saamy? As an aside, there has been a Telugu remake of Saamy, called Lakshmi Narasimha, which plays with the story a bit, while seeming to retain its essential Robin Hood core.
Yeah, I wrote Robin Hood -- it's going to be hard to avoid, what with the fact that Salman Khan's character in Dabangg is Chulbul Pandey, AKA "Robin Hood Pandey":
Well. Obviously I can't know until I see the film when it opens next week. And reading the plot summary for Dabangg, I'd hazard a guess and say that the film is certainly inspired by Saamy's central premise of a purportedly corrupt cop working the system to benefit others, else why play with that idea of "Robin Hood Pandey"? But there seem to be enough changes to the essential framework of the story that I'm guessing that we're not dealing with a frame by frame remake. And the film certainly seems to play with the Saamy style -- in a way that makes me very happy actually.
I will confess, though: the one thing I don't want to see happening is a whole bunch of people complaining about Hindi films remaking South Indian ones, and comparing Vikram to Salman Khan and finding one or the other or either film wanting. Mostly, I'm writing this and thinking about it because I'm curious -- I really enjoyed Saamy, and I'm betting that Dabangg will be just as much a romp as I'm hoping it will be based on that trailer. I can watch both films and enjoy them and not need to find one or the other wanting in some way. Same but different is fine by me.