Split Screen: THE GODFATHER (1972) & SARKAR (2005)

Published by Shah Shahid on

“Split Screen” will attempt to analyze some films with the source material that they have been inspired by, while providing some insight into both of the works, to determine whether the adaptation was successful or not. The realm of these films contain comic book movies, remakes, book adaptations, and any other movies that have been directly inspired by another piece of work.”

There are those classic films that resonate through the times and inspire generations of filmmakers to create classics of their own. So today’s “Split Screen” will feature such a classic, ‘The Godfather’ (1972), which inspired a future Indian director to remake the movie in Bollywood more than 30 years later with ‘Sarkar’, (2005) which roughly translated means similarly, of a man in power.

'Split Screen' compares 'The Godfather' (1972) & its Bollywood remake 'Sarkar' (2005)

Reason For Remake?

While most Bollywood movies are mostly unofficial copies of successful Hollywood films, never acknowledging the similarities in fear of legal repercussion despite the blatant-ness of it all, Indian Director Ramgopal Varma acknowledges Francis Ford Coppola and gives a reason for his remake. Even before the opening credits of his movie ‘Sarkar’, Varma credits Coppola and ‘The Godfather’ for influencing his career as a filmmaker, and presents his film as a tribute to the classic.

Synopsis & Similarities

The title of ‘The Godfather’ is based on both the Sicilian phrase to refer to a mob boss, and the religious status awarded to someone deemed to be a child’s legal guardian in the parent’s stead, referring to the character’s family-first attitude through out the film. The word ‘Sarkar’ also refers to something similar; a word used to describe a boss or person of authority.

Both ‘The Godfather’ & ‘Sarkar’ are about a man, working above the law to maintain an elaborate criminal enterprise, while still employing a certain moral code within his kingdom. The story focuses on his downfall due to co-conspirators around him, resulting in his youngest son, standing up to defend his father, and reluctantly taking over the crown.

Marlon Brando as The Godfather & Amitabh Bachchan as Sarkar

the opening scene of both movies…

Certain scenes in both films are exactly alike, with modifications reflective of the industry & culture of each respective film. The opening scene of ‘The Godfather’ shows a helpless father asking the Godfather for justice for his abused daughter, after the courts failed to punish the men responsible. This sequence sets the tone for the character as being a respected and intimidating man who can do things that the system can’t. ‘Sarkar’ replicates this scene exactly, but with more of an intense musical flourish, as is the Indian Director’s trademark.

The story of both films follows a similar path; a dispute over certain business elements, mostly due to the moral code, as mentioned earlier, causes some enemies to take matters into their own hands. After a failed attempt at the main character’s life, his youngest son, who has keep intentionally been kept away from the family business, needs to step into the morally ambiguous world to protect his father. The focus of the story then shifts to the younger son’s prowess at handling the illegitimate affairs of his family, and the crown of the Godfather eventually passing to him by the movie’s end. How all of this transpires though, varies very differently between the two movies.

Performances & Portrayals

The titular character of ‘The Godfather’ was Don Vito Corleone, played by the late Marlon Brando in Coppola’s 1972 classic. The man played the character with heavy gravitas and deep personality, but also a soft heart when it came to the scenes with his family, further reflected by his physical appearance of deteriorating old man as the film progressed. This role was perfectly done in his own way with the name of Subhash Nagare in the Bollywood remake ‘Sarkar’ by legendary Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan in 2005. Bachchan played the same role with more traditionally cultural connotations, but the same silent but deadly nature. Both actors carried themselves with intimidation during the first half of the movie, solidifying the weight behind their characters and establishing their presence on screen.

Al Pacino & Marlon Brando in 'The Godfather' & Amitabh Bachchan & Abhishek Bachchan in 'Sarkar'

fathers & sons…

The now also legendary actor Al Pacino, a relative unknown at the time, played the youngest son in ‘The Godfather’. Returning from the military, Pacino’s Michael had been sheltered from the family business in order to keep him reputable and an upstanding citizen. In ‘Sarkar’ this character is portrayed by Abhishek Bachchan, playing on-screen son to his real life father. Bachchan’s Shankar had returned from studying abroad and happened to be present during the attempt on his father’s life. Both these characters were played by each actor as soft spoken and reserved men shielded from the underbelly of the underworld, but a sense of loyalty causes them to abandon their peaceful way of life to stand by their families, transforming them into a force to be reckoned with.

