There are umpteen instances where films have inspired other films in some way or the other. Many directors pay homage to their favorite films either by explicitly adding a reference to another film or by adapting something from a different film in their own creation. Films also inspire a lot of content on television. I was wondering if the reverse is true and if the television has influenced films as well. I thought to document the role of the small screen on the big screen.
Television has provided opportunities to many a filmmaker who initially started their career on TV shows and then remade those shows into full-fledged films. In the early 1990s, there was a show titled Yule Love Stories broadcast on Zee TV. It consisted of short stories about love and relationships. One of the episodes in the show titled Vapasi told the story of a man named Mohan (played by Ashutosh Gowariker) who returns to India after five years. He wants to find his caretaker Kaveri Amma and take her with him to the US. He takes a big white trailer and travels to Mahadevpur where Kaveri Amma stays with her niece Geeta. After meeting Geeta, Mohan falls in love with her and decides to stay in India to help develop his country. This plot, as can be easily guessed, is the same story of Ashutosh Gowariker’s Swades. It is widely believed and acknowledged that Swades was inspired by the story of Aravinda Pillalamarri and Ravi Kuchimanchi, a US-based couple, who returned to India and developed a power generator to provide electricity to remote village schools. But it must be mentioned that it is only the power generation aspect that seems to be adapted in Swades. The other parts of the story involving Mohan, Kaveri Amma, and Geeta are taken directly from Vapasi. Yule Love Stories is now streaming on Zee5 but few details are available about the writer and director of the particular episode.
Yule Love Stories was succeeded by a similar series called Rishtey. Imitiaz Ali had directed an episode in the series called Highway that told the story of an affluent girl who is abducted right before her wedding and then becomes attached to her kidnapper. In 2014, Ali made Highway with the same theme as his episode in Rishtey. Ali had wanted Highway to be his debut film but somehow things did not work out for him. It was only quite later he was able to make the film even though he had the story ready from the early 2000s.
In the late eighties, Ketan Mehta made the television series Mr. Yogi starring Mohan Gokhale which was an adaptation of the novel Kimball Ravenswood written by Madhu Rye. The mini-series told the story of a US-settled boy Y.I. Patel who comes to India and meets twelve girls—each belonging to a different zodiac sign. In 2009, Ashutosh Gowariker made What’s Your Raashee? that was also adapted from Rye’s book but was closer to Mr. Yogi in treatment. More recently, in the 2010s, the Star Plus show Khichdi starring Supriya Pathak became quite popular and a film called Khichdi: The Movie was made based on the film’s characters.
In 1987, Pankuj Parashar directed Jalwa that had influences from the world of television. The film is a story of substance abuse primarily set in Goa. The drug overlord in the film is named DD (after Doordarshan) and is played by Tejeshwar Singh. The fascinating thing to note is that Singh was the same newsreader who announced the Emergency on Doordarshan in 1975 and Jalwa names its villain after his real-life role. The film also stars Johny Lever as Muthu, the masseuse, who does a spoof on the show Hum Log that had Ashok Kumar as the narrator. Early in the film, there is also a mention of Basu Chatterjee’s immensely popular show Rajani. A driver keeps a photograph of Chatterjee in his taxi all the time. Moments later, Basu Chatterjee shows up in his taxi and the theme song of Rajani plays when he sits inside. However, he is thrown out by the driver as he dislikes that Chatterjee only shows one side of the issue in Rajani. Jalwa also had Cyrus Broacha as a child actor who later went to do the famous Bakra show on MTV.
In the 2000s, Ekta Kapoor changed the face of Indian television with her K dramas. Her show Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi made waves when it launched. The daily soap has also made it to the movies. Gangs of Wasseypur opens with the title song of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi where Tulsi Virani (Smriti Irani) welcomes the audience to her household. In Gangs of Wasseypur, the people of a neighborhood are watching the show when they are suddenly attacked by bullets from the outside. It is again a sign of Anurag Kashyap’s wackiness that he incorporates a daily TV soap in a movie on gang wars. The director duo of Abbas Mustan incorporated the show in their film Humraaz where Karan (Akshaye Khanna) is watching Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi when he tries to blackmail Raj (Bobby Deol) for his wife’s murder. Karan Johar mentioned the show in his film Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham when Anjali (Kajol) talks about the show and the dead son (Mihir Virani) when she meets an acquaintance at the mall in London moments before the iconic reuniting scene of the Raichands. Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi is also seen in the release poster of Veere Di Wedding. The film, however, does not mention the show in any form. Perhaps, it has something to do with Ekta Kapoor, who was also one of the producers of the film.
