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Six Films That Are Better Than The Real Thing

BY SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE

‘Actor selection is about matching the right performer with the right part’. Whoever said that an actor needs to be from the same community of the character that he or she is playing is missing the point about the pleasures of deliberate miscasting, and cinema’s ability to carry off true lies. There are countless incidents out there that are just begging to be put onto celluloid.

With all the recent adaptations of incidents, we got thinking about what movies are actually better than their source material? It’s a hard thing to pull off, but some movies manage to outdo the real thing they’re based on. Checkout:

Marie Antoinette

Sofia Coppola’s self-consciously anachronistic exploration imagines Marie Antoinette as a proto-fashion icon stuck in a lousy marriage who resorts to unthinking retail therapy to survive the French Revolution that is beating at the gates. The underrated Kirsten Dunst, for whom life comes to resemble an endless and eventually stultifying costume ball, is perfect as the teenage royal. Some crowds booed it at the Cannes Film Festival after its premiere in 2006, but the clothes and headgear, locations (it was shot at the actual palace) and contemporary soundtrack make it one for the ages. The modish exploration of life in the Palace of Versailles during the controversial reign of Louis the XVI is part of Sofia Coppola’s continuing interest in the lives of the poor little rich.

Jodhaa Akbar

Ashutosh Gowariker’s epic-length epic (clocking at 213 minutes) plays fast and loose with historical facts and a cursory online search will yield little, if any, resemblance between emperor Akbar and Hrithik Roshan. Does it matter? Jodhaa Akbar didn’t set out to be a faithful account of the Mughal emperor’s reign, but took its cue from the combustible leading man, gorgeous heroine, and their crackling chemistry. As the slow-burning romance between the arduous royal and his reluctant wife (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) proceeds from nuptials to consummation, wars erupt, knives slide into backs and an empire is consolidated.

Black Narcissus

The movie has one of the most dramatic close-ups in the history of cinema—of Kathleen Byron’s Sister Ruth revealing her manic passion for all things corporeal. Made years before Pedro Almodovar’s Dark Habits, this is a landmark film about subversive nuns. Adapted by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the British film-making team known as the Archers from the 1939 Rumer Godden novel of the same name, this movie was released in the same year that India became independent. Though it plays out determinedly in a distant past, the Orientalist depictions of the natives, including an overdressed prince on a horse (played by Indian actor Sabu, who migrated to Hollywood), a mute sadhu staring fixedly into the horizon, and some brown-faced actors, including Jean Simmons as the dancing girl Kanchi, fade before the lush and luscious locations and sets (entirely in England) and Jack Cardiff’s bold camerawork.

Gunga Din

Orientalist depictions of Indians in foreign cinema thrive, and most of them are notorious—the blackface actors play-acting to be Indians who run around in Gunga Din from 1939, for instance. It’s otherwise an enjoyable adventure about British soldiers played by American actors taking on blackface dacoits, again played by American actors, in California that is convincingly passed off as the Khyber Pass. From the marauding “Indians” Cary Grant’s Archibald Cutter saves the day; there are several thrilling action sequences, and at least one adorable elephant named Annie in the movie and Annie Mae in real life.

Tropic Thunder

This hilarious Ben Stiller comedy is about Hollywood parachuting into Vietnam to make a war drama; Stiller’s action hero Tug Speedman and the rest of the cast have to battle real drug lords in the jungle when the director is suddenly offed. Robert Downey Jr’s “method actor”, paints his face black to get under the skin of his role, and is just one of many hilarious characters, including Tom Cruise’s psychotic studio boss.

The Party

What serves as the opening for Blake Edwards’ The Party, starring the undeniably hilarious Peter Sellers in a by now notorious “Indian” accent is actually a spoof of Gunga Din’s climax, in which the titular loyal trumpeter dies in the service of the British crown. Invited by mistake to a party of the Gunga Din-type production he has been kicked out of, Sellers’ Hrundi Bakshi proceeds to trash the evening without realizing it. And inspired by Jacques Tati, among others, Sellers is wonderful as the irritating, malfunctioning, inept, sweet, lovable and charming brown-skinned party pooper who has the last laugh.

That’s all folks!

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