Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Inspiration behind Umrao Jaan

Indian actress Aishwarya Rai is back in the news with the hype of her two new outings, Umrao Jaan and Dhoom 2. No doubt, she is looking hot in the released videos (the one in which she is doing a mujra in Umrao Jaan).

Funny thing is, Umrao Jaan's director, J P Dutta, claimed in an interview that he was not inspired by the original film, Umrao Jaan by Muzaffar Ali--Ali's best known work and one of the best films in its genre, especially remembered for its soulful ghazals and Rekha's portrayal of a courtesan, Ameeran, aka Umrao Jaan Ada. He said that he is inspired by Mirza Ruswa's novel of the same name.

The matter of the fact is, Ali's film is also based on the same novel. And who would have heard of this novel, especially people of non-Urdu literary background, had Ali not made a film out of it about 3 decades ago? I find it a little disingenuous on Dutta's part. Of course, everyone is free to interpret the novel in his or her own way, and in a business-oriented world like Bollywood, where the film already has a brand appeal, it becomes much more easier to make or remake a film like this.

Conversely, there are so many good Urdu novels of the past. Why didn't Dutta or some other director care to make a film out of them? The truth is, I feel, that one needs courage to do something original and it takes the kinds of Ali who tread the unbeaten path.

This is not to pan Dutta or make fun of the forthcoming Ash flick but to analyze an opinion made in the public space.

Anyway, these days Bollywood is fixated with making remakes of its old hits--After Devdas, there is Umrao Jaan and Saheb, Bibi aur Ghulam, and many more. Even Raj Sippy is threatening to remake his Satte Pe Satta as Seven (remember the Brad Pitt film , I mean just the title), which in the first place was inspired by the Hollywood film, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers!

But why to blame only Bollywood filmmakers. Even Hollywood is doing this gleefully. I hear that Martin Scorsese's The Departed is inspired by the Hong Kong flick Infernal Affairs and currently Nicolas Cage is shooting a film (Big Hit in Bangkok) in Thailand inspired by the Thai hit, Bangkok Dangerous.


Lotus Reads said...

I agree, if it hadn't been for Muzaffar Ali catapulting Umrao Jaan into the spotlight all those many years ago, it's unlikely JP Dutta's movie would have been this eagerly awaited for today. Speaking of the book, however, is there an English translation I wonder? I just bought
Chattopadhyay's "Devdas" and "Parineeta" and I would love to add Mirza Ruswa's novel to my collection.

Zafar Anjum said...

Thanks LR. I have read the novel in Urdu but haven't seen its English translation. Check in Google. But you have given a good idea. The English translation might find a lot of takers when the film gets released.

Anonymous said...

I checked with Amazon - apparently there is an English translation, but it's out of print at the moment. Oh, well, perhaps I'll be able to procur a copy in India from the publishers, Sangam Books.

sami khan said...

Zafar, it was nice to read your writing after a big gap...Mabrook. You are right that very few people dare to be honest and truthful. Dutta's movie is just the outcome of the "Remake age" we are living. It is very much likely that he must have been influenced by Muzaffar Ali' work. The name itself, Umrao's Jan-e-ada (Rich's darling perhaps), very few people will be able to understand. But we are living in the age of immitation and BENCHMARKING so it is ok for Dutta. Important will be his portrayal of the central characters and understanding the essence of the novel...I am sure Dutta needs many help.