Any mention of television would be incomplete without referring to Kaun Banega Crorepati that gave a fillip to the sagging career of Amitabh Bachchan. The show was mentioned in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… where a young Rohan Raichand (Kavish Majmudar) speaks with his father Yashvardhan Raichand (Amitabh Bachchan) in the show’s style while playing a game of trivia. The show was also spoofed in Yeh Hai Jalwa where Salman Khan plays Raju, the illegitimate son of Rajesh Mittal (Rishi Kapoor), and brings a storm in his life. At some stage in the film, Raju makes his father’s family play Kaun Banega Crorepati where he asks the contestants questions related to films. He even refers to Biwi No. 1 while quizzing in which Khan had played the lead role. Kaun Banega Crorepati was also shown in the recently-released Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan where Devika (Bhumi Pednekar) elopes from her house with Kartik (Ayushmann Khurrana) while her father watches the show in his room. In a funny scene in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, Rianna’s (Kareena Kapoor) granny walks into the room when Rahul (Imran Khan) is changing clothes while Kaun Banega Crorepati plays on the TV. She further embarrasses Rahul by shaming him that he is changing his clothes in front of Amitabh Bachchan.
Television has also inspired certain story elements in films. In Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na, Naseeruddin Shah plays Amar Singh Rathore, a dead man who speaks to his wife Savitri (Ratna Pathak Shah) through his portrait on the wall. It is inspired by Ekta Kapoor’s Hum Paanch where the late Priya Tendulkar played the character of the first wife of Anand Mathur (Ashok Saraf) who speaks to her husband through her portrait on the living room wall. In Sridevi-starrer English Vinglish, a bunch of people from diverse backgrounds gets together to learn English in New York City which is reminiscent of Zabaan Sambhalke. In Trapped, there is a show called World of the Wild on a channel called Wild TV. The host of the show, a man inspired by Steve Irwin, is explaining ways to survive a difficult situation. He can be heard saying, “Never give up. Adventure is not about what happens out there. It is about what happens in here. The brave survive. The weak, they die.” These lines effectively capture the film’s theme and ultimately become the motto that helps Shaurya (Rajkumar Rao) survive his ordeal of being trapped alone in his apartment.
In Delhi-6, Bittoo (Sonam Kapoor) wants to run away from her home because she wants to participate in Indian Idol. In Chhapaak, Malti (Deepika Padukone) is watching the finale of Indian Idol before she is attacked. Later, she takes up a job at a book store as it was near to a music school as she wanted to learn singing. Life, however, had other plans. She could not become the Indian Idol due to the acid attack but she did become an Indian idol inspiring other women that life can be rebuilt and restarted after a temporary stop. In Hasee Toh Phase, Kanpur Idol Abhinandan (Anil Charanjeett) reveals that he had auditioned for Indian Idol where he sang Ek Garam Chai Ki Pyali Ho but the judges, especially Anu Malik, were not too impressed by his performance.
Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! depicted the role of sensationalism in media by spoofing the crime show Sansani that became popular for its anchor’s over-the-top theatrics. Dibakar Banerjee’s film shows a similar sansani where a show called Criminal on IBN7 provides the details of the activities of Superchor Lucky. Other films, such as Tere Bin Laden Dead Or Alive and Quick Gun Murugan, have also spoofed the show Sansani. Sony TV’s long-running show CID has also made it to the movies. In Hasee Toh Phasee, Meeta (Parineeti Chopra) is accused by Nikhil’s father (Sharat Saxena) of stealing some items from their household. Abhinandan (Anil Charanjeett) then recalls some crime theories of ACP Pradyuman from CID and tries to defend Meeta. Later, he even becomes Daya, doing the signature darwaaza tod do act when he is asked to search the premises for the lost chain. Bobby (Vidya Balan) of Bobby Jasoos also looked up to CID to sharpen her detective skills.
