Shaad Ali’s OK Jaanu is to Mani Ratnam’s OK Kanmani what Mani Ratnam’s Hindi-language Raavan was to Mani Ratnam’s Tamil-language Raavanan. That is: an inferior scene-to-scene duplication (‘remake’ is a rather liberal term) of an already-average plot. Which came first – the chicken, or the egg? It doesn’t matter, honestly, if bird flu is in the air. At least the 2010-released adventure films were literally filmed simultaneously together; each scene was tediously shot twice at the same location, with the cast of both versions simply replacing one another.
It is therefore a tremendously inconsequential, baffling and redundant achievement for OK Jaanu to mirror its source material with such gnawing photocopy-ish loyalty, despite being made more than a year apart. Perhaps it is partly my fault, too, for having watched the original only yesterday. Which is why I felt like a bored schoolboy rolling my eyes at the questions in an exam paper that was leaked well in advance.
But, to begin with, OK Kanmani, a story about a feisty, young marriage-hating Tamil couple shacking up in Mumbai to weigh love against ambition, is a film that demands a contemporary makeover, not a gentle brush-up. It needed to be adapted, not worshipped, translated (Gulzar’s ‘Hindi’ dialogues aren’t even reworded) and regurgitated onto the same canvas of misinterpreted modernism.
Ratnam’s film, despite its affecting sub-textual undercurrents, bore the unmistakable stamp of an old-school filmmaker trying hard to fit in. His perception was understandably a little skewed, with terms like ‘living in’ and ‘adult’ sensations like lust acquiring a dramatized heaviness –designed with the intent of explaining rather than narrating, of introducing it to an audience rather than exploring it as a storyteller.
It is a tremendously inconsequential, baffling and redundant achievement for OK Jaanu to mirror its source material with such gnawing photocopy-ish loyalty, despite being made more than a year apart.
It often felt like an open, albeit traditional, mind behind the (overly) unabashed youngness on screen. An example is the quality of the flagship game that the male protagonist, a star videogame designer, eventually develops: a shabby, desi-fied 16-bit Mortal-Combat demo pretender stuck in the 90s. The hipster office space is supposed to communicate more about his world’s new-age-ness than the game itself – which is, ironically (or not), about a local hero rescuing a heroine from a two-headed villain.
But what excuse does Shaad Ali, Ratnam’s longtime disciple (Saathiya was a remake of Alaipayuthey), have? He must be fairly familiar with the generation’s pop culture – never mind equipping his bratty Twitter-faced characters with the cinematically mismatched language of ‘ishq,’ ‘khwaab and ‘jurrat’. This was his opportunity to tweak a voice and make it his own. It was a chance to modify, adjust, alter and revamp a dated model. But what does he do? Instead of righting his Guru’s wrongs, he sprinkles holy water on them and magnifies them – first and foremost, by choosing his lead pair as Aditya Roy Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor.
This industry has long operated on a misguided creative template. Filmmakers select actors based on their previous roles, instead of selecting performers to subvert their reputations and challenge them. Most of them are chosen precisely for their limitations, not with an instinctive eye for potential. It is no surprise then that someone like Aditya Roy Kapoor has shown not an ounce of evolution in the last five years. In fact, he has gotten worse, if that were remotely possible.
He is virtually unrecognizable here without a bottle in his hand. By not making his character a raging alcoholic again, the filmmakers are unable to justify his enigmatic dialogue-delivery skills. I understand that love makes people do silly things, and I get that his is a happy-go-lucky ‘chilled-out’ go-getter alpha male lover, but there is no feasible explanation for a smirk-filled performance that seesaws between intellectual bankruptcy and juvenile delinquency. There is no excuse for having him dress in office like a hyperactive Pantaloons-store mannequin, complete with reverse-cap-with-khakhis tomfoolery.
Instead of righting his Guru’s (Mani Ratnam) wrongs, Shaad Ali sprinkles holy water on them and magnifies them – first and foremost, by choosing his lead pair as Aditya Roy Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor.
At one point, during their dreamy wooing phase, they get stuck in Ahmedabad (my Ahmedabad) for a night. The makers would like to have us believe that they find a disturbingly folk-ish, colourful room in a cheap lodge – the disastrously caricatured setup for the nostalgia-killing ‘Humma’ song. In it, Shraddha Kapoor gyrates her hips and waist aggressively, repeatedly, suggestively, with him clowning around like a Rajasthani backup dancer – possibly executing the “dance of passion,” a way of signifying that they’re actually indulging in hot, sweaty, steamy, Gujarati-flavoured roleplay. What better place to visually exoticize the ‘look’ of eroticism in than the most sexually repressed region of the country?
Later on, two goldfish in a bowl and a rain-stained windowpane serve as ‘tasteful’ symbolism for a wild romp, just prior to Aditya signifying animalistic lust in a train compartment by behaving like a frustrated man enraged by Donald Trump’s statements. I will wait for the day the honeymoon-phase-montage of a young couple is represented in a mainstream Indian film by shots other than those of them randomly dancing, hooting, getting wet, skipping, stealing, ransacking restaurants, standing on bikes, being general idiots and betraying their mental age. They don’t need to behave like sugar-addled nincompoops to show that romance triggers a surge of harmless irrationality.
Aditya Roy Kapoor has shown not an ounce of evolution in the last five years. In fact, he has gotten worse, if that were remotely possible.
Perhaps the only tolerable thread of OK Jaanu (I will mention the title repeatedly, because there is no other way I’ll ever be employing the term ‘Jaanu’ again) is that of the boy’s landlord – Naseeruddin Shah (essaying Prakash Raj’s role from the original) caring for his Alzheimer’s-afflicted old wife (Leela Samson). It’s tough to overlook the way Shah addresses her fondly as ‘baby,’ which sounds a little odd, as if he is both mocking and embracing the perils of script-forced intimacy. But they do an adequate job. We know they exist for the same reason Shah Rukh Khan and Tabu existed as the ‘necessary cameos’ in Saathiya – as emotional devices to accelerate the conflicted lead couple’s coming of age.
The videogame remains virtually the same, except that the hero in it resembles Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik instead of Kapoor – who, admittedly, is difficult to digitally recreate as an expressionless cartoon. All the supporting faces, including Adi’s brother and his ‘jovial’ boss (adman Prahlad Kakkar) belong to a parallel, hard-selling R. Balki-directed universe. And except for Rahman’s title track, which sort of infuses a peculiar South Indian zing into metropolitan proceedings, nothing else elevates the benign chemistry between two stars merely riding the wave of their previous freak-hit collaboration (Aashiqui 2).
In ‘Humma Humma’, Shraddha Kapoor gyrates her hips and waist aggressively, repeatedly, suggestively, with him clowning around like a Rajasthani backup dancer – possibly executing the “dance of passion,” a way of signifying that they’re actually indulging in hot, sweaty, steamy, Gujarati-flavoured roleplay.
In my book, such lazily mounted films tend to be a little more insufferable than, say, a Karan Johar or an Aditya Chopra passion project of branded detachment. I’m not against remakes (though Akshay Kumar changes my mind every year) per se, but there is something drastically wrong when a writer ends up critiquing and questioning the fundamentality of the original film instead.
At least an Agneepath or a Brothers merited a takedown for bastardizing or ‘dumbing down’ famous films. I don’t think OK Jaanu even tried enough to warrant that.