Bhramam, by the very nature of its source material, is a film that stands to gain at least a little in translation. The core of Andhadhun is a thriller that revolves around a blind pianist witnessing a murder, but it’s also a meta comedy which used film nostalgia cleverly to give ordinary moments the impact of mega events. As a 90’s kid raised in the South, I did not gain a lot of flavour with the casting of a star like Anil Dhawan in Andhadhun, the use of his hit songs or the Chitrahaar references. But in Ravi K Chandran’s mostly faithful remake, you realise there’s great joy to be had with this, even within the thriller genre. So when Menaka (playing herself) stands before a portrait of Shankar (playing Uday Kumar) as she delivers a eulogy for her favourite co-star, you’ve already been transported to 80’s Ooty and you’re waiting for her to start singing ‘Devatharu Poothu En Manasin Thazhvarayil…’
It’s an idea that worked really well in last year’s Varane Avashayamundu and it works in Bhramam too because nostalgia hits different when you’re not actively seeking it. From direct references to some of Shankar’s best songs, the film takes its metaness to inventive new heights when it finds the most ironic of situations to insert a song like ‘Sukhamo Devi’. Add to this Easter eggs like the character playing Shankar’s daughter is named Prabha (for Prabha Narendran?), and you get why certain films require a remake.
These are lovely touches that personalises a remake beyond obvious decisions like setting, costumes and language. If the original was set in Pune, here we see Fort Kochi and its colonial heritage accommodating eccentric characters, jazz bars and a boho-chic aesthetic. The colours are far louder and the locations feel over-designed with curious choices that shout for attention. It wont just stop at naming Prithiviraj’s pianist character Ray Mathews but we also need a shot of a poster featuring the inspiration for this name. Not that they take away from this version. The vision was perhaps to make a much lighter dark comedy meant for Prithviraj’s theatre audiences and it has achieved this without a lot of dilution.
Apart from the meta touches (a reference to CID Ramadas doesn’t fit as organically), the other way the film works for people who’ve seen the original is how it gets a lot of its casting right. The decision to cast Ananya as Unni Mukundan’s wife works wonders because she gets the film’s funniest lines. The limitations we usually associate with Unni Mukundan’s performances are played up for his character and such moves make the film a lot more fun in portions that do not rely on twists to keep things moving. Plus we also the chance to see Major Ravi shouting at Unni Mukundan, in what’s another meta moment.
All this works just fine, but it all comes at the cost of what feels like a really long movie. We get long songs slowing down crucial junctures and the second half comes with all the clunkiness of its original. Instead of one long fight between its two main characters, we get an extension of the cartoon-like messy final act. What this gains in terms of a lighter film, it also loses in how ineffectively it deals with the organ trafficking subplot.
The dubbing of certain characters didn’t match their performances and the CGI work in crucial scenes was extremely jarring. Eventually, the film remains enjoyable because Prithviraj and Mamta Mohandas find interesting things to do with their complicated characters. They find the sweet spot to remain likeable even when they play fundamentally unlikable people. It’s probably not what one would call an essential remake, but it’s nice to see that they’ve at least tried.