Bollywood is a juggernaut in Indian cinema. Exponentially more prolific than Hollywood and with explosive box office returns to boot, Bollywood continues to grow every year. Unfortunately, the Mumbai-based industry is currently fighting an unsavory reputation of copycat filmmaking. Interestingly enough, much of the negativity and ire stems from domestic audiences who reject the untamed culture of movie plagiarism. Indeed, Bollywood battles its lesser known invective: Copywood. Despite the many wonderful movies and talented celebrities that Bollywood has developed, Indian Cinema stands at a crossroads between the beaten path and forging a new one.
However egregious some of Bollywood’s “adaptations” may be, it must be said that many American movies often thought to be original are simply replicas of foreign hits. The Departed drew heavily from the Hong Kong film, Infernal Affairs, and The Magnificent Seven wouldn’t exist without Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, to name a few. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, so long as the originators receive ample credit.
Here are the 15 Biggest Bollywood Copies Of Hollywood Classics:
15. Mrs. Doubtfire – Chachi 420
Mrs. Doubtfire is a classic American film and a hallmark of the 1990s. It featured Robin Williams at the height of his comedic powers and a moviegoing populace starved for the funnyman’s latest adventure. As it turns out, however, Williams was only one component of a far more lucrative recipe. Within four years of its release in 1993, Mrs. Doubtfire quickly spawned several foreign market adaptations. The Bollywood hit, Chachi 420, actually followed the Tamil remake, Avvai Shanmughi. Both films feature the central performance of Kamal Haasan, a man driven to extreme measures following a divorce with his wife, Janki. While many of the plot points remain the same across iterations, Chachi 420 puts a new spin on the American tale.
Among the added absurdities are a man running through the city while hiding behind a plant; a surprisingly erotic sequence where the disguised Chachi watches his ex-wife take a bubble bath; and an action scene that shows the titular cross-dresser perform incredible motorbike stunts across a freeway. To see Chachi hurtle over semi-trucks with such ease would make Evel Knievel himself blush with envy. Finally, after the harrowing conclusion that sees Janki fail in her suicide attempt (this movie does not mess around), Chachi reveals his true identity to her by busting open his shirt. The cupboard is bare, to Janki’s great surprise, and the Mrs. Doubtfire of Bollywood wins the day.
14. 12 Angry Men – Ek Ruka Hua Faisla
The pursuit of justice is universal. Sidney Lumet’s scorching courtroom drama 12 Angry Men set the bar high with its harrowing depiction of men confronting their personal biases to determine the fate of an unnamed defendant. As Juror 8, Henry Fonda’s level-headed character anchors the film and helps hold the other eleven jurors accountable. It’s Lee J. Cobb’s Juror 3 that threatens to upend Fonda’s rationality, a man who proves unable to ignore his own emotional past in deciding the defendant’s future. The film is widely considered to be among the best Hollywood has ever made, and it’s little wonder Bollywood wanted to adapt the story for their own domestic audience.
In Ek Ruka Hua Faisla, the story is nearly identical to the original. The stakes are just as high, the jurors just as irascible, and the high-octane conclusion virtually unchanged. Director Basu Chatterjee continued the theatrical feel of 12 Angry Men, allowing his actors to hit occasionally histrionic marks for heightened effect. Considering the material takes place in the same location for almost the entire film, Ek Ruka Hua Faisla is very much a stage play, but one that works uncommonly well. As it turns out, Sidney Lumet’s film was adapted for the big screen just three years after the story premiered on CBS as a live television production. Hollywood adapted itself, and Bollywood borrowed from the best.
13. On The Waterfront – Ghulam
“I coulda had class! I coulda been a contender!” Marlon Brando’s immortal words are among the best remembered in cinema. Imagine another reality: after pouring his guts out to his brother, Terry Malloy (Brando) gets out of the car and proceeds to dance in the rain. This fantasy scenario is brought to life in Ghulam, the Bollywood remake of On the Waterfront. While the central premise and characters are consistent in both films, Ghulam takes many liberties and incorporates quintessential Bollywood flare.
