Cast: Udhayanidhi Stalin, Parvatii Nair, Samuthirakani, Namitha Pramod, MS Baskar, Karunakaran
For the second time this year – after Special 26 was masala-fied into Thaanaa Serndha Koottam – we get a remake that is faithful to the original in story but not in spirit. Priyadarshan's take on Dileesh Pothan's Maheshinte Prathikaaram, titled Nimir (Arise), follows a photographer named Selvam (Udhayanidhi Stalin) through several unremarkable days until his life, inadvertently, turns remarkable. Here, too, we get the chain reaction of events that happen not to the protagonist but to the people around him (this includes a great gag set around the national anthem), and eventually, Selvam gets sucked into a conflict not of his own making. He's humiliated. He swears revenge. As this occurs around the interval block, we are primed for a testosterone-fuelled second half. Which Tamil-film hero, after all, has failed to do what he set out to do?
But we're talking about a Malayalam-film hero. The great joke of Maheshinte Prathikaaram (Mahesh's Revenge) is how it completely subverts our expectations and, in the process, strikes a blow at the heart of the hero-centric masala movie. Mahesh is the gentlest of men, and yet, owing to the culture of masculinity in patriarchal societies, it doesn't take much to incite primal passions that leave even someone like him baying for blood. In a typical masala movie, the second half would simmer with the prospect of the final showdown between good and evil. But in Maheshinte Prathikaaram, the "villain" simply vanishes. The hero is left nursing his wounded pride and the realisation that life goes on. The revenge promised in the title is almost an afterthought.
This premise is a tough sell in Tamil cinema, where masala traditions are far more entrenched than in Malayalam cinema. What if the audience laughs at Selvam? Worse, what if they label him a wimp? Priyadarshan addresses the issue by turning a subtle dramedy into one more suited to his loud, slapsticky strengths. I won't deny there are laughs, but you'll also wince if you've seen the original. Nimir makes you question the perceived wisdom about the "nativity" factor when it comes to Tamil audiences. Are we not capable of enjoying films unless they are brightly shot like commercials, and with at least one song featuring gratuitous semi-nudity? Priyadarshan's stagey, nineties'-style direction feels positively archaic when compared to the lived-in texture of Dileesh Pothan's work.
A lot of it had to do with the textured performances. The actors in Nimir (MS Baskar, Samuthirakani, Karunakaran) aren't bad, but they take Priyadarshan's cue and play to the gallery. Udhayanidhi Stalin isn't bad, either. Of his performance in the Jolly LLB remake, Manithan, I wrote: "[He] is nowhere the actor Arshad Warsi is, but even he's charged up in court. He sells his big speech at the climax… somewhat." It's similar here. Selvam isn't a stud. He's just someone coasting through life, someone who needs to snap out of the robotic "smile… chin up… shoulder down…." routine of taking photographs and learn to really see through the lens. (Which takes all of five minutes, but that's another story!) As an actor, Udhayanidhi Stalin isn't a patch on Fahadh Faasil, but in these unheroic roles, he displays an earnestness that compensates for his lack of range.
The heroines are more problematic. They are played by Parvatii Nair (as Valli, who looks ready for a fashion shoot) and Namitha Pramod (Malar). The latter is easier to forgive – she's a generically chirpy love interest – but it's disappointing to see Valli painted as money-hungry ("pana pei") even before we see her. How, then, are we supposed to take her relationship with Selvam seriously? And the way she's reduced to easy laughs at the end is a disgrace. It's not that we're still being asked – in 2018! – to laugh at henpecked husbands and their ball-busting wives. It's that this aspect of Valli's character comes out of nowhere. If you're going to dole out clichés, at least write them convincingly.
Watch the trailer of Nimir here: