There’s a certain advantage to watching a remake first before seeing the original, especially if it is well made. You’re so drawn into the world that when you go back and revisit the source material, you realise the real star of the film is the writing. The kind of world building that allows directors across languages to dip into it, make very minor additions to suit the local flavour and present it to a whole new audience in a whole new language, and geographical setting.
In Kannada, two recent releases playing in theatres have made it possible for audiences to experience a good story from Tamil and Telugu to be narrated here. Lucky Man, starring the late Puneeth Rajumar (he passed on before the film’s release), Darling Krishna and Sangeeta Sringeri, is a remake of the Tamil superhit (2020) by Ashwath Marimuthu. And, Monsoon Raaga, starring Achyuth Kumar, Suhasini, Dhananjay and Rachita Ram, among others, is adapted from Venkatesh Maha’s critically acclaimed (2018).
Both originals are deeply rooted in the world they are set in, but the universality of the writing has allowed them to be remade in other languages, without any of the rootedness being lost. In the case of Monsoon Raaga, the original, which featured non-actors who were brilliant, has been reimagined as an ensemble film starring very bankable and popular names. And, it still works.
Director Nagendra Prasad (whom Tamil audiences know best for his fluid grace in the song Thaniye in Rhythm and the vigorous beats of Hamma Hamma in Bombay) of Lucky Man, says that but for some tweaks to suit the local audience flavour, he worked with the source material, and enjoyed the process. “The original story is brilliant. Puneeth Sir, was playing God in the film, and I added some portions where he is shown as being divine,” he adds. The film also had a peppy dance number, where Prabhu Deva (Nagendra’s brother) and Puneeth shake a leg. Puneeth Rajkumar took on the role made popular by Vijay Sethupathi. His banter with Sadhu Kokila hit the right notes.
Rangayana Raghu and Sadhu Kokila are an important part of the film too as is Roshni Prakash. If music in the original (Leon James) was popular, the Kannada version does not lag behind either — V2 Vijay Vicky do a fine job.
The film is next slated for release in Telugu, directed by Ashwath himself, with Leon James roped in as composer, and there is a Hindi remake scheduled too.
So, what about some scripts makes them pan-Indian in terms of theme? And, allow for multiple iterations? The genre matters. Oh My Kadavule is a romcom and C/O Kancharapalem is at its core a love story that factors in various divides such as religion, caste and economic status. These are themes that will work across the board. And, because they are so rooted, they take root easily in another setting too.
Ashwath has travelled with Oh My Kadavule for many years now, and continues to with the Telugu and Hindi versions. “The starting point of my film was what if someone who regrets something is given a chance to rework his life, to revisit choices and do things differently. I thought of bringing in someone as God, to give this person a second chance. And, instead of a time machine, we came up with a golden ticket.”
It helps that both Krishna and Ashok Selvan are actors who do not hesitate playing someone who is not perfect, who is prone to indecision, and who can throw tantrums before growing up.
In Monsoon Raaga, director S. Ravindranath has strong support from cinematographer SK Rao and music director J Anoop Seelin, and his cast. Dhananjaya might be known for his strong man roles, but there’s always a vulnerability to him that few directors tap into. We saw that in Ratnan Prapancha and you see that again here — in some scenes, as Katte, he’s able to reduce his towering frame to turn into a blushing 30-year-old who falls for a girl just seeing her eyes. Rachita Ram is lovely as Asma, all playfulness with a core of steel. Predictably, because of their reel popularity, this stretch and the one with Raju (a lovely lovely Achyuth Kumar) and Hasini (such joy seeing Suhasini on the big screen) get a little more screen time. You don’t really grudge it, because the spirit of Kancharapalem is intact.
Venkatesh Maha, who wrote and directed the original, sat down with the makers of the Kannada film over lunch to discuss the script and answer queries. Having worked on a remake himself (his second film was Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya , the remake of the Malayalam Maheshinte Prathikaaram), Venkatesh is familiar with the idea of recreating worlds. “I’m very interested in seeing how the film has shaped up. You tell me it worked well in a different geographical setting too, and that’s not surprising, because C/O Kancharapalem is first a story, then a film. When I wrote it, I did not root it in any place. It so happened that inspiration struck me when I was taking a break in Kancharapalem. In fact, I wanted to remake the film, setting it in Jackson Heights. The film can actually work anywhere, because the emotions are universal.”
Ravindranath agrees. “Because we set the film in monsoon territory, it was lusher and more aesthetic to the eye. We decided to go with known names and that helped our film. I could only think of some of these names when we decided to make the film, and I am very happy they were able to see the larger picture. And yes, I did tweak some scenes that I felt would lend more depth,” he says.
At a time when pan-India films are the norm, with films being dubbed into multiple languages, remakes don’t really get the audience in a tizzy. But, remakes have their charm, and Lucky Man and Monsoon Raaga prove that. They are as Kannada as a film can get, and an official adaptation is so much more dignified than an unauthorised one.