It is the home of the smash-hit song, “Aati Kya Khandala,” the song and dance number featuring Siddhu (Brando’s character, played by Aamir Khan) and Alisha (Eva Marie Saint’s character, played by Rani Mukerji). Considering the amount of shocking violence in the movie, dances like these come at the right time. Other scenes, like the over the top rain dance, “Aankhon Se Tune Kya,” strain credulity. While Ghulam owes a tip of the cap to On the Waterfront, it manages to distinguish itself from the Academy Award-winning film.
12. Rainman – Yuvvraaj
For all of the love audiences showed Rain Man, Indian audiences have seemed to turn their backs on the thinly disguised remake, Yuuvraaj. Sitting at a measly 4.1 on the Internet Movie Database, this Rain Man redux has been largely panned by critics and casual moviegoers alike. This article in particular is one of the most unrelenting and punishing critical appraisals of any film, ever. Given the backlash to Yuuvraaj, there seems to be a domestic rejection of Bollywood films that blatantly recycle successful American films.
This isn’t the first remake of a Tom Cruise movie. After all, Bollywood went to town on the James Mangold flick, Knight and Day, bringing it to local audiences under the title, Bang Bang! As for Yuuvraaj, the movie was made with the respected talents of director Subhash Ghai and actors Salman Khan, Anil Kapoor (Slumdog Millionaire) and Katrina Kaif. It might not carry the weight of the 1998 Barry Levinson-directed hit, but Yuuvraaj deserves a bit of leniency.
11. The Shawshank Redemption – 3 Deewarein
Though plagiarism has been a pandemic in Bollywood, 3 Deewarein (“three walls”) is a true piece of inspiration. While obviously influenced by The Shawshank Redemption, this prison drama enhances the original story’s focus on friendship and freedom by weaving extra layers of mystery. In addition to the main story of the three inmates, 3 Deewarein also introduces the welcome perspective of Chandrika (Juhi Chawla), a documentary filmmaker who records the daily life of the prisoners. Though she appears to be an ancillary character throughout much of the film, her memorable scenes at the end of the film vault her to hero status.
While most prison breaks will never top the thrillingly scatological finale of The Shawshank Redemption, 3 Deewarein inverts the conclusion in an eminently creative way. With an unexpected twist and a riveting escape, 3 Deewarein distinguished itself from Frank Darabont’s classic in admirable ways. This is a film Bollywood has been proud to claim as their own, and one that might even enhance its source material.
10. Scarface – Agneepath
Amitabh Bachchan is a Bollywood legend. You may remember him best in Baz Lurhmann’s The Great Gatsby, where he played the role of Meyer Wolfsheim opposite Leonardo DiCaprio. Long before the 2013 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary gem, Bachchan was tearing up the Bollywood scene. His 1990 film Agneepath affirmed his stardom through closely adhering to Brian DePalma’s crime epic, Scarface. The aesthetics took clear inspiration from the Miami-set thriller (the clothes are incontrovertibly similar, as is the synth-heavy soundtrack), Agneepath (literally, “the path of fire”) sets its hero, Vijay Chauhaun (Bachchan), on the warpath of revenge.
While comparisons should be made between Scarface and Agneepath, it’s worth noting that the 1990 Bollywood inspiration imbues more heart into the story. The protagonist has greater family and provincial ties, operating from a place of love even in acts of murder. By contrast, Al Pacino’s Tony Montana seems more governed by the raw powers of cocaine. Certain scenes and key moments are replicated, but to be fair, de Palma’s classic is a remake of the 1932 film, and Agneepath was recently rebooted yet again. The 2012 film starred Hrithik Roshan in a particularly grisly remake, with an ending not dissimilar from Tony Montana’s final blaze of glory.
9. Leon: The Professional – Bichhoo
Bichhoo is Leon: The Professional if Natalie Portman and Jean Reno were ten years older and completely in love. This unexpected and drastic age change culminated in the lengthy dance number, “Once You Fall In Love,” where Jeeva (Bobby Deol) and Kiran (Rani Mukerji) express their affection for one another on rooftops and beaches.
