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Money-losing Bollywood running out of original storylines

With audiences spurning recent releases, directors are turning to the past in their search for the next blockbuster, with remakes of several classic films in the works


A dearth of original storylines and a series of box-office flops with unconventional themes is pushing India's Bollywood film producers to play it safe.

A series of remakes of classics from the 1970s and 1980s are set to hit subcontinental theaters in coming months.

Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan acts in a remake of 1970s hit film Don, which starred legend Amitabh Bachchan.

Reigning beauty queen Aishwarya Rai takes the lead role in Umraojaan (the name of a dancer), which was a box-office hit and a critically acclaimed movie in the mid-1980s.

"There is a shortage of original subjects in Bollywood today," says Amod Mehra, film and trade analyst.

"Producers probably find safety in picking on something already touched earlier. We are going the Hollywood way ... they too went about remaking classic Hollywood films," he said.

Bachchan himself will star in a remake of his 1975 mega-hit Sholay (Flames), now to be directed by Bollywood maverick Ram Gopal Varma, who produced a recent success with Bachchan again in Sarkar (Government).

Bollywood has seen a spate of unconventional films dealing with adultery, socio-political issues, period heroes, the supernatural, sci-fi, sex and urban lifestyles.

"Unconventional films are gaining momentum but with a limited audience. It will take some time for them to entrench along with a typical commercial film," Mehra said.

"In some cases fresh ideas exist but writers are not capable of converting these into good film scripts. Hence producers feel it is time to stick to a formula and remake old Bollywood classics."

The trend began with this year's release of Parineeta, a winner in 1950s. The movie did average business. Paheli (Puzzle) quickly followed in June. It was based on a "re-imagining" of Duvidha (Problem) which was released in the early 1970s.

Now five other films, Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam (Sir, Wife and Servant), Arth (Meaning) Don, Umraojaan and Sholay are in the works.

However the remake formula is not a guarantee of success.

Over the years, Hollywood remakes have often disappointed, with key failures being three versions of The Prisoner of Zenda, the 1998 version of Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 classic Psycho, Japanese monster movie Godzilla and a 2001 version of Planet of the Apes, which originally starred Charlton Heston in 1968.

The pundits are struggling to predict what works for Bollywood today.

In 2002, just one movie horror flick Raaz (Secret) scored a real hit. In 2003, it was sci-fi theme Koi Mil Gaya (Found Someone), based loosely on Steven Spielberg's ET.

Last year, sex and relationship-based flicks hit Indian screens, but one of the biggest hits was gang-biker movie Dhoom (Wild Time).

"No one knows what works today at the box office," Bollywood analyst Taran Adarsh said. "The movies which did well this year are from completely different genres."

They included Black about a physically challenged girl, Bunty Aur Bubbly, a Bonnie and Clyde influenced movie and Sarkar, inspired by Hollywood blockbuster The Godfather.

Shah Rukh Khan is talking up the remake mould.

"I grew up watching Don and I wanted to be a hero after watching it. It is like a tribute and today's children may enjoy the story retold. It may draw flak but will start a new trend of remaking old classics," he said.

Ram Gopal Varma, set to remake Sholay is also tripping down memory lane.

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