For me, The Godfather is a movie of many firsts.
Born a few years after the The Godfather released, I was deprived of a big screen viewing until recently when a cinema house, may the powers that be bless them with more such intelligence, screened it as part of their vintage film festival. Revisiting The Godfather was akin to time travel that evoked a flood of nostalgic memories, most of which were locked deep in the recesses of my subconscious.
The first thing to jolt me: “Wait a minute! This is not the first time I’m watching it on screen“. Yep, it dawned on me that I’ve seen it on screen as a 6-7 year old kid with Dad who, God knows how, sneaked me into the now defunct Blue Diamond theatre in Madras (now Chennai) to watch this blood-bath of a crime saga. It happens to be the first English movie I saw on the silver screen. And also the first one in the crime genre.
The next link was unchained when another memory-thunderbolt hit me: Believe it or not! Doordarshan (DD), India’s only TV channel back in the pre-liberalization socialist era, eons before satellite, cable or dish-TV hit India, aired it as a TV-series once or twice a week perhaps. And all this talk about censorship now? I doubt we watched the great Epics Ramayana and Mahabharata together but as if following Don Vito Corleone’s diktat, “...a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man…”, for the first time, me and my family assembled together to watch the Corleone family saga unfold before our eyes; delving deep into the psyche of the characters we got a glimpse of America’s crime world much, much before we were introduced to the more desi crime-&-criminal stereotypes (many based on The Godfather) of current-day Bollywood.
If The Godfather is a landmark film in my evolution from a lay cinephile to an amateur film critic, Indian cinema’s obsession with The Godfather comes as no surprise. As alliterative as it may sound, for Indian cinema, the godfather of all crime & gang-warfare movies is obviously The Godfather. It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure that one. What’s interesting though is Indian directors’ various reinterpretations, recreations, rehashes, remakes and regionalizations to the theme, structure, characters, plot and technique of this cult classic.
Watching The Godfather also instantly materialized in my mind’s eye various scenes, techniques, characters and other so-called “inspirations” of its respective Indian versions or RIPs. Oh! And a RIP here merely means Re-Inter-Pretation or Re-Inter-Pret (RIP).
Nayagan (1987)–Now! This is How You RIP
By far the best RIP of Coppola’s vision, director Mani Ratnam’s Tamil flick had all the regional ingredients and hit the right chord with critics and masses alike. Although the characters, especially the complex family hierarchy, were different and reduced in number, Nayagan stuck to the primal character of The Godfather, played with cathartic élan by National Award winner Kamal Hassan. If Marlon Brando evoked a sense of pride, charisma and fear as Don Vito Corleone, Kamal’s more humane portrayal evoked a sense of sympathy, respect and, towards the movie’s final segments, tears and pity for Velu Nayakar.
A scene where the more humane Velu Nayakar breaks down on his son’s death:
Now, compare this to the shaken-but-not-stirred Don Vito Corleone on Sonny’s death:
Nino Rota immortalized The Godfather Theme:
Down south, maestro Illaiyaraaja immortalized Thenpandi Cheemaiyile:
Dayavan (1988)–Ripping the RIP
A year after Nayagan‘s release, director Feroze Khan RIPs the Godfather-inspired Nayagan for the mostly forgettable Hindi version–Dayavan. With average performances and out-of-place characters, Dayavan failed to do what Nayagan did and was a damp squib at the Box Office. Probably remembered for a steamy song between the lead pair Vinod Khanna and then Bollywood heart-throb Madhuri Dixit.
PG: Watch Under Parental Supervision Only:
Akele Hum Akele Tum (1995)–A-New (Anu) RIP
OK! Before you jump to conclusions, I know Akele Hum Akele Tum is not a The Godfather RIP, it’s a Kramer v/s Kramer rehash. But here’s the deal. Music Director Anu Malik sure did RIP Nino Rota’s Love Theme from The Godfather and maybe an excellent recreation. Decide for yourself:
Sarkaar (2005)–The Self-Confessed RIP
Director Ram Gopal Varma (RGV) openly acknowledged that Sarkaar is his homage to The Godfather. Thank you, RGV! Phew, half a dozen The Godfather-inspired films later, the man finally speaketh. It was dutifully followed by Sarkaar Raaj (The Godfather-part 2). And by the way, it starred India’s Marlon Brando: Amitabh Bachchan.
The famous Intellectual Montage where Michael Corelone (Al Pacino) orders the execution of the Five Families juxtaposed with the Baptism is replaced by Abhishek Bachchan’s character personally monitoring the executions with Govinda chants in the background:
Raajneeti (2010)–The Fusion RIP
Mahabharata meets The Godfather in this political electoral drama that draws it characterizations heavily from The Godfather—Ranbir Kapoor as Michael Corleone; Arjun Rampal as Sonny; and traces of Tom Hagen in Nana Patekar.
The scene where McCluskey breaks Michael’s jaw in The Godfather is rehashed as an overcharged, loud scene in Raajneeti where a corrupt cop slaps Ranbir Kapoor amidst choicest abuses flung by Arjun Rampal in the backdrop:
And here’s Michael getting a sock in the face:
Agneepath (2012)–What They Did Not RIP
This Hrithik Roshan, Sanjay Dutt and Rishi Kapoor mega-starrer is not an official or unofficial The Godfather RIP and yet it could have been so much better had it taken cue from The Godfather. Here’s where it went wrong:
Inconsistent Characterization: A protagonist who’s a messiah of the downtrodden, opens schools for the poor but works as a henchman for a boss who deals in human-trafficking, care’s a damn about human-trafficking until his own sister is affected.
Weak Dialogues: Muslim characters speaking Hindi words like shaadi instead of their Urdu equivalents like nikah; the antagonist spews Bhagavad Gita verses but gets his facts wrong. No wonder he’s unaware of Lord Ganesha’s crucial role in The Mahabharat—that of the scribe.
Suspension of Disbelief: There’s a limit to it. See the climax and pre-climax to know what I mean.
The Bald And The Biceps: A high-octane trailer designed to impress more than the movie:
Mario Puzo glorified the Italian mafioso when he wrote The Godfather; Francis Ford Coppola immortalized them when he metamorphosed it on the big screen; and directors the world over (Including India) have elevated these characters to a godly status by re-re-creating The Godfather time and again. Does The Godfather deserve such a podium? I am emotionally attached to The Godfather to throw unbiased light on this subject; I leave that decision for you dear reader to make in the poll below. For me, personally, The Godfather continues to be close to my heart for it baptized me into the big bad world of movies.