Direction & Deviations

The Director of ‘The Godfather’, Francis Ford Coppola created a film that elevated the mobster story and took storytelling to new heights. With his steady shots and slow pans that intensified the dullest of sequences, Coppola told a story that was muted and restraint but with extreme content, only picking up the pace to shock and awe. While not given the same stature in his Industry, Ramgopal Varma, director of ‘Sarkar’ has his own nuanced filmmaking style, featuring creative framing of shots, impressive steady shots of his own and a talent for background music that emphasizes each scene that much more. ‘Sarkar’ was not as muted as it’s inspiration but separated itself with a comprehensive background score that marched in step with he dramatic depth of the story.

While following a similar story path, key differences between ‘The Godfather’ & ‘Sarkar’ make each movie stand on its own. Family life was shown as being of utmost importance in both films. ‘The Godfather’ had an elder son Sunny, played by James Caan, who was an impulsive and rash, never having a handle on the business beyond his own interests. During the conflict, the same people who attempt to take Corleone’s life gunned down Sunny. This varies greatly of the portrayal of the elder son in ‘Sarkar’ played by Kay Kay Menon, whose own agendas end up having him exiled from the family by Nagare, who then conspires with their enemies to murder his own father.

'Split Screen' compares 'The Godfather' (1972) & its Bollywood remake 'Sarkar' (2005)

James Caan in ‘The Godfather’ & Kay Kay Menon in ‘Sarkar’ playing the same role…

While Pacino’s Michael gets involved in the criminal underworld when he directly took revenge by killing the men who tried to kill his father, causing him to spend years in exile in Italy, Shankar’s involvement in the events is more slow and methodical. At the end of ‘The Godfather’ Michael’s transformation into Godfather of the family is complete when he lies to his wife about killing his own sister’s husband, who was complicit in the attempt to overthrow his family.  Shankar’s transformation is more poignant and heartbreaking, as he has to announce to his entire family, along with his father, that he had to kill his own elder brother, due to his betrayal of their father. Both sequences provide the turning point in the story where the reluctance of the younger son fades, as they become the avenging and ruthless heir to the empire.

Industry Impact

Al Pacino & Marlon Brando with 'The Godfather' director Francis Ford Coppola

Al Pacino & Marlon Brando with ‘The Godfather’ director Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola elevated the conventional mobster movie and raised the standards of storytelling in film with ‘The Godfather’ in 1972. To this day, the movie is considered to be one of the best films ever made of all time. The movie immortalized the actors Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, and created an instant classic, which has been revered by audiences and filmmakers alike. While the ‘Sarkar’ didn’t replicate the same level of stature, the film is still considered to be one of Director Ramgopal Varma’s best ever. The director’s quirky sense of filmmaking, unconventional technical style was brought to the commercial forefront with this movie, which features the biggest actors of the industry. The film marked the first feature film debut of the Bachchan father-son duo. ‘Sarkar’ also remains the only unofficial Bollywood movie to acknowledge that a Hollywood film has inspired it, both off screen by the makers, and a recognition credit on screen as well.


Amitabh Bachchan & 'Sarkar' director Ramgopal Varma

Amitabh Bachchan & ‘Sarkar’ director Ramgopal Varma

‘The Godfather’ is undisputedly one of the best movies ever made, in terms of both technical and dramatic storytelling. While the Indian remake of ‘Sarkar’ doesn’t come anywhere close to the same level of fame and recognition of its source material, the movie stands out on its own as a brilliant film that successfully adapts a Hollywood classic. ‘Sarkar’ is a true adaptation in the sense that is pays homage to ‘The Godfather’, but distinguishes itself from it’s source by embedding cultural variations and setting along with modifications to the story to maximize the dramatic impact for the audience of a different sensibility.

Get Both Movies

Shah Shahid

Entertainment Writer | Film & TV Critic | Bollywood Blogger | Host of Split Screen Podcast | Proud Geek Girl Dad


Wendell · February 15, 2015 at 11:38 AM

Very impressive read. Hadn’t even heard of the Bollywood version, but it certainly sounds worth a watch.

Split Screen Podcast: Episode 03 - 'The Godfather' Remake · November 12, 2015 at 12:05 AM

[…] My detailed analysis of ‘The Godfather’ & ‘Sarkar’ here […]

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