My Himmatwala remake is better than the original, says director Sajid Khan

Thirty years after Himmatwala made box-office history and propelled Sridevi to stardom, the film’s remake is ready to hit cinemas. Ujala Ali Khan talks to the cast and crew about how it compares to the Bollywood cult classic.

Tamannaah stars opposite Ajay Devgn in the remake of the 1983 hit Himmatwala. Pawan Singh / The National
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In 1983, Jeetendra danced with his on-screen love, Sridevi, into the hearts of millions of people all over India. The song was the bizarrely styled Naino Mai Sapna, the film was Himmatwala and along with becoming the year's highest-grossing film, it catapulted the Bollywood newbie Sridevi to the top.

Fast forward 30 years and a remake of the film is set to introduce Bollywood audiences to Tamannaah, a somewhat new face from southern India, who is paired with the top-billed actor Ajay Devgn.

Himmatwala is not Tamannaah's first Bollywood film. That would be the 2005 release Chand Sa Roshan Chehra, for which she received a fairly lukewarm response but managed to catch the eye of filmmakers in southern India, where she has been working since. "There is not much of a difference between the South Indian industry and Bollywood when it comes to filmmaking and how the team works together," Tamannaah says when asked how it felt to return to Bollywood.

Was she nervous about taking on the role of Rekha in Himmatwala, previously played by the formidable Sridevi?

“Honestly, I did not feel like I was stepping into her shoes,” says Tamannaah. “First of all, Rekha in this new film is not a copy of Rekha in the original. The whole film, in fact, is not so much a remake as it is a rewrite. It’s not the same film at all.”

The director Sajid Khan cites his childhood fascination with Himmatwala as the reason behind choosing it to work on a remake.

"Whenever anyone asks me to name my top 10 Hindi films, Himmatwala always is number two or three. I have been besotted with it since I was a kid, and was so happy that I was making it with my college friend [Devgn] and one of the biggest superstars in the country. My version, if I may dare to say it, has turned out to be way, way, way better than the original."

Khan certainly seems confident about this film, and claims that the Devgn’s big “hero entry” will be better than any “ever seen on screen”.

"As a fan of dramatic entries by heroes, I wanted to make sure that at least one of my films had the best," says Khan. "And I tell you this today – on record – that Ajay's entry in Himmatwala will set a precedent for many other filmmakers and many other actors. They will try to match this entry. You mark my words."

“But it’s not a gimmicky entry at all,” clarifies Devgn. “Not the kind where you want to stand up and clap simply because the hero has entered standing on two horses or something like that. No, this is a truly dramatic entry, one that will elicit a different kind of reaction and applause because the hero enters at the right time, in the right manner, to the right background score and in the right setting.”

Khan reveals that, besides Devgn, the film has another “hero”.

“Oh, you’re taking about the tiger,” says Devgn with a laugh.

A tiger? “Yes,” Devgn confirms. “The tiger starts out as an enemy and then goes on to become a friend. You have to watch the film to find out how that happens.”

Khan is confident that his film is going to cross the “100-crore” (10 million Indian rupees; Dh678,000) mark – the measure of Bollywood commercial success these days.

"This is a total family entertainer," says Khan. "You can go to the theatre and watch it with your entire family without having to worry about a single violent or obscene scene popping up. I am confident that Himmatwala will make more than 100 crores."

“It will be an interesting experience,” says Tamannaah, echoing Khan’s words.

“It is like a sneak peek into the 1980s. Today’s generation has not seen or been exposed to that period in cinema. Sajid has made it beautifully and packaged it in a way that it will be an absolute treat to the audience.”

Himmatwala will be out in cinemas across the UAE tomorrow

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