From Vikram Vedha to Soorarai Pottru, a slew of Hindi remakes of South films have been announced this year. But this phenomenon of remaking Tamil films into other languages is not new and you could find notable remakes from even the 1950s: Bhai-Bhai (1956) remade from CV Sridhar's Ratha Paasam and Devta (1956) from Kanavane Kankanda Deivam. And remakes can be done in many ways. For example, Narappa chooses to follow Asuran very closely while Khaidi No. 150 reinterprets Kaththi for Chiranjeevi's specific kind of stardom.
But Remakes don't always succeed in the target language. For example, the superb Mudhalvan becomes the merely serviceable Nayak in the hands of the same director, Shankar. On the other hand, the Hindi version of Ghajini is arguably an improvement over the original and was also a box office success (both directed by AR Murugadoss). We look at recent remakes of Tamil films into other languages and rank them, from those that merely imitate the original competently to those that are interesting variations in their own right:
Srikanth Addala's Narappa is an effective, almost frame-to-frame remake of Asuran with only a few dialogues hinting at a modification of the social context of the film. Vetrimaaran's original was strictly about caste conflict while the Telugu version expands the context to include class, for better or worse. Venkatesh follows Dhanush closely in his performance as Narappa, a persecuted man desperate to save his family.
* Narappa is streaming on Amazon Prime Video
In KS Ravikumar's Varalaru, Ajith plays three roles: a millionaire confined to his wheelchair who used to be a Bharatanatyam dancer, and his twin songs. A noisy, commercial affair, Varalaru works for Ajith's committed performance. And similarly, in it's Kannada remake directed by Sethu Sriram and music reused from the original, Upendra turns in a superb performance, considered his career-best.
*Godfather is streaming on YouTube
AR Murugadoss is at the heights of his powers as a social commentator in Kaththi when he takes on corporations that manufacture beverages by exploiting ground water resources. Kathiresan (Vijay), a petty criminal, becomes an unwitting stand-in for Jeevanandham (also played by Vijay), a social worker. Kathiresan or Kaththi is a stand-in for the audience who discovers the truth about our groundwater with him. Megastar Chiranjeevi superbly inhabits his larger-than-life character in Khaidi No. 150 and VV Vinayak tweaks it to suit his image. The result is a film that was one of 2017's highest grossers and a perfect comeback vehicle for Chiranjeevi after a stint with politics.
*Khaidi No. 150 is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
Suryavamsam starring Sarathkumar, a hero with an action image, is a simple drama about an uneducated simpleton who rises against family and social opposition. Sarathkumar plays Sakthivel Gounder and his son, Chinnarasu. The feel-good drama directed by Vikraman was remade in Hindi by EVV Satyanarayana with Amitabh Bachchan (playing the two central characters) and Soundarya. Like the original Tamil, the Hindi version continues to retain loyal fans through numerous television retelecasts.
*Sooyavansham is streaming on Amazon Prime Video
KS Ravikumar's Avvai Shanmugi was remade in Hindi as Chachi 420 by Kamal Haasan. The comedy inspired by Robin Williams' Mrs. Doubtfire, and written by Crazy Mohan, had Kamal Haasan's Jai Prakash similarly transform himself into an elderly woman in order to be closer to his child and estranged wife. Amrish Puri reprises Gemini Ganesan's role from the original as the principled but not quite savvy Durgaprasad Bharadwaj.
*Chachi 420 is streaming on YouTube
Mohan Raja's Thani Oruvan (with Jayam Ravi and Arvind Swami) is a perfect hero vehicle: an earnest IPS officer decides to single-handedly take on a corrupt and shadowy criminal using practically just the strength of his mind. It's also a perfect vehicle for the villain, who is often more interesting than the hero. The Telugu version was directed by Surender Reddy, starring Ram Charan, Arvind Swamy and Rakul Preeth Singh. Surender Reddy interprets the film for a Telugu audience without following the original too closely. For instance, the Telugu version of Siddhart Abhimanyu is recognizable but is also an interesting tweak of the original character.
*Dhruva is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar
Inspired by Christopher Nolan's Memento, Suriya-starrer Ghajini has become a part of pop culture for its conceit for short-term memory loss. AR Murugadoss remade it in Hindi with Aamir Khan and Asin. Just as in the original, he backgrounds the high concept with a sweet love story. This makes the film a tug of war in the protagonist's head (Sanjay Ramasamy in Tamil, Sanjay Singhania in Hindi) between forgetting everything in a few minutes and the unforgettable memory of Kalpana (Asin). The Hindi version, arguably, works better than the original.
*Ghajini is streaming on ZEE5
Bharathan's film is about a 'civilized' and judgemental Sakthivel (Kamal Haasan) returning back to his village and his father Periya Thevar (Sivaji Ganesan). Initially, almost an outsider, circumstances push Sakthivel to take up his father's mantle and also a caste feud he inherits. The film was remade into Hindi by Priyadarshan with Anil Kapoor, Tabu and Amrish Puri, and went on to become one of the biggest hits of 1997. It also earned singer KS Chitra a National award for 'Payalay Chunmun'.
*Virasat is streaming on ZEE5
Mani Ratnam's Alaipayuthey defined 'cool' for a generation of young people. The edgy and experimental music (for the time), the idea of living together without being bogged down by parental consensus, the film's practical attitude to post-marriage troubles — Alaipayuthey defined the modern relationship in mainstream Tamil films. Saathiya is a close remake of the original, with AR Rahman reprising his music. While perhaps not as iconic as Alaipayuthey is in Tamil, Saathiya, starring Vivek Oberoi and Rani Mukherjee, is one of the most loved contemporary romances in Hindi.
*Saathiya is streaming on Amazon Prime Video
Balu Mahendra's tragedy about an ambiguous but moving relationship between Cheenu (Kamal Haasan) and Viji (Sridevi) is remembered for 'Kanne Kalaimaney' and the heart-rending climax where Kamal desperately mimics a monkey to get Viji to recognize him. It was remade in Hindi with the same protagonists, with Ilaiyaraaja marking his Bollywood debut with the film. A close remake of the original, Sadma received similar widespread critical acclaim and remains a classic romantic drama in both Tamil and Hindi.
*Sadma is streaming on YouTube