Sanyukta Iyer (MUMBAI MIRROR; June 27, 2017)

Thirty-five years after its release, Mahesh Bhatt’s cult romance-drama, Arth, has become the first Bollywood film to be remade in Pakistan. Shaan Shahid, who has also written and directed the Lahore-based contemporary retelling of the original story, will play Raj, Raj Kiran’s character, while Humaima Malick takes over as Smita Patil’s Kavita. Uzma Hassan is Shabana Azmi’s Pooja and Mohib Mirza steps into Kulbhushan Kharbanda’s shoes as Inder Malhotra.

The idea for the remake was mooted by Shaan who came to Mumbai in 2015 to meet Bhatt. He wanted to remake the film from the point of view of Raj, the ghazal singer. Keeping in mind fractured Indo-Pak relationship and how films can forge a stronger bond between the countries, the 68-year-old filmmaker who has the authorship, story and screenplay rights, gave his consent without any financial compensation.

Bhatt is happy that Shaan, a respected actor-filmmaker in Pakistan, wanted to remake one of the films which he had kick-started his career with in the ’80s. “Arth is the first film with the DNA of an Indian story to be set in Pakistan. If we want to strengthen film trade between our countries, Arth’s model is a great way of collaborating,” Shaan told Mirror. Producer-distributor Hammad Choudhary added, “We have immense respect and love for Bhatt saab and have made the film over three years.”

But 24 hours after the first look of the December release was unveiled across the border, filmmaker Sharat Chandra raised an objection back home, contending that he’d purchased the remake rights of the original from producer Kuljit Pal and the legal heirs of Sujit Sen, who had co-written the screenplay with Bhatt. He had also acquired the authorship rights from Bhatt. “I’m working on the Hindi remake of Arth and not only do I have the remake rights from all the IPR owners, I also hold exclusive rights to the title,” he said, stating that Kamlesh Pandey has been working on the screenplay while he’s negotiating with a respected director and is on the verge of announcing two established actresses. “Our version is a contemporary take with a new Pooja, a character we rarely see in Hindi films today.”

Upset with the development across the border, Sharat described it as “a direct infringement of property” and warned that he would take the necessary steps to ensure that the ‘illegal remake was not released in this country or elsewhere. When asked about this, Bhatt categorically stated, “When Shaan expressed the desire to revisit Arth, I had no objection. The story has endured the passage of time and is available in the public domain. Shaan wanted to use my story and present it as a local, indigenous narrative that suited his country’s palate. I’m not aware of what he has done. Every filmmaker has his own worldview and the freedom to reinterpret a story the way he wishes,” he reasoned.

The semi-autobiographical film inspired by Bhatt’s extramarital affair with Parveen Babi, is on the FTII list of ‘Bollywood’s 25 greatest films of all time’. It was remade in Tamil in 1993 as Marupadiyum by Balu Mahendra, featuring Revathy. In 2013, Bhatt adapted it for the stage and Arth played in Delhi and Mumbai. Now, he is creatively overseeing the Bollywood remake and points out that all legal rights to the title and the content in India are with Sharat.

“Sharat’s anger is justified. He has the rights to the title now and anyone who wants to remake it globally must get in touch with him for matters related to rights. But having said that, I have to add here that any Indian filmmaker can make a film titled Khuda Kay Liye (Shoaib Mansoor’s 2007 film featuring Shaan) and release in India. But that’s another topic of debate altogether,” Bhatt maintains, stating that the matter of rights is between the Pakistani makers and Sharat and he hopes they will gracefully sort out the matter keeping the Indo-Pak spirit in mind.

His last word on the subject is that the global woman today is very different from the one in the ’80s as the interpretation of society, sexuality, morality and marriage has changed along the way. “I am keen to see how Sharat and Kamlesh present this perspective from a contemporary point of view,” Bhatt says.