Hollywood and Bollywood: a double take

Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - 6:34pm

NOSELL

Yash Raj Films

I grew up watching Bollywood movies. I sang the songs even though I didn’t know what I was saying, I did the dances despite the fact that I couldn’t (and still can’t) dance and I watched the stories unfold onscreen, enthralled by the colors, the music and the beauty. It wasn’t until I was older, maybe a teenager, when my mom burst my naive childhood perception of Bollywood by saying: “You know these are all copies of American movies, right?” No. I did not know that. However, once I came to that realization and began watching some of those American movies, I was shocked by how similar they were. I decided to rewatch some of these Hollywood and Bollywood pairings to compare them and see just how similar they were once placed side by side.

“Hitch” (2005) and “Partner” (2007)

“Partner” is by far the most obvious remake of its Hollywood counterpart, “Hitch.” Both feature a “cool guy” who fixes up a “not-so-cool guy” with the girl of his dreams even though she’s way out of his league, while simultaneously falling in love himself. I mean, there are some scenes that are exact recreations of the original: the boardroom scene, the whistling scene, even the scene where Albert (Kevin James, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”) sprays water on his pants is exactly copied in “Partner” when the same thing happens to Bhaskar (Govinda, “Happy Ending”). The two films are so similar that the creators of “Hitch” may have threatened suit against the creators of “Partner.” 

There are some differences though, I’ll admit. For example, I don’t recall a five-minute segment of a missile chasing Alex (Will Smith, “Men in Black”) on a jet ski in “Hitch,” do you? Well, that did happen to Prem (Salman Khan, “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai”) in “Partner.” There also isn’t a mob boss who’s after Sara (Eva Mendes, “The Other Guys”) in “Hitch,” though there is one after Naina (Lara Dutta, “Don 2”). Despite the shocking similarities — and some glaring differences — “Partner” is much less refined than “Hitch.” Salman Khan cringily swaggers as a “love guru,” whereas Will Smith confidently strides in his role of the “date doctor.” Kevin James thoughtfully pauses in his character's attempt to win over Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta, “Gamer”), but Govinda thoughtlessly obsesses in his pursuit of Priya Jaisingh (Katrina Kaif, “Dhoom 3”). 

The characters in “Partner” feel like caricatures compared to their more mature and believable Hollywood counterparts. The whole film is a little ridiculous, complete with awful special effects and scenes that leave you in jaw-dropped horror due to the sheer awkwardness unfolding on screen. However, I’ll admit: It’s hilarious.  

“When Harry Met Sally” (1989) and “Hum Tum” (“Me and You,” 2004)

I know that there’s a Bollywood movie called “When Harry Met Sejal” that is a more obvious remake of the classic rom-com “When Harry Met Sally,” but “Hum Tum” is definitely the original remake. Similar to “When Harry Met Sally,” “Hum Tum” follows two characters who run into each other many times over the course of their lives until they fall in love. Not surprising in Bollywood, though, “Hum Tum” is much more unnecessarily dramatic than “When Harry Met Sally.” There were even parts of “Hum Tum” that my mom used to skip because she thought it would be too sad for us to watch. Another difference between the two films is that “Hum Tum” has a cartoon aspect in it; Karan’s (Saif Ali Khan, “Kal Ho Naa Ho”) comic book characters Hum and Tum fight and debate often on whether or not girls and boys can be just friends, which is of course, a common topic for debate in “When Harry Met Sally.” 

The relationship between Rhea (Rani Mukerji, “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai”) and Karan is a little more chaotic than Harry (Billy Crystal, “Forget Paris”) and Sally’s (Meg Ryan, “Sleepless in Seattle”), too. They “meet” more times and face more difficulties than their Hollywood versions because they don’t become friends for a while. And when they do become friends, Karan tries to set Rhea up with one of his friends, not realizing that she likes him. All in all, it is very dramatic. I won’t lie, though: Maybe it’s because I watched “Hum Tum” before I watched “When Harry Met Sally,” or maybe it’s because “Hum Tum” has some really great songs, but I like “Hum Tum” more. That might be blasphemous to Hollywood traditionalists, but I honestly don’t care. 