Filmmakers have looked up to television shows to add a dash of nostalgia in their films. Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox evokes the feeling of the bygone era where Saajan Fernandes (Irfaan) watches old episodes of Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi trying to reminisce the days he spent with his wife. Sriram Raghavan’s Andhadhun opens with a dedication to Chhaya Geet and Chitrahaar, the Doordarshan shows that brought Hindi film music into our lives. The film also has a montage of piano sequences from various Hindi films in its ending credits. Rituparno Ghosh pays a small tribute to Basu Chatterjee’s Rajani in his film Raincoat. Mannu (Ajay Devgn) tells Niru (Aishwarya Rai) that he plans to name his production house as ‘Rajni Productions‘, after the Priya Tendulkar-starrer Rajani. He adds that his numerologist told him to change the name as a five-letter word is unlucky. He says he is planning to write it as ‘Rajnee’. But the fact is the original TV show was called Rajani and already had six letters. Years later, this would come true in some other form when Ajay Devgan would change his name to Ajay Devgn. Vishal Bhardwaj used a rehashed version of his song Tup Tup Topi Topi from Alice In Wonderland that used to come on Doordarshan in the nineties to make Tippa from Rangoon. Both the songs are written by Gulzar and have music by Bhardwaj.
In Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Arjun (Hrithik Roshan), Imran (Farhan Akhtar), and Kabir (Abhay Deol) reminisce about the older days when things were much simpler and playfully recreate the theme song of Doordarshan after a night of drunken revelry. In Neerja, the TV is shown playing the advertisements in which air hostess Neerja acted as a model. Later, when the plane is hijacked, the TV is playing the colorful lines of the rainbow that meant rukavat ke liye khed hai, signifying the interruption in Neerja’s life. The rukavat ke liye is also a throwback to the days of Doordarshan.
Television shows have also provided some wonderful meta-commentary in films. Rajshree Ojha adapted Jane Austen’s Emma as Aisha. In the film, Shefali (Amrita Puri) is being set up in a matrimonial match with Randhir (Cyrus Sahukar) by Aisha (Sonam Kapoor). In a fabulous meta moment, Shefali imagines that she is seeing Randhir on TV, which in fact, is playing a clip of Sahukar’s MTV show Rendezvous with Semi Girebaal where he hilariously spoofed Simi Garewal’s mannerisms from her chat show. Zoya Akhtar’s first film Luck By Chance provided a closer look at those working behind the scenes in the Hindi film industry. The film was teeming with meta-commentary where the lines between the real and the fictional got blurred. In one such moment in the film, Sona (Konkona Sensharma) is shown shooting with Ronit Roy for an episode of a daily television show. In his real life, Roy had a lackluster career in films and moved to the small screen where found fame as Mr. Bajaj in Ekta Kapoor’s Kasautii Zindagi Kay in the early 2000s. Like Roy, the character of Sona follows the same path in her life where she finds happiness working on the small screen after not being able to become a top filmstar. Her scene with Roy in Luck By Chance is again such a lovely meta-moment and demonstrates the meticulous detailing and writing of the film. Amar Kaushik’s Bala told the story of a salesman Bala (Ayushmann Khurrana) through the films of Shah Rukh Khan. At different stages of his life, Bala’s life resembles the characters of Shah Rukh Khan. There is another meta-moment in Bala related to Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan when Bala refers to his wife Pari’s’ mother as Sita Maiyya. The thing to note is that the person he calls Sita is none other than Deepika Chikhalia who played the role of Sita in the epic TV series.
Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan is also shown in Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year where Harpreet Singh Bedi (Ranbir Kapoor) and his grandfather are watching the scene of the battle of Ram and Ravan from the show. Like Ram, Harpreet starts all alone as a salesman, but along the way, he makes partners who help him grow his firm, take on the Ravan-esque Puri (Manish Chaudhury), and defeats him convincingly. In Door Ke Darshan, a family tries to recreate the world of the late eighties for their family matriarch. There is a mention of Sagar’s Ramayan in that film as well. If Ramayan is mentioned, then Mahabharat cannot be far behind. In Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran, Ashwat Joshi (John Abraham) gets an idea to form a secret team of five members to prepare for the nuclear test while watching B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharata on television. Ashwat’s mother-in-law explains to her grandson that each of Pandavas had a designated role which made them take on the Kauravas despite being fewer in number. Ashwat is also inspired by the same and names his team after the five Pandavas and takes on the role of Krishna himself.
