Instead of making a carbon copy version of the original (like they did with the Tamil remake of Bangalore Days) Maara, directed by Dhileep Kumar and starring Madhavan and Shraddha Srinath, makes changes both big and small to ensure that while the soul is the same, the bodies are different. Some of these changes are easy to spot while others require close inspection. Here are 10 that will help you analyse what difference they've made to the overall viewing experience.
If Tessa (Parvathy Thiruvothu) was an artiste hailing from Central Kerala (who paints 'cats and dogs'), Paru (Shraddha Srinath) is a restorer of old buildings, originally from Madurai. They are both from similar socio-economic backgrounds and they both move to the Mattancherry-Fort Kochi area in Kerala when forced to answer the marriage question. While Paru continues to work after this move, Tessa looks at it more like an escape/hideout from her strict mother. In Maara, characters speaking Tamil in Kerala is attributed to how there is a Tamil settlement near Maara/Paru's rented house. The original didn't need such a scene.
Maara's starting sequence is very different. In Charlie, it's about Tessa reaching home to meet a boy she has no interest in, leading to her running away. This scene takes place a while later in Maara and this, perhaps, is the reason why it is nearly 20 minutes longer. In Maara, we start with a flashback in a bus with a young Paru listening to a story about a soldier, a conch and a fish being narrated by a Christian nurse. We get a long animated stretch taking us into the world of this fable, and this really prepares us for the fable-like world-building we need to buy into a fantastical film like Maara.
The influence Paru's family has on her life is also marginally lesser than what Tessa's has on her and her choices. Apart from a phone call or two, we never sense any urgency or power that Paru's family wields on her. Because of this, we also never really sense that Paru's pursuit of Maara is based on her marriage situation. It feels more organic, as though Paru would have done the same at any point in her life.
Maara and Charlie are two very different people, and this goes beyond their age. Maara is obviously older, but he also seems a lot wiser. He seems to be hiding a few things and there's pain in his eyes. When he advises Kani (Sshivada) on matters of life, it never feels like he's mansplaining… just what a more solid person would do at that point in time. Maara is an orphan and he does not have a yacht-owning rich dad like Charlie does. So when he goes around helping people and making a difference, he's only paying forward the generosity that was offered to him.
As a result of this, Maara's less a wanderer and more a man with a purpose. He's genuinely in search of something (or someone). He's not merely a thrill-seeking adventure junkie and this makes him more human than the mysterious "djinn" Charlie might have been. Which might be a good thing for some and a little far-fetched for others.
The smaller script decisions of Maara are also interesting. For instance, the writers have erased the "love failure" angle from Kani's flashback. In Charlie, her negligence kills a small girl during surgery, but that was a result of her heartbreak after a man leaves her to pursue higher studies. In Maara, the accident is her fault alone. In the "Queen Mary" scene, we meet Mary, played by the inimitable Kalpana, on the boat when we're introduced to her for the first time. In Maara, we get a scene featuring Abirami where its made clear that she's a sex worker. It's not really about the performances, but one wonders why this bit of detail needed to be explained earlier. It feels more like a miss, because it was far more effective the way Kalpana's sequence played out.
Both films are consistently stunning looking. From the sheer beauty of the hills to the dreamlike boho-chic aesthetic of the Fort Kochi portions, the film's art department and DOPs seems to have worked overtime to give the film the feel of a hipster's mushroom trip.
Ghibran has tried different things with the music than what Gopi Sunder did five years ago. The music stands on its own and compliments the ambitious world the film wants to create.
The casting choices are just as intriguing. While Alexander Babu and Abirami fall short of the brilliant performances in the original by Soubin Shahir and Kalpana, the decision to cast them is still a great one. They are both great performers and it's unfair that they don't feature in a lot more films.
Similarly, Sshivada and Mouli do one better with their performances in Maara. There's real soul to Sshivada as the heartbroken doctor who needs a second shot at life, and when she speaks to Maara at the end, we never sense a romantic angle between them. Instead, we see the friendship and the importance they give each other. Mouli too does better than Nedumudi Venu, who was effective in the movie, but in a role we have seen him play many times before. It's like the effect MS Bhaskar would have created had he played Mouli's role. Of course, we would have cried either way, but it's not the pleasant surprise we get with Mouli.
And when it comes to the leads, it really comes to personal choices. While Parvathy sold her role better (she felt like a more greyer person) it was Madhavan who played the better Maara (he never tried to be Charlie). We never notice him acting here, and even when he is drunk (which he is in many scenes), there's still the control and the weight of a person who is stuck somewhere in his long journey.
Finally, it's about the writing choices. Charlie is a more romantic, fantastical film that requires you to take a leap of faith. It's about a God-like hobo who goes around doing things Gods should be doing. He's more mature than his age and, at times, his wide-eyed optimism might take a toll on the viewer. Maara is more a "real" film about people you might have heard of or read about.
If Charlie feels like an episodic narration of all the wonderful deeds of a man named Charlie and the people he keeps saving one after the other, in Maara, we, along with Paru, form a part of a puzzle Maara needs help solving. The hero, over here, actually has a reason to fall for the heroine beyond the reason that she's a "beautiful girl in search of you".
There's lots to love in both films and a few things to dislike. But one thing is for sure. Maara isn't your everyday lazy remake that could have been killed by subtitles. There's a new set of minds at play over here and the fresh interpretations are a delight to break down and understand.