Airlift versus Argo: Does this Even Really Matter?

You know those Indian movies where you read the synopsis or watch the trailer, or even see the movie, and come out of it going “Wait, but that was just [Movie from another Industry]!  I’ve seen this already!”

Well, Airlift was definitely one of those, and the [Movie from another Industry] was Argo.  But, so what?

You know how before some films there will be a disclaimer “inspired by a true story”?  Which we all know just means they wanted to take a true story and add a bit here and take a bit away there and then give it a tidy happy ending?  “Inspired by” has come to mean “‘based on’, only we changed some key parts, so we can’t say that any more.”  Well, in order to understand the relationship between Indian films and films from other industries (including industries within India), I want to take by the phrase “inspired by” and use it as it was actually intended, that this work of art sparked an idea in an artist who went on to create a subsequent work of art.

If you read interviews with Indian filmmakers (and they are pretty upfront about how non-Indian art influences them), “inspiration” is what they describe.  They are watching a movie, they go “hey, that makes me think of another way I could do that!  I am excited!  My creative juices are flowing!”  And then they rush home and come up with their own idea and their own way of doing it, which may have had as a seed someone else’s art, but which grows into its entirely unique object.

Understand, I’m talking about a relationship like Airlift and Argo now, not like Dilwale and Everything Else in the World.  In Dilwale, it wasn’t the seed of the whole idea that they took, it was a leaf from the full grown plant of someone else’s idea that they stole and grafted onto their own.  But Airlift and Argo, or Ghajini and Memento, or The Promise and Yeh Vaada Rahe (both hypnotically stupid films in their own way, highly recommended), or Baazigar and A Kiss Before Dying are something different.  Something uncontrollable.

(Now, picture this with Rishi Kapoor, Poonam Dhillon, Tinu Munim, Raakhee as the mother, and Shammi playing the wise doctor.)

This is inspiration in its purest form.  Just like a sunset or an over heard conversation or a picture in a magazine might inspire someone, might generate an uncontrollable creative surge, so can film.  I mean, of course so can film!  Film is art, art inspires, that’s what it does!  And often, art inspires other art of the same type.

In America, and in the West in general, we are obsessed with copyright, with what came first, with origins.  It’s a mindset that benefits corporations more than artists most of the time.  Artists are unable to interact with each other’s art in ways that inspire, and sometimes they can’t even interact with their own past work if the rights were purchased away from them.  Film art in particular is controlled by massive studios, by DVD and streaming companies, by film distributors.  The artists are powerless.  But in India, it’s still just people, usually the actual writers, directors, and stars.  The artists themselves still control the products.  They are only interested in creating interesting new art, where ever it comes from, not in squeezing every possible penny out of their past work.

If Mahesh Bhatt wants to remake the Raj Kapoor starring film Chori Chori (which was itself a remake of It Happened One Night), he just does it.  Maybe he makes a courtesy call on the children of the original filmmaker, just to take their blessing, but there is no legal reason, or even unofficial social reason, for him not to remake it.

(Raj Kapoor version)

The only reason, in the Indian film industry, that you should not remake a film, is if it would actually be impossible for you, or anyone, to improve on the original.  No one cared that Mahesh Bhatt remade Chori Chori with younger actors and a different look and a slightly altered plot.  It was an interesting artistic challenge, a plot from the 50s altered and updated to fit the 90s sensibility.  But when remakes of Sholay and Zanjeer were announced, the entire industry stood against them.  Because those originals are so perfect in every way, no remake could possibly add anything to them.  They objected as artists, not as businessmen.

(Mahesh Bhatt’s remake, not better, but different)

Which brings me back to Argo and Airlift.  Yes, Airlift has the same look and feel in some ways as Argo.  And they both deal with the escape of unaligned refugees from a war zone in the Middle East.  And they both end at an airport.  But Airlift is, in so many ways, the far superior film (to see why, just read my 4 part summary of it). If Nikhil Advani had decided not to make this movie just because some people, in some places, would think he was imitating Argo, the world would have been poorer for it.

So, who cares?  Really, what does it matter?  The filmmaker was inspired by another film this time, instead of a sunset or a comment by his daughter or whatever else.  And he took that inspiration and he made something remarkable and wonderful and, yes, original.  Why do we forbid our film artists from being inspired by films?  Isn’t that the kind of art that can provide them with the purest and best inspiration?  Why would we deny the world more art?



4 thoughts on “Airlift versus Argo: Does this Even Really Matter?

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