Bachchhan Paandey, starring Akshay Kumar and Kriti Sanon is based on the 2014 Tamil film Jigarthanda, director Karthik Subbaraj’s sophomore movie. Jigarthanda, named after the famous Madurai drink which literally means that while cools the heart, was both genre defying and also genre defining.
The name “Bachchhan Paandey” is also the name of Akshay Kumar’s character in Tashan. Initially the film was supposed to be an adaptation of Ajith Kumar’s Tamil film Veeram, but later it was re-worked to be an adaptation of Jigarthanda, whose remake rights were with Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment. Though the trailer doesn’t mention Jigarthanda, the similarities are extremely apparent, and the screenplay, in the credits sheet, has been noted as “adapted”. (Jigarthanda was remade in Kannada under the same title, and was remade in Telugu as Gaddalakonda Ganesh.)
Film critic Namrata Joshi notes in her book Reel Cinema: Cinema Off The Beaten Track that around the time of its release “Madurai films [had] been losing their sheen … [Cinemadurai’s] abiding conventions [had] begun to feel like familiar cliches and easy stereotypes.” Does this sound familiar, like our current streaming landscape?
It is in this context, of the ennui of violent movies with predictable narrative landscapes, that Jigarthanda came, infusing the blood of the genre with dark crimson humour, technical flourishes of long, tense shots, and narrative trickery. At the outset, the film has a hero (Siddharth), a heroine (Lakshmi Menon), and a villain (Bobby Simha). But soon, given Subbaraj’s genre defying instincts, the rug is lugged from under our feet. The hero is an opportunist, and the villain is given his own arc that questions both, and the heroine twists and turns in the cracks of the story. Bobby Simha’s performance got him a National Film Award For Best Supporting Actor.
To recreate the ambience of Madurai, Subbaraj insisted on the Dolby Atmos sound system. The cinematography by Gavemic U. Ary and the soundtrack and background score by Santhosh Narayanan won raves. Jigarthanda was one of the most profitable Tamil films of 2014, with praises being heaped by directors like Mani Ratnam, Gautham Vasudev Menon, Shankar, KV Anand, and even actor Vijay. It also established Karthik Subbaraj as an exciting cinematic voice.
In that film, a filmmaker named Karthik — given it is the same name of the director, the voyeur in us is invoked, wondering how much of this is fiction? — comes from Chennai to Madurai to research on gangsters in order to make a film on them. Through this film Subbaraj pays his respects to the city of Madurai, its bustling film and food culture. Old films are playing in the background, with theaters becoming the site of action scenes.
The Madurai of Jigarthanda becomes the fictional town of Bhagwa, in Uttar Pradesh.
There are a few obvious changes in Bachchhan Paandey, directed by Farhad Samji, produced by Sajid Nadiadwala, written by Farhad Samji, Tushar Hiranandani, Sparsh Khetarpal, Tasha Bhambra, Zeishan Quadri. For example, they have made the character of Karthik a woman played by Sanon, which might perhaps increase the stakes, but also takes away from the realism of this incredibly masculine world. The Madurai of Jigarthanda becomes the fictional town of Bhagwa, in Uttar Pradesh.
The heroine in Jigarthanda is a woman Karthik uses to get access to the gangster, and who exacts revenge from Karthik later. This love angle seems to be removed, given to Bachchhan Paandey, instead, as a Jacqueline Fernandez song. Perhaps the makershave re-interpreted the film for a Bollywood audience, swapping in that nostalgic, charming rootedness for an Amaal Mallik romantic song in Rajasthan? It would be interesting to see how a culturally specific, ambient, and rooted story gets adapted in a different context, and how bringing in a star into a relatively humble story changes its sweep and scale. The film releases theatrically on 18th March.