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Why I won't watch Zinda

By Raja Sen
Last updated on: January 20, 2006 14:58 IST
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Dear Mr Sanjay Gupta,

I haven't yet had the pleasure of making your acquaintance, but I decided not to let that tiny detail stand in the way of what I feel is an important communication. Let me start by informing you that I have not watched Zinda, and that I do not intend to -– for very specific reasons.

First of all, I haven't yet recovered from the Kaante trauma. Unsuspectingly opting for the film in the UK a couple of years ago, I hadn't heard the Reservoir Dogs buzz at all, and was totally shocked at the blatant lifts from Dogs, Usual Suspects, and even, perplexingly, Swordfish.

Suffice it to say that watching Sanjay Dutt literally translate (and slaughter) Michael Madsen's immortal line ('Are you gonna bark all day, little doggy, or are you gonna bite?') for Amitabh Bachchan's benefit, with English subtitles on screen to emphasise the replication, was one of the most surreal experiences I've ever had in a movie theatre.

Anyway, your latest film has opened to good reviews, and that isn't surprising. Very briefly, during a press conference at the Goa Film Festival last month, you categorically told me you've lifted one scene from Chan-wook Park's astonishing Korean film, Oldboy. The rest of the film, you assure me, is a whole different story. Friends familiar with the original laugh, and rush to declare this not to be the case, and, having watched a few rushes on screen, I am inclined to believe them. Especially given your track record.

The thing, sir, is this. If you take a fascinating scene from a great film and duplicate it frame by frame to the tiniest possible detail, it's a certainty that the finished product will look good. Hence the reviews. I applaud the strides you have taken in terms of slick production values and groundbreaking soundtracks, but the lack of originality in your films is tragic.

What good is your film if it's already been made before? Why the urge to photocopy scripts and storyboards instead of actually writing them? The finished product is an unauthorised remake, a rip-off that claims it's original: a line any member of a DVD library finds hilarious.

We're all told to follow our idols. But when you set out to tread in the footsteps of Quentin Tarantino, you aren't meant to do it as literally. Do what he does, but not by making his films. When Quentin was blown away by Zhang Yimou's Hero, he gushed and raved and brought the film to America, where he delighted scores of film lovers across the country, keeping his gigantic ego in place simply by the 'Quentin Tarantino presents' tag.

Cinema belongs to no one, Mr Gupta, and when we watch a film that excites us, we want to share. There is a school of thought which actually says that you are being altruistic, by remaking films most Indians have never seen, and 'bringing them good cinema.' I disagree vehemently. When Tarantino is thrilled by something like Iron Monkey, he doesn't make a version of it himself, he just makes sure enough people in the US know about it when he re-releases it.

It would be incredible if you pioneered such efforts here in India, ensuring people get to see quirky, incredible, violent, earth-shattering films in theatres, instead of just the standard Hollywood popcorn fare. Get Sanju to redub them in his groovy voice, have rocking press-conferences, talk about why the movie is so special. Fans will freak out. I'll wear a 'Sanjay Gupta Rocks' t-shirt, I swear.

On the other hand, when you watch Mr Park's brilliant film, the one awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, you decide to copy-paste it into a remake as fast as possible (Wow! You've actually beaten Hollywood to it) and slap on a 'Written And Directed By Sanjay Gupta' tag on it. You're spending crores on giving us a cheap, inevitably watered-down knock-off.

We are both fans of Tarantino, and he is nothing if not entirely unique. Kill Bill is a masterpiece, a pastiche of a million films he's loved, but the final product is as novel as it can get, as opposed to being a lift.

Cinema is all about originality, but if individual expression isn't important to you and you are content remaking films you've loved, please speak to the men whose films you adore and get your film certified as a registered remake. You owe them that much, and, more often than not, they'll appreciate your efforts.

As I said, I refuse to watch Zinda. Not just because I've watched and worshipped Oldboy, but I find this style of flagrant plagiarism so reprehensible that I, personally, refuse to endorse it, to give you any of my money by buying a ticket.

You know what the scary thing is, Mr Gupta? I'm not alone.


Raja Sen

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