Bollywood is infamous for copying movies, songs and ideas with impunity. Sometimes it imitates and exaggerates life (e.g. “The Bandit Queen”), sometimes it is “inspired” by a good movie (e.g. Sarkar and The Godfather) and some cases it outright plagiarizes scenes (e.g. the Matrix elevator foyer scene in “Awara Pagal Deewana”).
But what happens when the copy is better than the original? I recently watched Taxi No. 9211 and the original “Changing Lanes”. Though the original starred Samuel L. Jackson and the pompadour sporting Ben Affleck, I have to say that I liked Taxi No. 9211 better than the original. It could be simply be a matter of Ben Affleck’s jinxing every movie he stars in or the fact that I saw “Taxi” before I realized that it was based on Changing Lanes. But I feel the blame lies with neither.
I just felt that despite its length (a common shortcoming, pun intended, of Bollywood fare), extensive melodrama, and numerous factual faux pas (e.g. getting around from one end of Mumbai to another in 45 minutes, yeah right and the Devil died in a snow fight), “Taxi” managed to build tempo in the story and engage the viewer much better than “Lanes”.
I also felt that the situations depicted in “Taxi” were more likely to piss one off quicker into taking harsher and stupider actions that those shown in “Lanes”. While losing one’s family, as shown in “Lanes”, would depress and frustrate one to no end, it still leaves one feeling that a high profile lawyer (like Affleck’s character) might have been able to, as quid pro quo for getting the all important file back, plead exigent circumstances before a judge and convince him to hear Jackson’s character’s case again. The segue between civil rationality and criminal action is jarringly small, if not non-existent.
“Taxi” on the other-hand builds up the misdeeds much better: the taxi driver (played by Nana Patekar) is blamed for a road accident, is berated, jailed and manhandled in an entirely plausible manner. Taxi also does a decent job of subtly bringing into focus the class differences and the abjectly wretched concept of disposable human-rights of the hapless. “Lanes” never manages to vest the viewers in either character, while “Taxi” manages to endear and alienate the characters, in equal measure, to the audience.
Perhaps this is representative of a new “twist” in Bollywood’s story: one where the imitator excels past the original.