Spoilers about Vakeel Saab ahead…
‘Kaalam’ is a fun dance number that acts as the opening song of Nerkonda Paarvai (2019), the Tamil remake of the Hindi blockbuster Pink(2016), whereas the recently released Telugu version Vakeel Saab chooses to walk the ramp with the traditionally acceptable ‘Maguva Maguva.’ The main difference between the two songs is in the approach taken by their respective directors, H. Vinoth and Sriram Venu.
If you catch a whiff of ‘Kaalam,’ you’ll come to know that Meera Krishnan (Shraddha Srinath) is a dancer. And if you dive into the lyrical sea of ‘Maguva Maguva,’ you’ll get a sense that the three women of Vakeel Saab are purely fun-loving, middle-class women. You needn’t take them out of context to see how Vinoth and Venu have chosen to reinterpret Pink. While Vinoth sticks to the truthfulness of the Hindi movie, Venu gets rid of the moral heft from the get-go, as it gives him a larger pathway to roll the dice.
Venu doesn’t want the women in his film to have lip piercings or loud tattoos that call attention to their physical appearance. Andrea Tariang, who stars in Pink and Nerkonda Paarvai, plays a woman who hails from the North-East. She becomes an easy target for the prosecutors in both movies, as there’s a prejudice against the North-Eastern people. The egregious comments that keep piling against her bring her down emotionally and she’s pushed to the brink of sniffling. In Vakeel Saab, however, Tariang is replaced with Ananya Nagalla, who hails from a small town (not from the North-East though).
And the most important deviation that Venu takes is shaping the character of the protagonist, Vemula Pallavi (Nivetha Thomas), along the lines of a regular office-goer. Pallavi, unlike Krishnan and Minal Arora (Taapsee Pannu) from Pink, is not a dancer. And the third woman (played by Anjali) is in a relationship with a man who falls under the same age bracket as her. In the original, he’s much older and a divorcee.
Venu seems to have deliberately avoided lifting the heavy blocks. He has simplified the characters of the women to make them look “decent”. Would you carry a poster that says, “All Lives Matter,” to a protest gathering for “Black Lives Matter?” That’s what Venu does here. He has plucked most of the sharp teeth out and fitted his model with plastic ones. These substitute factors still make a point though—consent is still the key that makes the lawyers representing the women win the argument.
Pink is also not free of gimmicks. Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachchan), while speaking in the courtroom initially, pauses after each sentence as though he’s forgetting – he suffers from a mental disorder. This allows him to pull the viewers to his side. And his reluctance to be amidst so many people is clearly visible on his face.
Ajith Kumar, who puts on the robe of an advocate in Nerkonda Paarvai, follows a similar method. But since he’s an actor who’s pretty much known for starring in big-budget action dramas, Vinoth includes a scene that makes Kumar’s character break the bones of the rogues who try to threaten him. And there’s even a backstory that presents a mini-account of his personal life. Vakeel Saab takes this portion of the narrative to relatively newer depths, for it unashamedly chronicles the aspirations of an actor-turned-politician (Pawan Kalyan).
Venu also makes another detour – he makes the prosecutor question Pallavi about her virginity so that the latter comes across as a darker villain. The gaze is again inverted here.
In Pink, it’s Sehgal who proves to the court that the sexual history of a woman doesn’t matter in any case. He adds that if a woman says no, it’s a “no” and there needn’t be any further debate about it. He hates the concept of highlighting women’s clothes and their drinking habits. Satyadev (Kalyan), who’s a bigger mass leader than an advocate, takes offense to the question posed by the prosecutor and launches into a tirade against his vindictive policy.
Within the boundaries mapped by Venu, Satyadev’s anger feels justified. But if you take a pause to reflect, you’ll realize that the filmmaker is making Satyadev protect the “honor” of the women. Pink doesn’t really care about sex. It only cares about consent and the need to do away with the patriarchal mindsets that are associated with women, and, in particular, financially independent women who live life on their own terms.
Objection, Your Honor, but Vakeel Saab would have still been powerful without these moral changes.