When they announced a Tamil remake of Anjali Menon’s Bangalore Days, I wondered how they’d pull it off. Because the biggest strength of the film is its warm embrace of the polarities that make urban Indians tick. The fact that we slip easily between local tongues and English. The fact that we like sambar as well as pizza. The fact that we listen to Indian film songs on radio shows hosted by English-speaking RJs. The fact that we have MBA degrees and work in multinationals and also watch first-day-first-shows of films of our “local” heroes. The fact that we like tradition and also speak of freedom and personal space. The fact that we love our parents and yet find times we’d rather not have them around. Agreed, this is a very small segment of urban India, but I suspect this is the India that proved aspirational to the audiences that made the Malayalam original such a blockbuster. This, really, was the “2 states” Chetan Bhagat wrote about, not just 2 physical states but 2 states of being.
And I wondered if the necessities of the Tamil market would make Bangalore Naatkal a 1-state movie. I wondered if they’d “mass-ify” it, in order to make it palatable to the interiors. This isn’t a reflection on whether the audiences in the B- and C-centre markets are open to movies like Bangalore Naatkal, which has been directed by Bommarillu Bhaskar. This is more about the fear that’s usually the most marked characteristic in Tamil filmmakers attempting to make an upper-class urban-centric movie. Films like O Kadhal Kanmani are the exception. The rule is the film where perfectly ordinary occurrences like, say, hanging out at a Café Coffee Day, are enclosed in quotation marks. These characters aren’t included in a “we.” They’re isolated as a “them.” And Bangalore Days was very much a “we” movie.
Surprisingly, Bangalore Naatkal is too. It works because it follows the original template pretty faithfully. (You may just need to give it a little time to erase memories of the earlier actors and see the new ones in their place.) Give or take some casting choices, a few scenes added or let go, it’s practically the same film, the same story woven around the lives and loves of cousins Ammu (Sri Divya), Ajju (Arya) and Kutty (Bobby Simha). I smiled at the same scenes. My eyes went moist at the same scenes. I wondered, as I did while watching Bangalore Days, how something that’s so much fun is making me so emotional at times. Maybe it’s because there’s so much here from our long-ago lives – the rebellions, the compromises, the fights, the reconciliations. It’s like sitting down with an album of college photographs and finding that the pictures may be yellowing but the memories are as technicoloured as ever.
You realise what a marvel Anjali Menon’s screenplay is – the scenes are short; they don’t linger on any emotion for long, and slip effortlessly between comedy and drama (often within the same episode) – when even the actors who don’t come off as strongly as their Malayalam counterparts (Bobby Simha is no patch on Nivin Pauly) don’t derail this smooth-running contraption. It’s not just the spirit of the writing that’s preserved. It’s also the enormous affection for the characters (who are mocked but never judged), the energy in the cuts, the aesthetics and mood in the staging and cinematography, the awesomely in-sync songs and background score (by Gopi Sunder, who retains the hit Mangalyam number), the overall youngness of it all. Rana Daggubati, Sri Divya, Saranya, and especially Parvathy – they make the clichés work. The situations are nothing new (divorced parents, distant husbands), but the actors and the way they are put through the motions, the way their scenes are handled (and timed), blows the cobwebs away. I’m genuinely curious how Bangalore Naatkal will perform at the box-office, but how refreshing to find a film whose first priority is preserving the spirit of the original and not pandering to the presumed “taste” of the audience.
- Bangalore Naatkal = Bangalore days
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