“John Tucker Must Die” (2006) and “Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl” (2011)

“John Tucker Must Die” is probably one of the best examples of a cliche high school rom-com. There’s a basketball star, a cheerleader, a shy nobody … basically all the essentials. “Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl” isn’t quite like that, I’ll admit, but there are some huge similarities, the most prominent being that there are three girls who team up and recruit a fourth girl to get revenge on a guy. The biggest difference, though? In “John Tucker Must Die,” the male protagonist is a high school playboy, and in “Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl” the guy is a high-stakes conman. So in “John Tucker,” the girls want revenge on John (Jesse Metcalfe, “Christmas Under the Stars”) because he was cheating on all three of them at the same time, but in “Ricky Bahl” the girls want to con Ricky to get their money back from him. 

These movies aren’t the exact same — that’s clear. But the endings of the films are probably what set them apart the most. “John Tucker” ends with Kate (Brittany Snow, “Pitch Perfect”) parting somewhat amicably with John Tucker and moving on to a different love interest, whereas “Ricky Bahl” closes with Ishika (Anushka Sharma, “Band Baja Baaraat”) and Ricky (Ranveer Singh, “Band Baja Baaraat”) beginning a genuine, con-free romantic relationship. These movies may be pretty different, but they’re similar enough that it’s hard not to draw comparisons between them. However, I’ll admit: “John Tucker Must Die” has that iconic rom com appeal which makes it a little more enjoyable and lighthearted than “Ricky Bahl.”

“Dead Poets Society” (1989) and “Mohabbatein” (“Love Stories,” 2000)

When I found out that people compared “Dead Poets Society” and “Mohabbatein,” I wasn’t sure that I agreed. After watching the films, I’m still not totally sure that I do. However, there are some obvious similarities that you can’t ignore. In both films, there is a teacher who has unconventional ideas and changes the lives of his students by teaching them to defy conformity. In “Dead Poets Society,” Mr. Keating (Robin Williams, “Mrs. Doubtfire”) teaches his students about individuality through literature and poetry … but in true Bollywood fashion, Raj Aryan (Shah Rukh Khan, “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham”) teaches his students about individuality through music and love. That isn’t entirely surprising, given the fact that the title “Mohabbatein” literally means “love stories.” “Dead Poets Society” is an incredible, meaningful film that has you sobbing by the end, but “Mohabbatein” is not even close to that. It’s three and a half hours of cheesy, forced love stories and very few good songs, which is what really makes it a Bollywood disappointment to me. The endings of these movies are also pretty different, because in “Dead Poets Society,” the traditionalist teachers get their way. In “Mohabbatein,” the traditional, love-hating headmaster Narayan Shankar (Amitabh Bachchan, “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham”) concedes his faults, and love triumphs. The perfect cheesy ending to a perfectly cheesy, perfectly superficial movie. 

“Romeo and Juliet” (1968, 1996, 2013, etc …) and “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham” (“Sometimes Happy, Sometimes Sad,” 2001)

Okay, okay, I’ll admit that this comparison is a little bit of a stretch, but it’s my favorite Bollywood movie so I had to mention it. And since people compare so many stories to “Romeo and Juliet” even when the stories aren’t the exact same, I thought it would be okay to make that comparison here too. “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham” is about a boy and a girl who have a “forbidden love story” because they are from different social statuses. And while there isn’t a lot of the drama that “Romeo and Juliet” has, there’s a lot of drama nonetheless. There may not be duels and sword fights, but there are hidden family secrets and deception. Throw in a multi-generational love story and you get one of the most-famous, most-quoted and most-loved Bollywood movies of the 21st century. And of course, Bollywood gives Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan, “Mohabbatein”) and Anjali (Kajol, “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai”), a favorite on-screen star couple, a happy ending unlike the tragic one that usually befalls Romeo and Juliet. Yes, it takes a little while for them to reach that ending (over three hours to be precise), but it’s well worth the wait.