Mr. Capra Goes to Mumbai: Class, Caste and Karma in Indian Remakes of Frank Capra's Films
Although Frank Capra’s films often are cited as quintessential reflections of American values, they have proved surprisingly adaptable to Indian culture. The championing of the working class over those in positions of wealth and power in Capra’s populist productions has had particular appeal to audiences and filmmakers seeking to challenge the restrictions of long-standing class and caste systems. This is evident in two Hindi remakes of It Happened One Night, Chori Chori (1956) and Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin (1991), and in Main Azaad Hoon (1989), a reworking of Meet John Doe. Made less than a decade after India achieved its independence, Chori Chori is the most traditional in its adherence to the Bollywood style, but is trendsetting in its breakdown of economic class distinctions. These same concerns still exist in Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin, an even more direct remake of Capra’s film that also shows the difficulty of reconciling his idealistic protagonists with the desire for more violent forms of retribution in Indian cinema. Unlike the reluctant hero of Meet John Doe, the protagonist of Main Azaad Hoon embraces his role as spokesperson for the downtrodden, leading a workers’ strike and challenging those who have abused their authority. While Western critics might dismiss these films as further evidence of the plagiarism of which Bollywood has been accused, the films are revelatory not only in demonstrating the universality of Capra’s themes, but also in their differences that allow for examination of social and political concerns specific to Indian society.
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