Technically speaking, the year 2021 is director Priyadarshan's 42nd year in the movie business. Having started his career with an unreleased film titled Thiranottam (also Mohanlal's debut) his journey has outlasted several revolutions in cinema including shifts from black & white to colour, film to digital, single screens to OTT (his latest Hungama 2 was a direct OTT release). Add to this the fact that his next Malayalam release (Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea) is also the industry's biggest and most hyped film, and you understand how his longevity is as much about quality as it is about quantity. He's made over 90 films, with an average output of more than two films per year, he makes more movies than the average Indian's annual visits to a movie theatre.
Giving these figures some context, only a handful of directors have been as prolific as Priyadarshan. Among Malayalee directors he falls behind even more prolific filmmakers such as J.Sasikumar with over 140 films to his credit and M.Krishnan Nair, who made over 80. In the south, Dasari Narayana Rao made around 140 films across languages and in Tamil, K. Balachander contributed to more than 100 films either as screenwriter or director. Among directors still working actively today, only Sathyan Anthikad, Ram Gopal Varma and David Dhawan come close to the volume Priyadarshan is able to maintain and in all fairness, it looks like he will continue to add to his list for many more years.
But in this game of numbers, one 'unfair' advantage the director seems to have is the large number of remakes in his filmography. Of his 77 releases so far (not counting Marakkar), over 30 are either complete or partial remakes. Some of the other films too have scenes or portions (or just tunes, sometimes) that were borrowed from films in other languages. While a few of these are straightforward remakes of his own original films from Malayalam (Thenmavin Kombathu became Saat Rang Ke Sapne) the trail of other films are more complicated.
For instance his Hindi film De Dana Dan, starring Akshay Kumar, borrowed generously from the Hollywood comedy Screwed. But it also borrowed from his own Malayalam film Vettam, which in itself had scenes and plot points from films like French Kiss and Hungama. His film Hungama itself was a remake of his film Poochakkoru Mookkuthi, a mix of the Telugu film Gopala Rao Gari Ammayi, Koteeswaran Magal in Tamil and the English play The Strange Gentleman.
Split between remakes, partial adaptations and originals, here's a quick glance at his films so far.
Although the director has made several hit remakes in Hindi, not all of them were based on his earlier works in Malayalam. In fact it's safe to say that he was more successful remaking films of other directors such as Siddique-Lal, Fazil and Sibi Malayali than his own. Among his Hindi films, Hungama was based on his hit comedy Poochakuru Mookuthi, while its sequel Hungama 2 took plot points from Minnaram. Saat Rang Ke Sapne, starring Arvind Swami, was a remake of his Malayalam film Thenmavin Kombathu and Muskurahat was based on Kilukkam.
Similarly, Garam Masala was a remake of his 80' film Boeing Boeing and Khatta Meetha (also starring Akshay Kumar) was based on his original satire Vellanakalude Nadu. The Salman starrer Kyon Ki too was taken from his earlier film Thalavattam (One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest).
The opposite too has happened. He remade his own Hindi film Malamaal Weekly (based on Waking Ned) into Malayalam as Amayum Muyalum, again with middling results.
A large number of his remakes come under this category, which includes some of his biggest hits. Bhool Bhulaiyaa was a remake of director Fazil's classic Manichitrathazhu just as Virasat, starring Anil Kapoor, was a remake of Bharathan's Tamil superhit Thevar Magan. Hera Pheri too was a remake of director duo Siddique Lal's Ramji Rao Speaking.
Other Hindi films like Dhol (In Harihar Nagar), Bhagam Bhag (Mannar Mathai Speaking) and Hulchul (Godfather) were also based on Siddique Lal's works. Doli Saja Ke Rakhna was a remake of Fazil's Aniyathipraavu, Chup Chup Ke was a remake of Punjabi House (Rafi-Mecartin), Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal was based on Shafi's Marykkundoru Kunjaadu, and Gardish was based on Sibi Malayil's Kireedam. Mere Baap Pehle Aap was also based on Malayil's Ishtam.
He also made another of his films (Summer In Bethlehem) into Tamil title Lesa Lesa. Yeh Teraa Ghar Yeh Meraa Gharwas based on Sathyan Anthikad's Sanmanassullavarkku Samadhanam and Billu was a diluted remake of Kadha Parayumbol—both films written by Sreenivasan.
In Hindi, he has also remade works of directors from other languages. An example is Rangrezz, which was a remake of the Tamil film Nadodigal directed by Samuthirakani. Bumm Bumm Bole was a remake of celebrated Iranian director Majid Majidi's Children Of Heaven and Virasat was a remake of Tamil film Thevar Magan directed by Bharathan and written by Kamal Haasan.
Apart from Lesa Lesa, his other Tamil films too were mostly remakes. Gopura Vasalile was a remake of Pavam Pavam Rajakumaran, Nimir was the Tamil version of Maheshinte Prathikaaram, and Snegithiye was loosely based on a Marathi film Bindhaast. In Telugu, his first film Nirnayam too was a version of his own Vandanam (Stakeout).
A majority of his earlier films fall under this category where either large plot points or entire films were remade into Malayalam. Some of these, like Hello My Dear Wrong Number and Thallavattom became excellent reinterpretations of films like North By Northwest and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest respectively. Kaakakuyil and Chandralekha too took plot points from films like A Fish Called Wanda and While You Were Sleeping.
From Hindi, he reworked Sai Paranjpe's Katha into Mukundettane Sumitra Villikkunnoo. Her own Chashme Buddoor became Odaruthamava Aalariyam. Besides these, Aram + Aram = Kinnaram had elements from two Hindi films—Pasand Apni Apni and Naram Garam.
One of the reasons why the director is still so respected, especially in Malayalam, is his ability to transform into a serious filmmaker with great control over the medium. He is among the rare Indian filmmakers to have two National Awards for Best Feature Film (Kanchivaram and the yet-to-release Marakkar). He also has a set of originals in Malayalam that both are both highly successful and much-loved. Even the aforementioned adaptations, like Boeing Boeing and Vandanam are films that continue to be watched and rewatched, perhaps even more than the films they are based on.
While collaborating with writers like T.Damodaran and Sreenivasan, he has also made through drama and period films that went against his style. Even though some of them haven't aged too well, his works with the former like Aryan, Advaitham and Kalapaani were major hits then. Midhunam, Akkare Akkare Akkare and Kilichundan Mambazham, all written by Sreenivasan, are some of his originals that are continued to be watched for the comedy scenes.
With blockbusters like Thenmavin Kombathu, Chithram and Oppam he proved that he is a formidable writer. With a lot of hope riding on Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea to revive the theatrical business of Malayalam cinema, it's again time to go back to the hype that you will only experience when Mohanlal makes a film with Priyadarshan.