There used to be a time when Indian cinema, certainly Bollywood, borrowed freely from Hollywood. Why even the name, Bollywood, is a copy from Hollywood. And the other Woods in India – Kollywood, Tollywood, etc – found their inspiration from Bollywood, the title, the themes and even the tales. One of the best examples of such copy was Frank Capra's 1934 Hollywood blockbuster, It Happened One Night, with Clarke Gable and Claudette Colbert, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress. The film won other Oscars, for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Gable) and Best Screenplay.
Almost six decades later in 1991, Mahesh Bhatt made a frame-by-frame copy of Capra's movie, called it Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin, and cast his daughter, Pooja Bhatt, as an heiress who runs away from home and meets a newspaper reporter, played by Aamir Khan. It was an innocent, sweet love story with some amazingly melodious music by Nadeem-Shravan. The director never admitted that it was an exact copy, and in those days, most Indians would not have seen Capra's work.
Down the ages, many Indian films were copied from or inspired by Hollywood or European or South-east Asian pictures – often without offering any credit.
Now, I read a piece in The Hollywood Reporter, which said that the veteran British director and producer, Ridley Scott, was planning to make Amman Mission – a $-35-million military drama on the evacuation of Chinese nationals from Kuwait, when it was invaded by Saddam Hussain's Iraq in 1990. This reminded me of Raja Krishnan Menon's 2016 Airlift. The Scott project, to be developed by Hong Kong-based Media Quiz, will be shot in Kuwait and China's Ningxia and Xinjiang, and will narrate the nail-biting story of how 4885 Chinese men, women and children were evacuated from Kuwait in 48 hours.
Actually, the operation involving the Chinese is not as well known in India as the evacuation of Indians from Kuwait also in 1990 during the Iraqi offensive. Airlift was all about the evacuation of Indians. The movie had Akshay Kumar essaying a heroic businessman who rescued thousands of Indians stranded in Kuwait.
Airlift had all the unmistakable masala of Bollywood – a dashing and debonair Kumar with Nimrat Kaur as his wife, and he played the hero to the minutest perfection. There were pulse-pounding scenes in the film, one of which showed us how Kumar's Ranjit Katyal nearly got shot by an Iraqi soldier, but was saved in the nick of time by the intervention of a busload of Indians, who were being escorted out of Kuwait by him.
The other famous rescue mission made into a movie, Take Off, by Mahesh Narayanan, was all about some nurses held captive in the Iraqi city of Tikrit by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) in 2014. Here it was a nurse, Sameera – portrayed with amazing credibility by Parvathy Menon – who led her colleagues to freedom with the help of a Government officer, essayed by Fahadh Faasil, another outstanding performance. Take Off was shorn of heroics, and was a down-to-earth account of another great escape.
I am sure Scott's Amman Mission would run closer to Menon's Airlift, the British helmer being known for dramatic stories like Blade Runner, Gladiator, Robin Hood, Black Hawk Down and Thelma and Louise. Last year, he produced Murder on the Orient Express.
My favourite in Scott's oeuvre has remained Thelma and Louise – with Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, two friends who take a road trip with unforeseen consequences. The final frame showed their car, chased by the cops, plunging into a deep gorge, a shot I have seen in other films as well.
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In the end, I am not suggesting that Scott would have been inspired by Airlift, but Kumar and Krishnan Menon might be happy that they were the first to come up with a movie on the Kuwait evacuation. Yes, yes, the stranded Indians, and now Scott would rescue the Chinese.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic, and may be e-mailed at email@example.com )