HIMMATWALA. Director: Sajid Khan. Players: Ajay Devgn, Tamanna Bhatia, Paresh Rawal, Zarina Wahab, Mahesh Manjrekar. Music: Bhappi Lahiri and Sajid-Wajid Theatrical release (UTV)

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Director Sajid Khan had considerable box office success with Hey Babyy (2007),Housefull (2010) and Housefull 2(2012). Like anywhere on this planet, three in a row landed Khan the right to an ever larger budget to expand, perhaps experiment or start a new trend. Khan decided on a remake of the 1983 Jeetendra-Sridevi hit Himmatwala. While Himmatwala (2013) misses the originality mark, it does serve as reminder that loud period pieces—with their grindingly repetitious scripts, drum machines and break-neck dance action—are best experienced only once in a lifetime.

Circa 1983, when Amitabh Bachchan’s career graph was on a stratospheric trajectory, Bachchan’s presence in Mumbai-based cinema was so entrenched that many of Bachchan’s contemporaries had to re-think strategies to survive. Rajesh Khanna tried soft romance movies with much-younger newcomers Poonam Dhillon (Zamana) and Tina Munim (Alag Alag) with limited success. For his part, Jeetendra made a beeline for south India, and rolled out a library of Hindi movies made in Chennai by either Raghavendra Rao (Tohfa, Justice Chowdhury) or K. Bapaiah (Mawaali, Aag Aur Shola)— all, yes all, of which cast Jeetendra opposite Sridevi—a combination that was though most favorable in countering the Bachchan juggernaut.  The most successful of the Jeetendra-Sridevi time capsules was Himmatwala, a kitschy fast-action Rao entry itself a remake of the Rao’s own 1981 Telugu hit Ooriki Monagadu.

With such a cheesy pedigree, featuring no less than Bappi Lahiri—the gold-chained kind of B-movie musicals—and double-entendre, campy dialog that Kader Khan “pioneered,” the 1983 movie was a time-capsule that simply cannot be watched without an inward smile.  Himmatwala 2013 should have registered at least a minor box office tremor—and yet no such luck.

The original Himmatwala was a perfect storm of light hearted stranger-in-a-strange-land bait that made Jeetendra a viable comeback star while introducing Sridevi to mega stardom. In the lead, Ajay Devgn simply can’t capture the campiness without a uniform and gun he got away with lock, stock and barrel in the 1980’s sendoff Singham.

Newcomer Bhatia—while acceptable in her dance moves—does not hold water to Sridevi’s original. Her claim to fame may be that in certain lights she bears a passing resemblance to Sridevi.

In a paper-thin storyline, Devgn I-will-make-this-right protagonist arrives at a village to rescue his would be mother (Wahab) and younger sister from the exploits of a corrupt local land-grabber (Manjrekar) and his manipulative underling (Rawal). To keep the machismo factor rolling, the bad guys throw everything at Devgn—the landlord’s hot-headed daughter (Bhatia), a real live tiger and a legion of heavily-muscled goons. The most interesting encounter by far is Devgn taking on the tiger. The tiger-chocolate hero combo captured in the same frame—filmed in Thailand and oh-so-realistic—is fun to watch.

What made the original Himmatwala tolerable was Bappi Lahiri banking on Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar for the popular “Nainon Mein Sapna” number staged on a sun-drenched south Indian beach with in a faux neo-classical Indian backdrop.  While Sajib-Wajid do a decent re-take of Lahiri’s tune and the staging this time is, you know, the same, since, hello, this is a remake, the songs just seem out of place—and to imagine that amounts to serenading a 1983 Bappi Lahiri tune thirty years onwards!

EQ: C+

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