The commentator “E” just alerted me this morning that Dharma announced a “sequel” to Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania, called Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya. Sure enough, when I pulled up my twitter, I saw that Karan had just tweeted the image above. Which looks like a sequel image, but rumor has it that it may be a franchise instead, a completely different story with different characters, but the same cast and tone. Like the Khiladi films, or Murder, or Aashiqui. Speaking of Aashiqui, a little insulting for Karan to be promoting this as India’s first love franchise, right?
I am fascinated by the idea though! Because India has a kind of different view of franchises and sequels to how we think of them in other industries. Besides a few exceptions, like the Koi Mil Gaya/Krrish films or the Dhoom series, India doesn’t really do “sequels”. It’s not the same characters over and over again going through new trials and tribulations. What it does instead is a series of films with the same tone, and the same kind of hero played by the same actor. At least, that’s what it has started doing in the past few years. But, why? Why “sequels” like this, and why so many in resent years?
I think there are a few reasons that these not-a-sequel sequels are so popular in India, and there are so few “real” sequels. First, the importance of romance as part of a hero’s journey. Not romance like James Bond, with a new girl every time. But romance like a deep and once in a lifetime thing that will ultimately result in marriage. I guess more accurate would be to say marriage as part of a hero’s journey.
There are two seemingly incapable issues when you are dealing with romance in a “real” sequel. On the one hand, to discount the romance in the original film would retroactively weaken it. That romance has to be truly deep and meaningful and, preferably, resulting in marriage. But on the other hand, the sequel can’t be romance-less, and we all know that a happy marriage isn’t that romantic, or at least not enough to carry a whole film. So you have films like Race 2, which (SPOILERS) kills off the heroine of the first film and then send our hero through a mourning period before he is able to move on with his new heroine. Or you have Krrish, which jumped to the next generation soap opera style in order to allow for a new romance. Or Krrish 3 which used some sort of odd mind-control explanation to insert a new romance. Or, the Dhoom films, which place the romance onto the “guest star” character, keeping our two heroes in stasis as constantly falling in love and constantly married, respectively.
Second, I really do wonder what influence the whole concept of reincarnation has on the way Indian film deals with “sequels”. Things like the concept that there are multiple versions of the Ramayana, because Rama and Sita were born multiple times, always to repeat the same essential pattern with only minor differences. And in the same way, we have things like the Khiladi series, where our hero constantly starts fresh in a new avatar with new problems and new romances. But he is always something of a trickster who gets caught up in a complex multi-level con which turns deadly. And he always falls in love along the way, usually with an equally spunky and trickster-like woman. Or the Murder movies, where there is always a sexy murder that turns out to have a twist to it, and our hero is sexy and romantic but morally ambiguous. They characters between films are not connected to each other in any real way, but they are doomed to repeat the same patters over and over again.
You could even argue that things like the SRKajol films could be considered a franchise in this way, at least since DDLJ. That Shahrukh and Kajol always play similar characters, who always fall in love and fight and make-up and face family disapproval. Heck, they even go through escalating life milestones in each film! Young and engaged in Baazigar, Karan-Arjun, and DDLJ. Older and married with kids in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (by the end), Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (in the second half), and My Name is Khan. And finally the elders of the family in Dilwale.
And this brings me to the final reason I think franchises of this style are becoming more and more common in Hindi film. I think it’s because of the changing studio structures. In the old days, someone like Manmohan Desai wouldn’t need to call his films a “Franchise” and give them all similar names. People just called them “Manmohan Desai films” and they knew what they were getting. The same with Yash Chopra, Raj Kapoor, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, all those old directors. It wasn’t just that their films were all directed by the same person, they tended to have the same cast, the same music directors, the same stories.
But now those same masterminds aren’t directing any more, they are running studios. How are you supposed to know that a film is going to be like Mahesh Bhatt’s Aashiqui if Mahesh Bhatt isn’t directing it? Or like Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai? Or like Murder if Emraan Hashmi isn’t even starring in it any more, let alone Anurag Basu directing? That’s what these sequel titles are telling you! Not that it will feature the same characters continuing their story, but that it will feel the same, have the same distinctive flavor as that other movie you liked. Just like Suhaag felt like Amar Akbar Anthony or Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham felt like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai or Kabhi Kabhi felt like Silsila.