Amar Akbar and Who Is Tony?

Amar Akbar and AnthonyYou know how sometimes you’ll search for a movie or tv show on Netflix and it’s not there? I was looking for the 1977 Bollywood film, Amar Akbar Anthony the other day because I wanted to write a post about the construction of Indian identity through the three main characters and their respective faiths/religions. Instead, I came across Amar Akbar & Tony, a 2015 British remake of the 1977 film. So I watched both. These films made in different countries in different decades both speak to the formation and representation of their respective national identities. The plots of these films differ in drastic ways, but the ending is almost identical. Spoiler alert: Amar, Akbar, and Anthony/Tony are all at peace with their families, which seems to represent national unity, and all wind up with beautiful women who adore them.

This overarching idea of national identity that these two films deals with is shown through the relationships between Amar, Akbar, and Anthony/Tony. The three men are first shown together in childhood — brothers in one film, good friends in the other. Thoughout the majority of the films, they go through various trials and turmoil individually, which effects their relationships with one another Finally, they come together at the end to fix the major thing that’s gone wrong and represent a united India/Britain. But these films differ in important ways. For example, Bollywood isn’t exactly known for subtlety and nuance. Yet somehow, the 1977 Bollywood film is more nuanced than the 2015 British film. In Amar Akbar Anthony, Anthony’s romance and relationships with women read as charming and playful. He rescues the damsel in distress. But in Amar Akbar & Tony, Tony ogles women and relates to women the way a pubescent teenager might. He winds up marrying a good friend, but the film never really makes it clear why she might be interested in him the first place. And because Tony is the only non-immigrant character in the movie, his story line suggests that the filmmakers believe Britain to be very much enriched by the presence of immigrants.

The reason I bring this comparison between Anthony and Tony up is to highlight the different treatment corresponding characters receive depending on the tropes and stereotypes present at any given time and place. Both Anthony and Tony represent the Anglicized aspect of Indian and British identity, respectively. They are both ostensibly Roman Catholic, but it’s important to note that the British film never identifies Tony this way — it is only in the blurb on Netflix. The fact that Tony is never identified as Catholic in the film shouldn’t be surprising, however. To be Catholic in Britain is a very different thing than to be Catholic in India. It carries different connotations. Catholic and British reads as a more conflicted identity than Catholic and Indian.

Another important difference in the two films comes from the religious identities of the two Amars. In the Bollywood film, Amar represents Hindu identity. He reads as the good little Indian boy who always does the right thing. He becomes a police officer and rescues his love interest from people exploiting her. But in the British film, Amar is identified as Sikh. This is important both for interpretation and the plot. Because this film is set in the UK, identifying Amar as Sikh makes a lot of sense — there is a much more visible Sikh population. This identity is important to the plot because as a Sikh, Amar carries a dagger. When a situation with a love interest’s brother turns violent, Amar stabs a man. He removes his turban, goes to prison for a few years, and along the way loses his fiancée to another man. So while the Bollywood Amar represents the pinnacle of Indian identity, British Amar represents the complexity of British identity.

Of course, there is also be much to be said about the implications of a British remake of the Bollywood film in the first place. What is gained and what is lost when British popular culture appropriates Indian popular culture? I don’t use “appropriate” here with derogatory connotation. I use it to point out that culture, popular or otherwise, is always an appropriation or adaptation of something else. In this case, the appropriation raises questions about lingering effects of imperialism, but this is only one example. For another example, as I began writing this post, I discovered a 2015 Bollywood remake of Amar Akbar Anthony. Culture is always in transformation. And along with it, what gets to count as a national identity as always being redefined. As a result, the 2015 Bollywood remake signals this change. I’ll have to go watch it and report back.