Few years ago, Naseeruddin Shah spoke out against the plans to remake Masoom (1983), stating that the story will not be able to stand up to today’s times because a young boy could easily look up his estranged biological father on social networks, thus depriving the plot of its essential drama.
While it is true that a story that is set at a certain period in time which is removed by at least 30 years from now wouldn’t be affected by contemporary advances in modern technology like mobile phones and internet, a remake that intends to transpose an old story in today’s times could face a horde of problems because the world, thanks to technology, has shrunk, making it possible to bypass a host of communication problems that formed an integral part of plotting and drama earlier.
Revisiting a classic like Satyajit Ray’s Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress), based on his own detective story that he filmed way back in 1973, one is left wondering at the simplicity of the plot if one measured it against today’s times. A parapsychologist accompanies a young boy from Calcutta to Rajasthan to investigate the kid’s claim to events from his past life that is set in some remote fort. The kid’s father stumbles into a conspiracy to kidnap his son by two evil men; so he gets in touch with Feluda — a private investigator — to reach his son and the parapsychologist who are already on their way, unaware of the danger that follows them. A suspense ridden journey follows where the detective is fooled into believing that one of the evil men is the actual parapsychologist, whereas his assistant has already thrown the real one off a cliff. Feluda cracks the mystery and rescues the young boy at the nick of time to bring him back home safely.
The film, which is an integral part of one’s growing up in Calcutta in the ’70s still retains the charm that it spelled when it was first released. It remains one of Ray’s most commercially successful ventures and the characters and dialogues from the film have become a part of Bengali collective psyche. But if one were to transpose the story to today’s times, one would be stumped by difficulties when it came to plotting.
First of all, a simple telephonic call to the parapsychologist by the boy’s father would have immediately cautioned them of the impending danger and saved a lot of unnecessary physical journey and screen time. Feluda could have easily googled the parapsychologist and got to know how he actually looked, instead of being fooled by an imposter. And to begin with, the parapsychologist need not have undertaken the journey with the kid at all to various forts in Rajasthan; he could have shown him high definition photographs of any number of forts, downloaded from the net, to jog his memory.
But then the film would not have happened.
There was a phase till 15 years ago when filmmakers and writers did grapple with this problem posed by modern technology. Communication had suddenly become easier, and cheaper, and the ubiquitous scene where a pretty heroine reminisces about her loved one through a song, only to receive a telegram that he is killed in the war, suddenly became redundant. In this age of virtual communication, the participants in a drama, separated by countless miles can determine a plot by being online, thus hastening the conflict and intensifying the dramatic tension. Recall the scene from Taken (2008) where Liam Neeson hears his young daughter in Paris being kidnapped by slave traders and instructs her over the cell phone to shout out their physical descriptions as they grapple with her. The plot moves at a breakneck speed, skimming over unnecessary details as the father goes in search of his missing daughter.
If changing relationships and attitudes post-globalisation have affected content, then every advancement in technology which came along with the change made plotting increasingly difficult. But any creative endeavour ultimately figures out ways to negotiate such difficulties and turn them into integral elements of expression; and what looked like limitations gradually metamorphose into a new language, innovative and invigorating in the right hands.
(Ranjan Das is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, instructor and writer)