Though this Bollywood remake retains the essential components of Luc Besson’s classic story, Bichhoo does little to separate itself from Leon outside the added love story. Even a replica of Stansfield, Gary Oldman’s insane villain, arrives in the film with uncanny likeness (right down to the beige suit). Unfortunately, the baddie of Bichhoo is more caricature than character, and the gut-wrenching conclusion of Leon: The Professional is sloppily regurgitated in the remake. Bichhoo plagiarizes the Leon ending nearly shot-for-shot, right down to the camera movements, though it has only a fraction of original film’s emotional impact.
8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Kyon Ki
Bollywood cultivates an undying passion for love stories. In Kyon Ki, the 2005 film inspired by One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the tale of Randall McMurphy’s time in the psych ward becomes a patient/doctor romance. Imagine if the malevolent Nurse Ratched had a thing for McMurphy and the 1975 film became One Eloped Out of the Cuckold’s Nest. In all seriousness, Kyon Ki attempts to alter the single most important dynamic of Milos Forman’s Academy Award-winning movie. Turning the heated Ratched and McMurphy rivalry into a romance is like taking Sauron out of The Lord of the Rings: why bother going to Mordor?
Kyon Ki ups the ante with vibrant song and dance numbers, but it unintentionally creates a parody of the serious elements at play in a mental institution. Where Cuckoo’s Nest found the balance between humor and drama, Kyon Ki chooses a more comical route that takes the heart out of the story and turns its ensemble cast into a circus.
7. The Silence of the Lambs – Sangharsh
If The Silence of the Lambs won Best Picture for being an understated and thought provoking thriller, the Bollywood remake hit the afterburners and turned the volume up to 11. In Sangharsh, the Clarice (Jodie Foster) and Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) relationship is revised into a full-blown romance. The characters from the Jonathan Demme film are replaced by CBI Officer Reet Oberoi (Preity Zinta) and Aman Varma (Akshay Kumar), the wrongfully imprisoned professor booked on suspicion of killing children. Varma isn’t a flesh-eating monster who downs brains with Chianti. No, he’s just a rather creepy dude who can’t keep himself from acting like Hannibal Lecter.
However unfortunate Varma’s show of romance may be, it doesn’t hold a candle to the fear inducing scenes of Shankar Pandey (Ashutosh Rana). This is clearly the Bollywood stand-in for Buffalo Bill, but in Sangharsh, he’s the fanatical villain who kills children to achieve immortality. In the movie’s final scenes, Sangharsh pushes the envelope by having its cross-dressing child killer scream like a banshee. The rest of the film may borrow a bit heavily from Silence of the Lambs, but this terrifying scene deserves recognition.
6. Reservoir Dogs – Kaante
Let the record show that Quentin Tarantino really enjoyed the Bollywood remake of his cult hit, Reservoir Dogs. The auteur director not only had kind words for Kaante director Sanjay Gupta, but he praised the film for delving into the character backstories that the original didn’t have time to explore. While Kaante (literally, “thorns“) is heavily inspired by the American heist thriller, it also incorporates elements from Michael Mann’s Heat and Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects, making it the ultimate amalgam of ’90s crime epics.
Though a product of Bollywood, Kaante is set in Los Angeles and contains a good deal of English dialogue. Certain scenes between Major (Amitabh Bachchan) and Baali (Mahesh Manjrekar) oscillate between languages to perfect effect for zingers like, “You’re a sick man. You’re sick!” Kaante owes its success to Tarantino’s impeccable story, but Sanjay Gupta and his all-star cast clearly elevated the source material in newfound ways.
5. Hitch – Partner
The Bollywood remake of Hitch may be a two and a half hour rom-com saga, but its real-life journey is even more tiresome. The producers of Partner were nearly forced to pay $30 million to Sony Pictures and Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment for copying the 2005 original. Though the case never went to trial, the Hollywood constituents between Hitch were awarded international broadcasting rights to the remake of their blockbuster hit.
Considering the final scene of Hitch was a blowout dance number, it’s not surprising Bollywood saw a financial and creative opportunity. Partner makes only slight alterations to the story, in which”love-guru” Prem (Bollywood legend Salman Khan) teaches Bhaskar Chaudry (Govinda) how to woo women. Partner even has a similar jet-ski sequence to the original, though the creators do add a dangerous heat-seeking missile to the fray. The film is also crammed with added songs like, “Do You Wanna Partner?” and “You’re My Love.” These moments help distinguish Partners from its source material, but ultimately, the similarities cannot be overlooked.
