Gained In Translation: Remakes That Worked Well in Tamil Cinema
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Remakes are tricky. To make a successful one, it is not just enough to be good at cloning the content, the director should have also mastered the art of retaining the film’s soul. Take, for instance, Dayavan, the Hindi remake of Mani Ratnam’s masterpiece Nayakan. While Nayakan is a milestone in Indian cinema, Dayavan is at the other end of the spectrum. So, what went wrong? In Mani Ratnam’s own words (Conversations with Mani Ratnam by Baradwaj Rangan), Nayakan is a story of “an underdog’s conquest in an alien zone”. It fell apart when Dayavan was set in Mumbai, a familiar territory for the characters and the Hindi audience. Similarly, Sujoy Ghosh’s acclaimed Kahaani did not live up to its standards in its Telugu/Tamil version. Kahaani is about the travails of young, ‘pregnant’ lady in search of her missing husband, and how she overcomes odds to outwit a system filled with dangerous men. Remove ‘pregnant’ from the equation, and you have yet another Sathyavan-Savithri story. And that is what precisely happened with the remake. The soul went missing. 

With the fairly well-made Dharala Prabhu (the Tamil remake of Vicky Donor) streaming on Amazon Prime Video now, here is a look at a few films that transitioned well to Tamil.

Adithya Varma 

Gained In Translation: Remakes That Worked Well in Tamil Cinema

Arjun Reddy (Telugu) was a controversial, commercially successful, cult film that banked on its talented lead  Vijay Deverakonda. The seasoned Shahid Kapoor justified his part in the Hindi version Kabir SinghThe film is about a medico, a raging bull who thinks the girl he likes is his property. The movie lapped up fans and haters alike. To even attempt to use a film with this history as one’s acting debut is intriguing. But you have to give it to  Dhruv Vikram, who established in his very first film (reshot entirely with a new director, after the version helmed by director Bala was scrapped) that he has the ability and is here for the long haul. Now, we have to wait for Bala’s Varma to see what else Dhruv’s  capable of.

Thillu Mullu 

This film was remade from the Hindi Gol Mal, and is not totally wrong to say Rajinikanth and the aura around him was built by remakes. Some of his greatest ‘Superstar’ films such as Billa, Thee, Naan Sigappu Manithan, Mr. Bharath, Panakkaran and Muthu are all remakes. Even his comeback film Chandramukhi was a remake of the Malayalam cult classic Manichitrathazhu. But Thillu Mullu is  Rajinikanth’s first full-length comedy. Until then, the star was majorly in his ‘action’ mode. Helmed by the legendary K Balachander and written by the late Visu, this film presented an unexplored facet of the Superstar. Sowcar Janaki and Thengai Srinivasan (as the rib-tickling, gullible Sriramachandramurthy) lend solid support to Rajini in this comedy about the impersonation of a non-existing twin. The movie also has Nagesh (playing himself) and Kamal Hassan (also playing himself) in cameos. The plot and performance made sure that Aiyampettai Arivudainambi Kaliyaperumal Chandran is remembered to this day, and proved that beyond style and stunts, Rajinikanth could make people laugh too.

Sathya 

Remade from the Hindi Arjun, Sathya is probably the crown among all the remake Kamal Haasan was part of. And, he’s done quite a few. Papanasam, a successful remake of the Malayalam film Drishyam, was a treat for film aficionados who had a rare chance to directly compare and cherish the output of two masters of our times,  Kamal Hassan and Mohanlal,  scene by scene. Kamal’s other important remakes are the laugh riot Vasool Raja MBBS (Munnabhai MBBS, Hindi), social thriller Unnai Pol Oruvan (A Wednesday, Hindi) and the critically acclaimed, performance-packed  Kuruthipunal (Drohkaal, Hindi). But Sathya easily outshines them all. In this story of an “angry young man”, the actor had a short hairdo, untamed beard, steel kada and sleeves rolled up till the biceps, and set the screens on fire. Sathya’s Kamal was a nothing less than a thunderbolt. The film has a lot of light moments too, like the one where Sathya’s Keralite girlfriend Geetha takes him to her home, where Sathya catches her aunt off guard with his Malayalam. Sathya has one of the ageless melodies of maestro Ilaiyaraaja. Even in the year 2020, Valaiosai… melts hearts. While there have been many directors who started off their careers with blockbusters, only a few have been lucky enough to launch themselves with cult films. With Sathya, debut director Suresh Krissna joined the elite league.

Nanban 

Remade from the Hindi blockbuster 3 Idiots, this is director’s Shankar’s only remake yet. Till release, Nanban kept the audience wondering how a mass hero like Vijay could pull off a film that does not have an intro song, flying cars, exploding bombs, a ‘loosu ponnu’ heroine and deadly villains with thick moustaches. This, besides, the very fundamental question of how could Vijay fill the shoes of Aamir Khan? However, the film worked. Given that Tamil Nadu has a mind-boggling number of engineering colleges, Nanban was a much-needed film in terms of the message it promoted. For the top heroes of the industry, Nanban showed a new approach to blockbusters. Sadly, it was just an aberration, as even Vijay went back to his comfort “mass” zone soon after.  

Nerkonda Paarvai 

Gained In Translation: Remakes That Worked Well in Tamil Cinema

It took everyone by surprise when it was announced that Ajith Kumar would reprise Amitabh Bachan’s role in  the Hindi hit Pink. The wonderfully written Hindi film, directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, did not have scope for songs in foreign locales or comedy by Yogi Babu. It did not have any brother-sister sentiment or an organic farming angle. The film was about how a reclusive lawyer takes up the case of three young women who are caught in a legal tangle because they exercised their choice.  Pink touched a raw nerve, throwing the spotlight on patriarchal mindsets, and exposed us for what we are. H Vinoth’s version Nerkonda Paarvai stuck to the soul of the original, even if it meant running the risk of getting tagged as an ‘urban’ film. But the movie was a bumper hit. Ajith Kumar excelled in a courtroom drama with a very limited number of characters. Though a stunt sequence and a a romance was force-fitted into the script, the rest of the film was on track. The film effectively delivered a much-needed message, and what made it special was that a star did it.

Kadhalukku Mariyadhai 

This remake of the Malayalam his Aniyathipraavu released during Vijay’s formative years, when he was doing four-five films a year. While many were also-rans, a few glittered. This film came on the back of his 1995 family drama, Vikraman’s Poove Unakkaga. In 1996, Fazil’s Kadhalukku Mariyadhai, a remake of his own Malayalam film, released. A boy and girl fall in love, the elders object, the pair struggles but bows down to family, before it ends happily for all. Natural dialogues and neat performances by actors such as Srividya, Sivakumar, KPAC Lalitha, Charle and Manivannan worked in the film’s favour. Vijay and Shalini shared a lovable onscreen chemistry. It was a different romance, where the lead couple liked each other a lot, from a distance, even in the duets! It still worked, thanks to the converations, the way they missed each other, and the love-filled looks they reserved just for the other. Ilaiyaraaja’s music took the film to another level, and Vijay crooned a breezy number and established himself as a bankable hero-singer. Films like Kadhalukku Mariyadhai make us wonder what goes wrong as actors embrace stardom, and why they forget how they won hearts in the first place.

Gained In Translation: Remakes That Worked Well in Tamil Cinema, Film Companion

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