Hansika Motwani’s MY3, on Disney+ Hotstar, is a remake of the South Korean series I Am Not A Robot. The 16-episode original traces the story of a wealthy man allergic to human touch, who warms up to a robot. But with just nine episodes to evoke feelings for this unlikely romance, the rushed MY3 failed to make an impression. Nevertheless, the series joins a long list of films and series that have been inspired by South Korean stories.
While some of these entries are loosely based adaptations, there are official remakes on this list such as Oh! Baby (2019) and Saakini Daakini (2022). As with many remakes, some of these films have songs and additional subplots to cater to Indian sensibilities — of which a few ideas work and a few others backfire. That said, what these remakes have managed to do is quash stereotypes — Vijay Sethupathi’s gangster, gets thrashed scene after scene without any typical “hero” moment in Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum and Nayanthara’s Durga, a blind ex-cop, gets to be the saviour fending off against a serial killer, all by herself in Netrikann. Here are a few South Indian stories that were inspired by South Korean movies.
Pilla Zamindar is loosely based on the 2006 Korean drama A Millionaire’s First Love. A rude young man will inherit all of his grandfather’s wealth if he fulfils a few conditions; the main rule being he moves to a different college in a village and gets his degree (high school in original). Both are coming-of-age stories of a man who learns that there is so much more to life than having cash, but that’s all they have in common. The Korean drama is a simple, emotional movie about how his first love breaks and makes him. Whereas Pilla Zamindar is a rib-tickling campus film which focuses on his journey of becoming a student leader. What the Telugu movie achieves though is the rootedness that several remakes and adaptations lack.
Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum and My Dear Desperado share the same soul. Only very few sequences are staged differently in the Vijay-Sethupathi starrer like the quirky intro sequence of Madonna’s Yazhini. Besides his comical inclinations, Nalan Kumarasamy also packs in elements that tailor the story for the Kollywood audience — like the beautiful placement of the ‘Akkam Pakkam Paar’ song to establish the relationship between gangster Kathiravan and Yazhini, a graduate in search of a job. Although Kadhalum is longer than the original, both films aren’t in a rush to cut to the next scene. Instead, they linger, capturing their moments of self-discovery.
When a mentally challenged person sets out to buy his daughter’s favourite bag, he is accused of murdering a young girl. Miracle in Cell No.7 is said to be based on the real life story of a man who was convicted of murdering a police officer’s daughter (he was declared innocent after close to forty years of his arrest). At the core of this tragicomedy is a heartwarming father-daughter relationship, which Pushpaka Vimana beautifully captures as well; with much help from Charan Raj’s soulful songs.
In January 2017, even before its release, the Kannada film was the talk of the town as it was reportedly trying to go to the Oscars to compete in the “Best Adapted Screenplay in Foreign Language” category. A few months later, the film was making headlines again, but it wasn’t for the right reasons. Kross Pictures, which claimed to have bought the remake rights of Miracle in Cell No.7 for all Indian languages, filed a copyright infringement case. The Kannada film’s director S Ravindranath however asserted that it wasn’t a remake but was inspired by four films — Life is Beautiful, I am Sam, Miracle in Cell No 7 and Pursuit of Happiness. The court ordered a temporary restriction against further exhibition and distribution of the film. Kross Pictures is currently remaking the film in Hindi.
Netrikann is a faithful remake to such an extent that it doesn’t even bother altering the original’s loopholes. But like the source material, the film is a tight serial killer thriller. A blind woman luckily escapes the clutches of a serial killer. But when she files a complaint, she isn’t taken seriously by the cops. The plot is never lost in translation. Instead, the scenes are amped up to suit the mass masala format of Kollywood cinema with themes of comedy (Redin Kingsley makes a cameo) and heroism. That said, not every new alteration works in Netrikann’s favour. The villain’s unwarranted flashback adds nothing new to the already rich plot.
Narrating two parallel tales in a non-linear manner is a little tricky, especially when both are love stories. The Classic, narrated from a young woman’s perspective, is a good example of how such stories can be depicted. When a woman discovers her mother’s old letters and a diary written by someone else, she begins to learn about her mother’s first love, while struggling with her own issues in the present. Although the movie starts off at a slow pace, it gives weightage to both stories, letting you invest in the world of all four lead characters. While Chikku Bukku cracks the charm of one of these love stories, the other lacks depth. Anu (Shreya) is bubbly and talkative and Arjun (Arya) likes to keep things to himself. As a standalone film, they don’t really disappoint you. But the film’s emotionally driven flashback makes you want to wait for Shreya to pick up the diary and continue reading.
An interesting change in Saakini Daakini that makes you overlook its flaws is the gender swapping. Having two women police trainees lead a fight against a kidnapping racquet leaves us with characters who are not invincible and action sequences that are more realistic. With a wonderful casting choice — Nivetha Thomas and Regina Cassandra — Saakini Daakini is a remake that makes its own voice heard. When Nivetha and Regina find that a young woman is being kidnapped, they immediately report it to their superiors. But even before they reveal the details, the supervisor orders them to return to the campus for their own safety. As they try to somehow help these women and punch above their weight, both as women and trainee officers, their battle feels all the more personal. Some of the jokes don’t land and a few scenes don’t seem to be part of a Telugu film, but how often do we get to see two women lead a full-blown action-comedy?
Always is one of the most celebrated Korean romances that explores how two people become each other’s support system. While the male protagonist is a boxer who has left the profession because of a tragedy, the female lead becomes blind after a car accident. They both are self-reliant but also find joy in having a loved one by their side. The original focuses on their romance, which pushes the man to return to the boxing ring. He wants to win the game to fund his partner’s operation. The story remains the same, but the Kannada remake prioritises action over romance and has sequences to establish the machismo of the lead star, Dhananjay. However, the remake presents a love story in its own way, one that’s not perfect, but still leaves behind several little moments to think about.
When four companions renovate a rundown mansion into a lodge, they expect to earn some quick cash and settle in life. But every customer who stays in the hotel is found dead mysteriously. This is the plot of Yaamiruka Bayamey and its remakes Next Nuvve and Namo Bhootatma. The four begin blaming each other and bury all of the bodies only to later find that the bodies went missing. Yaamiruka Bayamey is one of the first Tamil horror comedies that set a benchmark for the genre, which quickly went on to be popular in the industry over the years. Although not an official remake, the film’s premise is similar to the 1998 Korean black comedy The Quiet Family. The only difference is that there is no ghost in the original.
Though not an official remake, Chaappa Kurishu, a film that fetched Fahadh Faasil a State Award, has a lot in common with Handphone. In the original, a talent manager loses his phone which has a scandalous video of an actress. A grocery store employee who finds it, begins a game of blackmail. It has to be noted that the Korean film wasn’t critically successful. For a thriller, it barely piqued curiosity.
Chaappa Kurishu does a lot better with the source material. The story is more personal this time — Fahadh Faasil, who has an affair with his subordinate, puts his marriage in danger when his phone (which stores intimate videos) is lost. The director strongly establishes the different lives of the wealthy Arjun and his blackmailer, who leads a simple life and uses this chance to become rich. Its taut screenplay, and performances (by Faasil, Vineeth Sreenivasan and Remya Nambeesan) take care of the rest.
The two films are about a 70-year-old woman who miraculously shape-shifts into the body of her 20-year-old self. The old woman does struggle to adjust initially but she soon learns she can eat meat with her own teeth (and not dentures) and make up for all the lost time by achieving something big. Oh! Baby gets the funny portions right, thanks to a terrific Samantha, but is a lot more melodramatic than Miss Granny. Long songs and longer runtimes have somehow become the norm when it comes to remakes.