Koffee With Karan has also made an appearance in some films. In the fantasy song sequence Sava Dollar from Aiyyaa, Meenaxi (Rani Mukerji) prays to a deity wishing to be made a heroine, and in return, she will offer a dollar and a quarter. She wants to live the life of an actress and dreams to work with the top stars, sign autographs, win multiple Filmfare awards, and even get an Oscar. After all this, the song ends with her appearing on an episode of Koffee With Karan with the King of Bollywood (Shah Rukh Khan). In a way, the film humorously showed that the final stage of ‘making it’ in the industry is getting an invite to be on the show. In Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, Kush (Imran Khan) finds a prospective bride Dimple (Katrina Kaif) for his brother Luv (Ali Zafar). In their first (virtual) meeting, Dimple asks Luv a few rapid-fire questions in the style of Koffee With Karan; the final one of which was if he preferred underwear or no underwear. In Deewane Hue Paagal, which was inspired by There’s Something About Mary, there is Sanju (Suneil Shetty) who comments Coffee With Karan when he gets to know that Natasha (Rimmi Sen), the girl he likes, is having a date with her old friend Karan (Shahid Kapoor).
Western television has also marked its presence in Hindi films. In Mardaani, Tahir Raj Bhasin played the role of Karan Rastogi, a human trafficking kingpin. His character in the film was inspired by Walter White from the TV series Breaking Bad. In Dhoom 2, Uday Chopra played the flirtatious Ali who does a David Hasselhoff by running on the Brazilian beaches in Baywatch costume with Bipasha Basu next to him. In Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, the cast of the hit BBC TV sitcom The Kumars at No. 42 makes a cameo appearance. In Satya, Pyari Mhatre (Shefali Shah) says that she watches The Bold and the Beautiful.
In Saand Ki Aankh, the members of the family are watching the iconic television show Tara. It is noteworthy because a show about the power of contemporary urban women is in a movie about the power of rural women. In The Sky Is Pink, Aditi (Priyanka Chopra) and Niren (Farhan Akhtar) break the tragic news of Aisha (Zaira Wasim) being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis when she is watching the comedy show Dekh Bhai Dekh on television. In the recent Lootcase, Vijay Raaz plays gangster Bala Rathore who is obsessed with the National Geographic channel and draws parallels between the lives of animals and criminals.
Most of the time, characters are seen watching television shows as part of their daily life. In Dasvidaniya, Amar’s mother (Sarita Joshi) is obsessed with watching television and is seen watching another of Ekta Kapoor’s shows Kasturi. Vedika Tripathi (Bhumi Pednekar) in Pati Patni Aur Woh is watching Comedy Nights With Kapil where Akshay Kumar also makes an appearance. The house help Sunita (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan) in Thappad is addicted to watching Dance India Dance on TV. At one stage, even Amrita (Taapsee Pannu) watches the show where a father-daughter pair shows up, and looking at them, she realizes that she let go of her dreams to dance after her wedding. Happy New Year has Anuradha Menon doing her Lola Kutty act that had become quite popular on Channel [V] in the early 2000s. Badrinath Ki Dulhania mentions producer Karan Johar’s TV appearance in India’s Got Talent when a Himesh Reshammiya-lookalike confuses matchmaking auditions to be the audition of the talent show. Dilwale refers to the animated series Chhota Bheem when the friends of Raj (Shah Rukh Khan) make up a fictional story about his relationship with Meera (Kajol) to avoid revealing the truth to Raj’s brother Veer (Varun Dhawan). They see Chhota Bheem playing on Pogo channel and tell Veer that Meera’s real name is Pogo.
The above are only a few examples and skew more towards the films of recent years. I am sure there are many more that are not included here. Film research, as we all know, is too vast to be ever called exhaustive.
[Read more of the author’s work here.]