4. My Cousin Vinny – Banda Yeh Bindass Hai
Bollywood producers have come under fire from Hollywood many times, but the 2011 remake of My Cousin Vinny proved the most problematic. Director Ravi Chopra refashioned the comedy and wrote what he claimed was a heavily revised script, then set out to shoot the movie with the alleged approval of My Cousin Vinny‘s producers. After a series of distribution negotiations, however, the film was delayed and ultimately saddled with a lawsuit from 20th Century Fox. The Hollywood studio claimed Banda Yeh Bindass Hai was a straight rip-off of the 1992 Joe Pesci classic and sought damages, ultimately being awarded $200,000 (down from their $1.4 million claim).
Given the miscommunication between corporate entities and the purported plagiarism, Banda Yeh Bindass Hai is an unfortunate example of inspiration gone wrong. Though the movie reunited Bollywood legends Salman Khan with his Partner co-star, Govinda, the My Cousin Vinny still sits in the vault of BR Films awaiting a theatrical release years after its completion.
3. Dead Poet’s Society – Mohabbatein
If you set Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in an all boy’s prep school, and added in some song and dance numbers, you’d get Mohabbatein. Still, the Bollywood hit drew much from Dead Poet’s Society, namely from the central protagonist of John Keating (Robin Williams). In the 1989 Peter Weir classic, Keating serves as a sort of educational rabbi for his students, awakening their hearts and minds to life, learning and love. His unconventional methods stand in stark contrast to the oppressively conservative traditions of the academy.
In Mohabbatein, this dynamic manifests in Raj (Shah Rukh Khan), the music teacher who threatens to change the cold worldview of headmaster Naryan Shankar (Amitab Bachchan in a career-reviving role). Just as John Keating taught his boys the value of “carpe diem,” Raj shows his pupils how to win the hearts of women. Though the comparisons between the two properties are deserved, Mohabbatein is very much a product of its culture and its talented director, Aditya Chopra.
2. Philadelphia – Phir Milenge
Despite the inherent differences between American and Indian culture, some stories can successfully traverse international boundaries. In 1993, Philadelphia arrived on the scene about a decade after the AIDS crisis first reached national awareness. The Jonathan Demme-directed courtroom drama delivered powerful performances from Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks, the latter of whom won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1994. Philadelphia spoke not only to the gravity of the AIDS epidemic, but to the cultural and social backlash to those infected with the disease.
In 2004, Bollywood producers saw an opportunity to translate the Philadelphia story in India, home to the third-highest HIV epidemic across the globe. While continuing the original film’s core story of oppression and injustice, Phir Milenge tells the story of Tamanna Sahni (Shilpa Shetty), a successful ad-agency executive who has a one-night stand with an old flame, Rohit (Salman Khan). When Tamanna later learns that she has contracted HIV, the news that spreads like wildfire and leads to her eventual firing from the advertising firm. Directed by popular Indian actress, Revathi, Phir Milenge (literally, “we will meet again“) is a thoughtfully-told adaptation of Jonathan Demme’s powerhouse drama.
1. The Godfather – Sarkar
“When the system fails…a power will rise.” So begins the reverent Bollywood remake of Francis Ford Coppola’s crowning achievement, The Godfather. Ram Gopal Varma, director of Sarkar, has unequivocally admitted to crafting his film as an “homage” to the Corleone crime classic. With Bollywood film icon Amitabh Bachchan in the title role, Sarkar (literally, “overlord”) adheres strictly to the successful themes of The Godfather while adding levels of intrigue and culture from the streets of Mumbai. It’s a grittier world than that of the Corleones, and the opening frames of the film establish this by showing the Sarkar’s well-guarded compound surrounded with barbed wire and heavily-armed guards. It’s an indigenized Godfather, and one that works far better than naysayers dare admit.
By incorporating an added political story, and giving unbridled power to Bachchan’s “overlord,” Sarkar defies expectations. No wonder, then, that it has become a benchmark film in Bollywood and has spawned several sequels, with Sarkar 3 already on the horizon.
What other American classics received the Bollywood treatment? Let us know in the comments!