Two good-for-nothing young guys and their down-on-luck friend join a morally sound, schizophrenic kidnapper with a heart of gold. The four get mixed up with a bungled abduction of an uncorrupt minister’s son. Soon, the group find themselves at the mercy of a cop who does not speak, and is known for killing his targets.
This, in a nut-shell, is the premise of Soodhu Kavvum, a critical and commercial Tamil hit from 2013. In 2017, we see Soodhu Kavvum ripped off as Chupan Chupai — and boy, are its producers gutsy. According to producer Ray Khan, “Chupan Chupai is a remake of a very popular film.” What Khan fails to mention is that neither the production nor any of its official material (including poster art) credit the film as a remake.
The information came out in hushed whispers a few days before the film’s release, as if somebody introduced the concept of legality to the filmmakers. To clarify, there is nothing wrong with remaking a film. The problem is keeping that fact to one’s self, and hoping no one would notice. After all, who watches lesser known Tamil films, right?
Like everyone else without prior knowledge of Soodhu Kavvum, I too was duly duped when I came out of the cinema. Chupan Chupai had a lot going for it. Some comedy, a decent enough plot, a speedy pace and a unique spin on the hero-heroine angle (Neelam Muneer plays a figment of Ahsan Khan’s imagination, and the two characters seem genuinely in love).
Chupan Chupai has a very brisk, twist-laden story. But there’s a reason its twists and the pace do not match the natural narrative style of Pakistani films
Yes, there were some problems: for example, the incessant background score hardly turns down its volume or that the characters seemed one-dimensional and had no backstories. But none of this is out of the ordinary for commercial Pakistani cinema.
Regardless of the fact, I felt a mixture of bafflement and surprise. Surprise because Chupan Chupai had a very brisk, twist-laden story. Bafflement, because these twists and the pace do not match the natural narrative style of Pakistani films.
For those inclined to argue, yes, Pakistani films do have a definite narrative style that is quite different from our next door neighbours. Different geographies create different mindsets, which ultimately influence the pace and execution of a film. A screenplay simultaneously being made into film in America, the Great Britain and Australia would have stylistic and narrative divergences, even if the words on the page remain unchanged.
Remakes hardly ever challenge this rule. For example, Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002) is basically a picture-perfect remake of the Japanese Ringu (1998) but despite their near-identical screenplays, tonally, both are miles apart.
Chupan Chupai, on the other hand, is perhaps the most blatant, unapologetic plagiarism I’ve seen in my entire life. Forget about lifting the story — the screenplay, dialogue, camera angles, shot-sizes, edit points, placement of songs, even two-second insert shots are exactly the same as in the Tamil film. Even the production design double-checks from the original (for those who have seen Chupan Chupai, notice the placement of furniture in scenes). It was as if the filmmakers play-and-paused the source film on set while shooting theirs. If this were a real life exam, one would call the act cheating.
Unfortunately, even copy-pasting requires intelligence. When I saw Chupan Chupai, I felt the interval point could have been far more dramatic had it been shifted five minutes further into the story. But lo and behold, Soodhu Kavvum had the same mistake; the scene, and the interval, plays out the same way.
To be fair, some points do diverge. The runtime between the two films varies by seven minutes (unfortunately, this is because the Tamil film has two scenes that develop the characters which have been cut from Chupan Chupai). In some scenes, either the characters or the camera trade places from the right side of the frame to the left. A world of a difference this does not make.
This brings me to the crux of this review. How does one evaluate a film on its merits when every frame of it is pilfered without a shred of remorse or guilt? Does one talk about Chupan Chupai’s high points or the lack of their acknowledgement from Soodhu Kavvum?
If Chupan Chupai’s was an official adaptation, most of the arguments above would lose some weight. As an “unofficial” rip-off, one questions the creative aspects of the entire enterprise, including to a degree, the actor’s margin of performance.
Ahsan Khan is likable with his film star aura; but then again, this is not his first feature film. Neelam Muneer feels a bit awkward as his cosplaying girlfriend (probably because she has to sit on his lap in every other scene). Vajdaan Shah, Ali Rizvi, Zayed Sheikh, Faizan Khawaja, Rehan Sheikh range from mediocre to fine. Adnan Jaffar is hilarious in parts as the hardcore cop who deliberately doesn’t speak. Talat Hussain is a godsend because he, at least, brings some gravitas to his role.
So far, Pakistani cinemas has been blessed with filmmakers who strive for original content. Even Raasta (’90s Bollywood-ish), Thora Jee Lay (youth and rediscovery of one’s self) or Saya-e-Khudae Zuljalal, their atrociousness aside, didn’t plumb the depths to theft. The only recent example of an “inspiration” (again, an uncredited one) is Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hai — a rehash of Akele Hum Akele Tum and Kramer Vs Kramer. However, even that movie added its own spin to the story.
While one cannot credit the writers of Chupan Chupai for originality (the screenplay and dialogue are all copy-pasted), a good chunk of it is engaging within the bounds of mediocrity. People will laugh, yes, but the credit is unfortunately someone else’s.
Published in Dawn, ICON, January 7th, 2018