Maara, starring Madhavan and Shraddha Srinath, is Dhilip Kumar's first film as feature director. His 2017 short Kalki came in for much appreciation. "To define Charlie, it is a spirit. The best part of Charlie is that it just flows. For most parts, it's like the characters are discovering as they go, and that appealed a lot to me. From there, we took off," Dhilip tells Baradwaj Rangan. Excerpts from their conversation.
Maara is based on the Malayalam film Charlie. How would you differentiate between a remake and an adaptation?
I'm not sure if I can give the 'dictionary' difference between these two, but what are you taking from the original, what are you inspired by and where are you going with that. That is what tells you whether it's an adaptation or a frame-to-frame remake.
So, in your eyes a remake is mostly close to the original?
Yes, and I'm not speaking in terms of the shots, production design or as just a carbon copy. When you're going for the same theme, same characterisation, then it's a remake. Then, you're pretty much trying to create the same essence you got out of the original film. That's why I think an adaptation differs from a remake. As far as Maara is concerned, it is an adaptation and we found it along the way.
There was a film the production house wanted to make, they fixed the actor, and then I came in as writer. There was no director, and when I came into writing, the actor and the production team were keen to not stick to the exact film. They asked me, "What can you do with this film?" and I jumped in thinking that we're just writing it, so let's do whatever we want to do. When I started writing, there were a few points and characters that interested me and we retained them.
To define Charlie, it is a spirit. Free spirit is the theme. The best part of Charlie is that it just flows. For most parts, it's like the characters are discovering as they go, and that appealed a lot to me. From there, we took off.
That's really unusual, because whenever someone gets the rights, what they do is "I liked the film and enjoyed it, I want to make the same film but, may be, with nativity adjustments".
I look at it in a different way. It's not like we wanted to do something completely different. There are films that are very plot-driven like Drishyam. There's a message in Drishyam and if you want to tell a different message in Papanasam, you're going in for an adaptation. Towards the end of Papanasam, the protagonist says, "Since childhood, I was told to not lie". That was not there in Drishyam. This protagonist (Kamal Hassan) was shown to be morally rooted and plot-wise it was going the same way. That's the reason they wanted to make the film in the very first place.
In Charlie, you discover the film as you write, make and execute it. The actors bring something, the weather brings something, this happens in all the films… but then, this film can be adapted a lot. Also, Charlie is an episodic film about the protagonist, so every episode can exist as a short film on its own.
So, in Maara, the episodes are different?
Yes they are different, but not necessarily in a way that you're writing this episode as a different one, but the episodes can function as a standalone in Charlie, but we were trying to not make them standalone and trying to see if they all have a broader arc. While doing this, the characterisation also changed. Also, we didn't recreate Charlie's production design, we always had a broader arc in mind and we were thinking that the takeaway of Charlie is different from the takeaway of Maara. When you finish watching the film, the feeling that you're left with, and the theme is different.
What's the significant change you made in Maara from Charlie?
The story. The core of Maara is very different from the core of Charlie.