There´s a fine line between inspiration and out right copying and to tell you the truth, I don´t know where Sanjay Gupta stands. His whole career has been based on remaking movies (with the exception of Hameshaa, which was pretty good) and his new film Zinda is a rehash of a 2003 South Korean movie ´Oldboy´. Well almost. Like all Gupta films, he´s Indian-ized the storyline. Oldboy is an amazing film, however it´s much too violent and has plenty of sex and is ahead of the times for the general Indian movie going public. I don´t know if Sanjay Gupta´s films are doing a service or disservice to the audience. On one hand he picks really good films to remake, so the stories are new to the general audience and presented in a stylish way. On the other hand, Sanjay´s rewriting usually waters the movie down and the film usually doesn´t feel complete. That is the case with Zinda.
The story centers around one man and his fourteen year ordeal which include being kidnapped and locked in a dank dingy room, and never knowing why. Sanjay Dutt plays Baljeet Roy brilliantly. Dutt really excels in roles where he is required to be vulnerable. In this film his vulnerability is balanced by his rage, which builds through out the 14 years in captivity. His wife (Celina Jaitley in a 2 scene role) is murdered and he is somehow falsely implicated in her death. His only link to the outside world is a television, playing scenes of national tragedies and natural disasters. Then one day he is set free and begins his hunt for the people who did this to him. Enter a cab driver named Jenny (Lara Dutta) who takes him to every restaurant serving wantons. He´s been eating them for 14 years so he knows he won´t forget the taste of the particular wantons being served to him. Along the way he leaves some mutilated, dead bodies. Then, one day, he discovers that a rich guy named Rohit Chopra (John Abraham) was the mastermind. But why? That´s for you to discover.
As a director Sanjay Gupta is amazing. I think he is amongst Bollywood´s best; however he has never made a great film. This is because of his scripts. Early in his career he made some duds but post Kaante his star has been on the rise. Yet as good as Kaante and Musafir were, their original ´inspirations´ were much racier and packed a bigger punch. If you have not seen Oldboy, then see Zinda first. It´s almost the same film, but Gupta has cut most of the offensive material from the original. Zinda still has strong content but it is fun to watch some of those gory scenes (less gory than before in my case) with a Bollywood spin. Gupta´s direction and especially Sanjay F. Gupta´s cinematography are both near flawless. These guys work well as a team, and the result is a visual treat. Bangkok looks beautiful, and interior scenes have a stylistic flare as well. The use of camera angles and tinted lenses add to the visual appeal. This is Gupta´s darkest yet most entertaining movie in a long time.
At the same time he gets no credit for the storyline. He has only changed a small percentage of the original. Chan Wook Park´s Oldboy had a very explicit twist in the storyline, which would have been rejected outright by India´s moviegoers. Gupta rewrites it and the result leaves gaping holes in the script. This reduces the movies impact because you´re left asking questions. Otherwise it´s fun for a first time watch. Gupta´s added his variations to the along the way with the action sequences, dialogues, mannerisms and styles, but they are all unchanged for the most part. Dialogues are just translated, the action/torture scenes are very similar (the original scenes are much more graphic), and both Dutt and Abraham use the exact same mannerisms. Zinda´s music is one of the year’s best soundtracks, but this movie has no room for songs. Two of the best songs from the album, ´Yeh Hai Meri Kahani´ and ´Zinda Hoon Main´ are used in the film, but as background music.
Zinda is worth the watch mainly for Sanjay Dutt´s knockout performance. He is amazing, letting himself go and putting in a brave performance. His uninhibited acting definitely deserves awards; Sanjay is the glue holding the film together. His scenes in confinement are magnificent. The raw vulnerability and simmering anger are so apparent in his eyes that sometimes he doesn´t even need to talk to convey the emotions. Dutt is getting older and in this film he doesn´t hide it, he uses it to his advantage. His look is a major part of the performance and he has put a lot into it.
John Abraham is also good in his role. Some people may find that he looks too young, but anyone who has seen the original will know why, John´s character was written this way. He looks suave and cool, and although those mannerisms are borrowed from Oldboy, you can see he is really trying. John is still a little weak sometimes, but for the most part he shows improvement with each film. He is growing as an actor and Zinda allows him to take a different approach to his performance. Lara Dutta doesn´t have a well written role, but as always she looks beautiful and delivers her dialogue with confidence. Her screen presence is great; she just needs to start picking roles that will build her credibility as an actress. Celina Jaitley is literally in a "blink and you´ll miss me" role. Celina may be a perfect 10 beauty, but her lack of talent is apparent. Must be why Gupta didn´t give her any dialogue. Mahesh Manjrekar and Sanjay´s friend is competent; he´s not as loud as usual, but still walks the fine line between hamming and acting.
Zinda is a one of a kind as far as Bollywood goes. It´s dark, innovative and entertaining. Sanjay Gupta´s direction is one of the main highlights of the film. Yet he has made an exact replica of the original film. To his credit he does a great job with the look of the film; however he loses a lot of marks for copying exact scenes and dialogues. What little he has changed, has ruined an almost perfect film. The only thing stopping Gupta from reaching the top spot is his scripts. Give this guy an original story and I can guarantee that he will make a path breaking movie. Zinda´s other ace is the performance by Sanjay Dutt. If Dutt hadn´t essayed the lead role, there is a strong chance Zinda would have been a total waste. If you haven´t seen the original, watch Zinda first. Then go and rent Oldboy from your video store, it´ll be clear which film has the edge.